Homes - Real Estate

Condo fees explained

First-time condo buyers are sometimes confused by the monthly maintenance fee that condo buildings charge. Combined with property taxes and your mortgage payments, they can add up to a hefty percentage of your total housing costs. But what is a condo maintenance fee and what does it cover? And how does it compare to the costs of owning a house?

Janice Pynn is president of Simerra Property Management, a FirstService residential management firm and the third-largest in Toronto, with interests in over 32,000 units. “Condo maintenance fees are your percentage share of the costs to run the building as a whole,” she explains. “Unlike rent, they are not a profit source for the management; in fact, each building is registered as a non-profit corporation.”

Generally, Pynn explains, these fees correspond to the individual utility bills you pay on a home, along with maintenance work such as window cleaning, snow shovelling, housecleaning, gardeners, and so on. Fees are calculated according to the size of your unit – a two-bedroom’s fees are higher than a studio’s, for instance – and are recalibrated each year, up or down, according to the building’s annual operating budget.

A certain portion is also set aside as part of a “contingency fee,” which every condo must maintain by law. The contingency fund covers any special costs incurred as part of building upkeep, such as a new roof or repairs to heating or plumbing equipment.

The maintenance fees for townhouses within a complex are usually slightly lower. Often townhouses have their utilities separately metered, so these are not included in the fee; but townhouse owners still pay a share for maintenance of common areas, security and other general costs.

Beyond these basics, there’s a wide variation in the features each individual condo building offers, and the fees vary accordingly. One building might offer beefed-up security, concierge service and underground parking; another might have a fully equipped gym or pool with trainers and classes; or you may have access to special perks like a rooftop patio or guest suite. All of these are reflected in the monthly fee, and in some cases are optional.

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