Owners' association: The pitfalls of partial ownership - this is what you need to consider when buying an apartment in an apartment building

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days.

Owners' association: The pitfalls of partial ownership - this is what you need to consider when buying an apartment in an apartment building

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at www.capital.de. Like stern, Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

Owning your own property is high on many people’s wish lists. But anyone who buys an apartment in an apartment building is committing to more than just their own four walls. When purchasing, owners automatically join a homeowners' association (WEG): In addition to their own apartment, they acquire a co-ownership share (MEA) in the entire property and in shared parts of the building. This plays a central role in calculating the house fee and other costs incurred.

To ensure that apartment owners in an apartment building do not experience any unpleasant surprises, they should know the differences between residential, partial, special and joint ownership and be aware of the special features associated with them.

“Before buying an apartment, it is absolutely necessary to look at the precise definition of the ownership structure,” warn the experts from real estate financier Dr. Small. "The specific question is: What is separate property and what is common property?" Because with each classification comes different rights, obligations, requirements, design options and risks.

Apartment owners undoubtedly have greater freedom with so-called special property, which can be divided into residential and partial ownership. From a purely legal perspective, there is no difference between the two forms. In both cases, the owner is allowed to use and design the respective space exclusively and is responsible for its maintenance. However, they differ in the purpose for which the respective rooms can be used. Home ownership may only serve residential purposes.

Partial ownership refers to premises that are used for other purposes, for example for a commercial business such as a doctor's practice, law firm or as an office. Storage rooms, workshops, studios or garages also fall under the category of partial ownership.

Whether residential or partial ownership, both forms of ownership have one thing in common: special property must be registered in the land register so that it can stand up in court.

In addition to the separate property, apartment owners must consider the common property, which benefits all parties. This includes all load-bearing and necessary building parts that are central to the existence and safety of the property in question, such as the foundation, roof, water, electricity and gas pipes running through the house, central heating and photovoltaic systems. Common property also includes parts of the building that everyone in the house uses, such as stairs, hallways, basement corridors and elevators, as well as shared facilities, such as laundry rooms, storage rooms, bicycle storage rooms and mailboxes.

All owners of the WEG bear the costs for maintenance, modernization measures and management of common property together. There can be a potential stumbling block lurking here. The amount of the personal share is calculated based on the respective co-share. This is usually based on the ratio of living and usable space in the individual apartments to one another and is broken down accordingly in percentage terms. But that is not guaranteed.

The distribution of the co-ownership shares is generally freely selectable because there is no binding requirement for the distribution of costs. This means that homeowners' associations can theoretically implement unfair distribution structures. Prospective buyers should therefore take a close look at what co-ownership share comes with the desired property.

While your own apartment is always separate property, shared property cannot always be clearly identified immediately. The use of a basement room can be explicitly reserved for an apartment owner and would therefore be special property. Or the room is available to all residential parties and would therefore be shared property. Both variants are also conceivable for car parking spaces and garages.

A look at the declaration of division of the respective WEG ensures certainty. This is a document that legally binds separate property and common property within the residential complex in a so-called distribution plan. This must be certified by a notary. The document also breaks down the co-ownership shares. The declaration of division also documents the situation of the homeowners' association to the land registry office, which enters it accordingly in the land register and stores the paper.

Good to know: Community property can also be converted into separate property and vice versa. However, all apartment owners must agree and have the change notarized. In order to be legally binding, it must also be in the land register.