As a result of the recent devastation and destruction the need for housing has become critical and urgent. In the circumstances the best and the most practical solution is condominium housing.
Most people think of a condominium as either a high-rise or a low-rise apartment building and that Condominium Law may apply if a common wall is used to divide two units. This is a total misconception.
Condominium is a homeownership method and not the shape or size of a building. The concept is misunderstood by many - including some professionals in the Housing Industry.
Condominiums can also be townhouses, semi-detached houses or even fully detached houses. Condominium housing is successfully implemented all over the world including the developing countries.
Complications and problems can arise when condominiums are not set up in the proper way as it has been in the last 30 years in Sri Lanka. There is no doubt professional advice should be sought when setting up condominiums.
In the early 1970s the State owned rental buildings were privatised, allowing the tenants to buy their units. It paved the way for many people to become homeowners, who could not afford to buy a home otherwise. This was a very noble idea of the Govt. of that time and the Minister of Housing.
However since many officials who were engaged in the process of transferring ownership to tenants had no knowledge of the condominium homeownership method.
This has created an absolute mess in these housing complexes, and condominium living for some people has become distasteful. No constructive remedial action has been taken over the last 30 years to solve these problems.
The unit owners will have to understand that the units are exclusively owned by them. The common areas and facilities are jointly owned with the other residents. Therefore it is their responsibility to maintain these areas collectively.
Most people who own and live in the condominiums set up by the state think that it is the responsibility of the Government to look after the maintenance of these buildings and common areas. This has become a burden to the state as the maintenance is carried out with the tax payers money.
* In which way can the tsunami affected people benefit from this homeownership method?
Condominium living has many advantages and benefits. It is a method of combining some of the advantages of ownership with the freedoms associated with renting. This enables a person to share in the ownership and operation of a housing complex while having a negotiable title to his own unit.
* How can the condominiums be set up to provide hassle free living for these people?
After the construction is completed, the units should be allocated to them on a long term subsidised Payment Plan. The condominium has to be registered in the Land Registry. Proper by-laws and rules should be written and a constitution should be prepared and implemented.
A trained Condominium Manager should be appointed to run the condominium on day to day basis with the Residents' Management Committee.
* How do you select the type of condominium, which is most suitable for the tsunami affected people?
The size and shape of the building and the type of the condominium depends on the availability of the land in that particular area and the place.
Therefore not only detailed planning of unit layouts and fast construction, emphasis should be made on how to utilise common areas to give maximum facilities and hassle free living for these already traumatised people. It is important to prepare the correct condominium documents.
* In a low-rise walk-up apartment building, what aspects should be looked into when planning?
Usually such apartment buildings are constructed when the buildable land area is limited. Attention should be given to detail when planning unit layouts and the common facilities. Children's needs, adults needs, social interaction, day care, shopping, laundry facilities, recreational etc. have to be looked into.
* How can the people who lost everything afford to buy these condominiums?
The foreign aid and donations for housing has to be utilised to provide subsidized housing or the affected people. The units can be sold on a long term Purchase Plan. Ownership is always preferred over renting, as the residents will take good care of their units and common facilities, which are jointly owned with the other residents.
* If condominium ownership method is not understood by many, how do you expect the average person to understand and enjoy the benefits of condominium living?
An Awareness Program on Condominium living which is also an absolute necessity should be conducted for the residents.
Trained Condominium Managers should be there to look after the day-to-day affairs on long-term basis. These can be graduates who can learn the concept, rules and by-laws, basic accounting, arranging social activities, conducting meetings, keeping records etc.
* Should the State (N.H.D.A or C.M.A) get directly involved in managing these condominiums?
This is a private home ownership method. Their involvement can be minimal, if these new condominiums are set up properly and well managed.
The condomiums established in the last 30 years by the State have many problems. Therefore the recently established Condominium Management Authority has an enormous amount of work to do in this respect.
* Is the C.M.A. fully equipped to enforce the laws and exercise authority vested in it by the Apartment Ownership (Amendment) Act, 2003?
This Act should further be amended and certain clauses should be repealed. There are also some noticeable omissions. This is the opinion of many developers, condominium managers and others engaged in this industry.
* How can people who lived in single family houses before, get used to living in 650 sq. ft. apartments?
The large families can always get two apartments side by side in the building. However these units must meet the United Nations Habitat Standards when it comes to the floor area.
* How could people who cooked and washed clothes outside, and used out house toilets, get used to condominium apartment living?
When the unit layout is planned, emphasis should be given to essential and basic facilities. A community kitchen can be provided in addition to the small kitchen in the unit.
The access to the bathroom can be from the balcony. Clothes washing can be done in a community area and also can have a block of toilets as a common facility. These details can be worked out.
* How can the children be cooped up in a small 2-bedroom unit?
Common areas should be utilised to the maximum. Common recreation room, TV room, tuition room, reception room and some play areas in the building should be provided. Well protected outside play areas also can be provided for the children.
* How can the funds be made available for maintenance of these buildings?
The condominiums should have a Reserve Fund for major repairs and a fund for day-to-day maintenance. These funds should be allocated from Relief Funds, and donations. gradually the homeowners should take-over the responsibility for the maintenance cost.
* On what basis are the housing units allocated to the tsunami-affected people?
Condominiums have to be categorised according to the residents' needs, habits, customs and social and educational backgrounds. This is not segregation but to make it comfortable for the residents' interactions with others in the complex.
Condominium is a viable alternate homeownership method for all income groups and age groups. Proper planning and implementation is the key to success.
(The writer is a Condominium Specialist and an award winning Realtor in Canada with the wide experience in all aspects of Real Estate. Held membership in Canadian Real Estate Association, Ontario Real Estate Association, London - St. Thomas Real Estate Board, Ontario and was a member of the Realtor Political Action Committee, Canada).''