Condos provide an excellent, affordable housing option, whether you are looking for your primary residence, an investment or wish to rent. Apartment condos and townhouses (non-freehold) have a mandatory, non-negotiable monthly fee known as condo fee, co-ownership fees or strata fees. These fees cover a number of expenses related to the maintenance of the entire property, both from a unit standpoint as well as all the common areas such as parking, amenities and the lobby.
Whether you are renting or purchasing a condo, it’s important to understand the fees involved as this will greatly impact your monthly expenses.
So, here’s everything you need to know about condo fees to help you avoid any surprises when you move in.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN CONDO FEES?
What your condo fees are used for will vary based on the condo you purchase/rent. However, some of the most common expenses covered include:
Utilities: In most cases, condo fees will include at least a part of your utilities including water, hydro, and in some cases heat. Newer buildings tend to have individual heat pumps in each unit, so your contribution would be based on your specific usage. In some buildings, a portion of cable/internet is covered, but this is usually only offered as an incentive to buyers.
Reserve Fund: Each condo must maintain a reserve fund in accordance with the Condominium Act. The fund provides money used for replacements and unexpected repairs for the property. We go into a bit more detail about reserve funds below.
Common Area Maintenance: The fees associated with the operation and maintenance of the building and its surrounding property are also included. This covers the cleaning of common areas, snow removal, garbage removal, repairs, etc.
The more amenities your condo includes, the higher the condo fees tend to be as the property will require more repairs, cleaning and general maintenance.
HOW MUCH ARE CONDO FEES?
To come up with an exact number or even an average for condo fees is very challenging. Not only are there new condos popping up every day, but also many factors that are considered to determine condo fees. For example in Toronto in 2017 condo fees ranged from 22 cents to $1.35 per square feet while in Montreal, the average square foot cost was 20 cents with an average monthly cost of $198.
The three common determining factors that contribute to the costs include:
Building Size: In many cases, a larger building will cost less to maintain. This is because there are more units contributing to the funds.
Building Age: When you buy an older condo, you might find your fees are higher as there is more to fix. However, in new buildings keep in mind you might pay less for the first year or two but end up paying more as the building management discovers the costs involved. As well, often newer buildings have more amenities which can add to the costs.
Amenities: We’ve already mentioned amenities a few times and with good reason. Amenities will greatly impact your condo fees. If your building has just parking and a common lobby area, they won’t cost as much to maintain as a building with a pool, gym and valet parking. Modern condos have all kinds of amenities from yoga rooms to laundry pick up that all add to your fees.
The condo management/board must provide you with a declaration that explains your condo fees, the cost, and what is covered. This will vary from province to province but is still required regardless of where you buy your condo.
Keep in mind, low fees can indicate a number of issues, including the board is not putting enough money into building maintenance. This might seem unimportant, but remember, a poorly maintained building will affect the resale value of your unit.
CONDO FEE INCREASES
Because condo fees can rise at any time, you should avoid purchasing a condo where you’re already stretching to pay the current monthly fees. There are many factors that can contribute to an increase. Some things to worry about when shopping for a condo include:
Utilities not included in the condo fees
Low balled condo fees when buying new
If you can’t afford the fees now, you might be forced to sell if even a minimal increase occurs to your condo fees. On the flip side, reduced condo fees are a selling tactic many builders have adopted to attract buyers in a competitive market. Regardless of the rate, new buildings will increase their fees once they understand what it costs to keep the building looking well maintained and fully operational.
Although all condos collect condo fees, a poorly managed building could go bankrupt. Each condo must provide a status certificate, to show the financial stability of the building. It will tell you important financial info including:
The status of the reserve fund
The management contracts
Legal battles, if any
Current maintenance fees
Any large upcoming fee increases
When buying a resale condominium, always make sure you have a conditional offer allowing you to review the condo building’s financial statements. You can make sure the condo has a healthy reserve fund to avoid issues with potential bankruptcy.
MORE ABOUT RESERVE FUNDS
Reserve funds are separate from the condominium’s operating funds. They are there in case major Renos or repairs are required. As mentioned, some of your condo fees will go to the reserve fund. Although this is supposed to ensure the condo corporation always has enough money to cover repairs, sometimes they don’t. In this case, special assessments must take place.
The assessment will determine how much money is required to cover an emergency repair. A lump sum is then charged to owners. The condo association will set up the assessment which can often come out quite high.
You can ask to see the certificate of the building’s state, so you see what potential issues lie ahead. In Ontario, reserve fund studies are mandated every three years. Fees in the reserve funds for new condominiums cannot be less than 10% of your condo fees. An important note, in Quebec there aren’t laws in place to mandate reserve fund studies. They do have a law that fees in the reserve funds for new condominiums cannot be less than 5% of your condo fees. However, this is half that deemed necessary in Ontario. If you do the math, this could lead to disaster when the funds aren’t there for emergencies.
YOUR OWN EMERGENCY FUND
Since there is always the chance for a special assessment, you should try to have savings put aside for your contribution. Many condo boards will charge higher monthly fees to avoid the need for special assessments, which is a good thing.
Either way, you don’t want to be faced with a bill you can’t manage, so saving is a good idea just in case. The longer you plan to stay in the condo, the more reason to put aside an emergency fund.
Condo fees can really impact your monthly costs. By understanding everything involved, you will avoid facing fees that will wreak havoc with your budget.
At OnlyWith.ca, we have helped thousands of people find the right condo whether it was for home or as an investment. Reach out to one of our agents today.