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Landlord Tenant Q&A

Q. I lived in several different apartment complexes on the Mainland. When I wanted a rental, the building superintendent could give me a list of everything available in the building. When I had a problem, even a minor one like changing burned out light bulbs, I’d call the building superintendent and he would do it for me. He would open my apartment when I was locked out, make sure all the appliances worked, help with pest control, accept packages from the mailman, generally oversee and help with everything for all the residents. The managers here don’t help at all with the units. Why are things so different?

A. Condo vs. Apartment! This is a very interesting question and basically the answer lies in the difference between a condominium complex and an apartment building. Across the country every major city has apartment houses, towers, complexes, etc. They call them by different names depending on what part of the country they are in. In Hawaii, we just simply call them “apartments.” Apartment buildings or complexes are owned by one entity, be it a single person, a partnership, or even the government. Most apartments in Hawaii are walk-ups, in other words, four stories or less. There are some bigger ones in Honolulu, Waikiki, Wahiawa, and Waipahu. Also there are town house style apartments — two that quickly come to mind are parts of Palm Villa I and Coronado in Ewa Beach. The units are not owned individually. Apartment complexes usually have an onsite manager and a rental office. You can go there, knock on the door, and say, “Hey, what do you have for rent?” The onsite maintenance people take care of minor maintenance issues. In most areas of the country, apartments far outnumber condominium units.

However, in Hawaii the Condo is King! We have more condos, short for condominium, than apartments in Hawaii. What makes a condominium is the piece of paper that a developer files with the City & County when seeking permission to build. Condos can look like apartment buildings, townhouse style units, and even single family homes. Condominiums have property regimes, bylaws, and rules that each owner agrees to adhere to when they purchase the property.

Condominium units, no matter what style, are individually owned. It is said that when you own a condominium you have “an undivided interest in the whole.” Each unit has a relationship with the other and together they maintain everything commonly owned, e.g., swimming pool, driveways, common landscape. A separate deed is issued for each unit and a mortgage can be secured for each individual unit. Condos can be lived in by owner occupants or renters. There are no on site rental agents since the units are individually owned by lots of different people. They are free to hire their own agent, or they may manage their rental themselves. The resident managers do not work for individuals but rather the association of owners. Their job is to maintain the complex as a whole, the parts that are owned by everyone together. The unit itself is maintained solely by its owner.

In Hawaii and around the country, Condominium and Apartment are not synonymous terms. Like Apples and Oranges -which are both fruit, but different!

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