Condominium, Co-op, and HOA - What’s the Difference?
Updated: Feb 24
There is some confusion about the differences between a condominium, a homeowners’ association, and a cooperative. Residents of these communities use the terms “homeowners” or “property owners” to describe themselves as a group.
If you live in one of these types of communities, it’s important to understand the key differences between the three. This is especially true if you will be serving your community and need to take a condominium, co-op or HOA board member certification course.
Let’s go over the main difference between a condo, co-op, and HOA.
A condominium is established by the developer, who files a Declaration of Condominium with the county. In a condominium community, owners own their respective units, and jointly own the building’s common areas and amenities. Examples of these common areas are the grounds, elevators, pool, park areas, and the clubhouse. When they buy a unit, unit owners automatically become members of the condominium association, and agree to pay monthly or quarterly assessments to the association for upkeep of the common areas, insurance, taxes on the common areas, and so forth. Condominium associations must be incorporated as non-profit corporations. The documents which govern the condominium association are the Declaration, Bylaws and Rules and Regulations.
What many new condominium unit owners may not realize is that the roofs and outer walls, walkways, and roads are also common areas. So if the outside of the buildings in Phase One of a three-phase condominium community need to be painted, the cost of painting is shared by all of the owners in all three phases of the community association.
The association’s affairs are overseen by an elected Board of Directors, which usually meets monthly. Unit owners are advised of the meetings and allowed to attend and can participate as time allows. An annual meeting is held once a year to elect board members, to vote on whether reserve funds should be included in the budget (which affects the assessments), and to vote on amendments to the Bylaws and other condominium documents such as the Bylaws and Rules and Regulations.
Many condominium associations hire Condominium Association Managers to support the Board of Directors with their knowledge of operations, paperwork, meetings, and responding to unit owner questions. Condominium Association Managers (CAMs) must be specially trained and licensed.
Florida Statute 718 contains all of the provisions related to condominium law.
Cooperatives are common in the northeast, especially in large cities, but they exist elsewhere as well. In contrast with condominiums, people who reside in a cooperative community do not actually own their homes as real property. Instead, they buy shares in the cooperative association and receive a stock certificate and a proprietary lease that allows them to live in the designated unit. When they sell the unit, they actually sell shares of the corporation to the new owner.
As with condominiums, cooperative associations elect a Board of Directors that is responsible for the care and upkeep of the building or community, for enforcing community rules, and for holding meetings of members. Members of the Board of Directors in Florida need to pass a certification course, even if the daily major tasks of running the cooperative are turned over to a management company.
Cooperative shareholders pay monthly fees to the cooperative association, and vote on matters that affect the association. A distinct feature of cooperatives is that the shareholders have a say in who can buy in the community. Prospective buyers may be interviewed by several committees and be asked to reveal personal financial information.
Florida Statute 719 outlines the provisions that apply to cooperative housing.
Homeowners’ Association (HOA)
All private gated residential communities operate under some kind of Homeowners’ Association (HOA), but there are also HOAs in non-gated communities. The developer typically establishes the HOA when the community is established and houses are being built, and then allocates the shares of the HOA as the units in the development are sold.
HOAs typically provide homeowners with a higher level of services than would be available to them if they lived in a non-HOA neighborhood. For example, they may have a golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, fitness club, dog park, clubhouse, community garden and other amenities for their exclusive use. Homeowners (also called “parcel owners”) own their home and the land where it is situated. They are responsible for maintenance of their home and for landscaping.
Florida Homeowners’ Associations must be incorporated as not-for-profit corporations, and homeowners in the community share ownership of the common areas and facilities. Each member pays an assessment to maintain the common amenities and provide other services to the community. Members elect a Board of Directors that acts on behalf of the association to protect the investment value and lifestyle of homeowner members by enforcing rules and conducts board meetings as well as an annual meeting where elections are held and where members vote on various issues.
Florida Statute 720 details laws affecting HOAs.
Just as these three types of communities are different, courses for board member certification for condominium, co-op and HOA are unique. Understanding the basics of how and why your community was created and why its bylaws and rules are not the same as a different type of community that may be right next door is helpful for anyone who lives in any type of planned community.