Condo Customs and Culture in Peurto

By Norma Rollins and Michael P. Miller

Michael and Norma own and live in a Puerto Escondido condominium apartment. They have had ownership in two other condominium developments in the area.

Condo Eglantina
Condo Eglantina

If you own your home, ongoing repairs and maintenance are just part of the package. In Puerto Escondido this is particularly true. The elements - sun, rain, high humidity, salt air, and winds - constantly erode everything we build. This is a major reason for you to consider buying a condo.

A condominium is a form of home ownership where you buy an individual unit (apartment, house, or lot) in a larger complex. Everything in the development beyond your individual unit is owned and managed in common by an owners association. This includes roads, sewers, water and electricity and other land in the development.

Sometimes the developer establishes the association, even before the condominium is built, and all owners agree to be members as a condition of ownership. Otherwise, the association is established later on by the owners. Making the budget for maintenance is the responsibility of the governing board which may hire a professional manager; condo associations must have a Mexican accountant.

The association develops a set of rules that are legally binding on all owners. They may also have “life style” rules including whether owners can have pets, restrictions on conditions for renting, or stipulations about the age of children allowed to use the pool without adult supervision. Even the type of plants you can grow may be controlled by the rules.

Condos LeBlon
Condos LeBlon
In the U.S., Canada and some parts of Mexico, condos are common and there are lawyers and other experts to advise governing boards. However, in Puerto Escondido condos are a fairly new concept. We know of just eight condo developments here where building has started or is completed. Only a few are running smoothly and, in at least one of those, the owners struggled for years to get things right.

So what can go wrong? For developers, setting up a condo is a sales strategy. However, after the sales are complete and the buildings are built, little else may be in place. The legal and management structure can have huge holes. There may not yet be a legal association or governing rules (reglamientos) or any process for owners to take control and elect a board. Or, if there are rules, the developer may have set himself up as the manager for life.

If there is no association, literally all the owners must agree to incorporate one and then they must agree to all the rules. If there are twelve individual owners, as in our condo, this can be difficult. If there are fifty or 100, it can feel impossible.

So why bother to incorporate? Because unincorporated condominiums are in legal limbo. If there is no incorporated association (asociación civil), you have no power to collect funds. Even if you are able collect voluntary dues, you still cannot open a bank account, file the necessary tax forms, take a legal action as an association or defend yourself against a lawsuit.

While the legal structure and rules are critical, even more important are the relationships among owners. Serious problems can arise when the owners are not in agreement. Even reasonable people can have very different opinions.

So, should you avoid buying a condo here? No, because the advantages are real, especially for people who don’t live in Puerto year round. You may find your dream apartment or house in a Puerto Escondido condominium as we did. When you do, ask many questions about the association’s rules, finances, and long-term management. Find your own lawyer to check the papers. And, be sure to meet as many of the other owners as you can before you buy, especially the board members.

Condo Dorado Carrizalillo
Condo Dorado Carrizalillo

The answers you receive to your questions about the condominium will not all be perfect; they never are. But, we have seen how a group of committed owners working together can overcome many initial problems and help each other realize their dreams. Even then, you will learn to live with some ambiguities (perhaps a few owners who routinely ignore the rental rules). But, in our experience, ambiguity is part of the charm of living in Puerto.

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