Prevent condominiums becoming vertical slums

UN Habitat Day falls on October 4
The occupants of all condominiums of the city of Colombo and elsewhere have not been properly educated with regard to condominium living styles.
By Christopher Wijeyeweere

'Better City, Better Life' is the theme of the UN Habitat Day falling on October 4. The Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities is actively trying to celebrate the occasion by providing some form of assistance to those living in slums and shanties.

It is commendable that the Minister is keen to help the slum and shanty dwellers by providing them with better facilities. It was once stated that there are over 65,000 families living in slum and shanties in 1615 slum and shanty gardens within the city of Colombo. The solution proposed was to construct and provide these slum and shanty dwellers with 65,000 low-rise condominium apartments. If this effort of the government is to be made a success, the officials of the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) and the Condominium Management Authority (CMA) need to mobilize themselves to conduct awareness programmes to change the mindset of the poor recipients as to how they should live in condominiums.

The Housing Department and the National Housing Development Authority at its very inception went in to direct construction programmes for dwelling houses. Multistoried housing units constructed in and around Colombo amounted to nearly 20,000 units of flats (low-rise condominiums). The most significant of these state built schemes are the Maligawatte flats, Soysapura flats, Serpentine, Bolamesawatte, Veluwanarama, Siridhamma Mawatha, Katawalamulla, Dias Place, Dissanayake watte, Forbes Lane, Gunasinghepura, Maulanawatte, Newham Square, St.James Street, Sangaraja Mawatha, Vipulasena Mawatha, Steuart Street, Sucharitha Mawatha and Bambalapitiya flats etc.

These generally comprised of two bedrooms, sitting and a dining hall, kitchen and an attached toilet and a common balcony in front and at the rear. The construction of these flats were done under the building regulations in operation under the then existing statues. Hence these flats are now considered as low rise condominiums.

These low- rise condominiums have been in existence for more than 50 yrs in Sri Lanka. There were no laws that governed or regulated the development and management of such condominiums. In most instances the developer and the designer did not give much thought to post construction management aspects of these apartments or the condominium parcels constructed in the past, prior to the apartment ownership law and the condominium law coming into existence.

Utility condominiums

The government has been the sole developer of utility condominiums in this country. Government servants, low-income earners and shanty dwellers have been the beneficiaries of such state sponsored projects. Most of these low rise apartments in Colombo have come up as urban renewal programmes carried out by the state.

Over a period of time the government realized the need to maintain those old condominiums, the common amenities and common elements of those in a good state of repair. This gave birth to the Common Amenity Board (CAB) whose key objective was to keep the state owned low rise apartments in a good and serviceable state and maintain the common amenities and the common elements of such units. CAB carried out the task assigned to them by its clients (mainly the NHDA) without the relevant architectural plans and drawings detailing out the common amenities and common elements. Non availability of regulations under the CAB law was also one of the causes for the bad state of affairs in the maintenance of these apartments.

The Condominium Management Authority (CMA) was formed to overcome this unsatisfactory state of affairs. The government brought forward the necessary amendments to the CAB law by Act No - 24 of 2003. The primary motive was to rectify the shortcomings of the law in the maintenance and management of condominiums. The CMA law and the apartment ownership law can be considered as a hybrid of many different areas and subjects all relating to the condominium.
The most pathetic parts in today's context is that the authorities responsible for the approval of condominium plans, supervision of the construction process and the manner of maintenance and management of such condominiums have been totally or partially overlooked. The occupants of all condominiums of the city of Colombo and elsewhere have not been properly educated with regard to condominium living styles.

The most essential element of a condominium is its operational entity, which has been classified as the Management Corporation under the relevant laws, governing the development and management of condominiums. On acquisition of title to a condominium parcel, a unit owner automatically becomes a member of the management corporation that is empowered to manage and maintain the common elements of the condominium, and certain other areas of the condominium property beyond management and maintenance duties.

However, the management corporation could exert a relatively high degree of control over the property use rights of a unit owner as compared to the right of the owner of a single family dwelling. Thus it is necessary on the part of the unit owners and all concerned to explore the roles, powers, functions and duties of the apartment ownership law and the Condominium Management Authority Law.

Creation of condominium

The basic instrument used to create a condominium regime is referred to as the declaration of condominium under the Apartment Ownership Act. It contains a series of covenants and servitudes intending to bind the property, the owners and their successors and assigns. The need to include the method of operation and the rights and responsibilities of the owners of the condominium parcels in the declaration has also to be considered by the authorities implementing the law. Among other things, the declaration should also provide for the establishment of the Management Corporation. A method of sharing common expenses and the ownership of the common elements; the votes to be assigned to each condominium parcel, and the procedure governing the management of the condominium property itself should be included in the declaration. This I believe would facilitate the formation of Management Corporation under the laid down provisions of the law.

Condominium ownership

It is important to understand the condominium concept. The term "condominium" refers to a form of property ownership. The condominium unit owner, like the owner of a detached single family home, is the sole owner of his home, holding title to it. But, in addition, the condominium unit owner holds an ownership interest in other property including the land upon which the entire condominium is developed, the parking facilities, gardens, recreation areas and other community facilities and property. The property owned in common is called the Common Elements.

The unit owner's ownership interest in other property as stipulate under the Apartment Ownership Law refers to undivided interest - The ownership interest each owner has in common elements cannot be separated out from his ownership interest in his unit. The ownership of undivided interest in the common elements called a percentage interest, also gives the unit owner the right to participate in the control of the Management Corporation. The authority responsible for calculating the percentage interest is not clear in the law. Hence it is very important that the CMA prepare the necessary regulations and fix responsibility to a designated professional involved in the preparation of the declaration.

Management corporations

A Management Corporation has derived its legal status under the Apartment Ownership (Amendment) Act. No. 45 of 1982. The duties and the powers of the Management Corporation have been clearly laid down in the statute. The Management Corporation is responsible for governing the condominium and is responsible for providing many services to the owners and occupants of the condominium complex. These responsibilities include the proper maintenance of common elements and keeping them in a good state of repair.

Why do the management corporations fail?

Most condominium dwellers, the governing members of the Management Corporations and some members of the state authorities involved in helping in the formation, guiding and assisting in the management of the Management Corporations are not aware of the provisions in the Apartment Ownership Act. Hence the proper functioning of the management corporations has collapsed. Undue political influence by political leaders in Colombo had also contributed to unauthorized constructions and the occupation of land allocated to condominium units. Maligawatte Housing Complex (condominium) along the main road within the complex is a good example of the wrong political decisions. A condominium plans in certain areas of Maligawatte have not yet been drawn up due to these complications. Hence the ruination of the condominium will continue, if action is not taken to arrest these illegal or unauthorized constructions.

The people of Colombo believe that the young and dynamic Minister of Housing would have the courage and the strength to put a firm full stop to these activities taking place at present. If the Minister and the government fail to take appropriate action with regard to a proper housing policy the city of Colombo will end up as a slum city in Asia.

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