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Frequently Asked Questions About “Twindominiums”

Q: Who will be in charge of the Association? A: Each unit owner must be a member of the association. Membership is automatic when a unit is purchased. The association can be a nonstock, not for profit corporation or a not for profit unincorporated association. In either case, the attorney preparing the declaration will also prepare the needed association documents, including bylaws. The bylaws outline how the association is operated and sets the rules under which it will control the common elements and levy assessments. All association decisions are made jointly by the owners. The association may have to file income tax returns, depending on how the assessments are handled. Q: What if owners cannot agree on what needs to be done by the Association? A: Because of the possibility of a deadlock, the condominium statutes provide a procedure for resolving disputes through arbitration. By accepting a deed to a unit, the owner automatically agrees to submit disagreements to arbitration, the cost for which is shared equally by the owners. The added costs of an arbitration proceeding should provide incentive for owners to settle their disagreements. Q: Are unit owners assessed differently if the entire roof needs to be replaced versus a leak repair in only one spot? A: No. The assessment procedure is the same in both cases. All owners must contribute to the cost of repairing or replacing a common element. The roof is almost always a common element. Although the leak may only affect one unit, all units must contribute to the cost of the repair since each unit owner owns a percentage interest in the common element. The declaration will provide for reserves to accumulate funds for major replacements, such as a new roof or gutters. In effect, the reserve fund assessment is a forced savings program to handle future capital expenses, such as a new roof. (NOTE: New changes to Wisconsin condominium statutes, effective November 1, 2004, will require the establishment of reserves, which means monthly assessments over and above the routine maintenance/repair costs. The unit owners can opt out of the statutory reserve program, but disclosures about the opt out must be made to prospective buyers. A decision to adopt or opt out of the statutory reserve requirements must be made by every Wisconsin condominium association on or before May 1, 2006.) Q: Who maintains and paints the exterior? A: Exterior walls are common element, and the association has control of them. The association (the two owners in a twindominium) will maintain the exterior. Usually the colors for walls, trim, gutters, and downspouts will be uniform, so the unit owners must agree on those decisions. All costs are assessed to the unit owners. Q: Who is responsible for repairs to exterior doors and the windows? A: In many declarations, the doors and windows are defined as being part of the unit, so the unit owner must take care of them, replacing them when needed. However, if a uniform appearance for the duplex is desired, the association will pick the design/color of the doors and windows. Q: Who repairs the garage? A: Typically a garage is designated common element. All owners contribute to the cost of upkeep and repair. The parking space in the garage is usually limited common element. One space is assigned to each unit in the case of a two-car garage. A unit owner should be responsible for repairing any damage caused by his or her car. Q: Who can use the attic or the basement? A: The attic and basement may each be common element, allowing every owner to have access for storage, washers, dryers, and the like. They could be divided in some fashion, creating two limited common elements. Then each owner has separate space for his or her exclusive use. In either case, all owners share in any costs. Q: Who mows and maintains the lawn, shovels the snow, plants trees, flowers and bushes? A: Lawns, sidewalks and driveways are either common elements or limited common elements. As such, the association is technically responsible for maintenance, mowing, snow removal and the like. These services could be contracted out to third parties or the unit owners could divide the work between themselves. The declaration should provide for these alternatives. Provisions can be added to the declaration to allow unit owners to garden and plant flowers and bushes in certain areas. Those costs would be paid by the unit owner who does the planting. Major landscaping, such as new trees or tree trimming, should be agreed upon by the owners. The association would have the trees planted or trimmed and assess the owners proportionately for such expenses. Unit owners must understand that they share the yard and are not entitled to plant whatever they want without first getting consent of the other owner. Q: How are utilities paid? A: As part of a duplex conversion, separate gas and electric meters should be installed, one set for each unit. Depending on the plumbing layout, separate water meters could also be installed. If there is only one water meter, the water/sewer bill would be paid by the association and assessed to the owners. This could raise complaints about excessive water usage by an owner. The cost of outside lighting would be shared in the same manner as other assessments. Q: How is insurance to be handled? A: The association buys the fire/casualty and liability insurance for the condominium and the premium is paid by the unit owners. Each unit owner purchases a separate condominium unit policy which insures against damage to the unit and its contents, and includes liability insurance for the individual owner. The association and the unit owners should buy their respective policies from the same insurer. This eliminates the potential dispute between two insurers as to whether the damage or the accident occurred in the unit (unit owner’s insurer is responsible) or in the common element (association’s insurer is responsible). Insuring with the same company eliminates coverage arguments. J. Miles Goodwin is an attorney with the firm of O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong, S.C. at 111 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1400, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53213. Office phone is (414) 276-5000, or reach him by email at