Despite the slump in the real estate market in recent years, many people find condominiums an attractive alternative to owning a separate dwelling. Typically, the condominium association is responsible for much or all of the building's maintenance. The selling price may be more affordable than free-standing homes in the same neighborhood. The structure may be younger and in better condition than separate dwellings in the same price range. For these reasons, owning a condo makes sense for many. Those who choose condos over separate dwellings, however, need to understand the proper way to insure their investments. While similar in many ways to homeowner's insurance policies, condominium unit owner policies have some significant differences.
The most obvious difference is the subject of the insurance. A homeowner's policy insures against damage to a house and other structures on the property, such as an unattached garage or a fence. A condominium policy insures against damage to the condo unit, including alterations, appliances, fixtures, and improvements in it and parts of the real property that the condominium agreement makes the responsibility of the unit owner. Therefore, the subject of the coverage is much more limited in a condo unit owner's policy.
Unlike a homeowner's policy, a condo policy does not cover structures that the owner rents or holds for rent to a person who is not a tenant of the building. However, there is coverage if the rented structure is a private garage. The policy also does not cover structures from which anyone conducts a business or which store some types of business property.
Another difference has to do with trees. A homeowner's policy provides a small amount of coverage for removing a downed tree that has damaged an insured structure or that is blocking a driveway or ramp for a handicapped person. The condo policy covers removal of an owned tree only if the insured person is the sole owner of it; if all the unit owners in the building share ownership of the tree, the policy does not provide coverage. Also, it does not cover a tree that has not damaged the structure and is blocking a ramp or driveway.
An important difference is in the range of perils the policy covers. A homeowner's policy provides "special" causes of loss coverage on the dwelling, meaning that it covers all perils other than those the policy specifically lists as not covered. In contrast, the condo unit owner's policy covers the unit only for those perils that the policy lists as covered. It is possible that a loss covered by a homeowner's policy would not be covered by a condo unit owner's policy.
If the building in which the condominium unit is located becomes vacant for more than 60 days, the policy ceases to provide some coverages. For example, it will not cover losses caused by vandalism or malicious mischief, accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam, or glass breakage that occur after 60 days of vacancy.
If the unit owner's personal property such as household appliances is damaged, the insurance company will pay the difference between the cost to replace it and the amount by which it has depreciated. Property that is part of the building, such as carpeting, awnings, and outdoor equipment, are covered for their replacement cost without depreciation. However, the owner must repair or replace the damaged items within a reasonable amount of time; otherwise, the company will deduct an amount for depreciation.
Coverage for additional perils and for replacement cost on personal property may be available for an additional premium. A professional insurance agent can help identify companies that provide the needed coverage at a reasonable cost. With the right combination of coverage and price, the new owner can enjoy her condo unit in financial security.