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2 Issues That Can Make an Aging in Place Condo Renovation Project Difficult

Unlike most home renovation projects, an aging-in-place project aims to make a home more safe and age-friendly. That may mean maintaining the look, feel, and style of the home even though substantial changes are made to the property.

For condominiums, this can be particularly challenging due to two main factors: the rules and regulations of the condo or homeowners association (HOA) and the storage of material, building supplies, and equipment during construction.

1.    Condo or Homeowners Associations Rules and Regulations

In most instances, condo owners own the interior of their unit and a fraction of everything else. Depending on the location of their unit, a condo or HOA homeowner they may plant shrubs, yard decorations, or signs, but only according to the rules and regulations of the association. The good news is that you can do just about whatever you want to the interior to make your home more age-friendly, but exterior issues like sidewalks are under the control of the association.

The best thing aging condo owners can do is reach out to their associations as soon as they have an idea about what renovations they want to make. The associations may have suggestions for how you can get the results you want without violating the rules and regulations of the association.

The Importance of a CAPS Contractor

You’ll also want to work with a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) contractor who can help you achieve the same results. Experienced CAPS contractors will likely have familiarity with the typical HOA rules and regulations, and they may even have preexisting relationships with certain building managers, property management companies, and/or HOA representatives. This experience and these relationships can make a condo renovation go a whole lot smoother, because more often than not, everyone is on the same page from the get-go.

At the same time, a CAPS contractor is going to work on your behalf, and will likely know what you’re allowed to do under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of the HOA rules. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA), an HOA cannot legally deny an owner with a disability the chance to fully enjoy the use of their unit by making reasonable modifications to it to accommodate their special needs. The FFHA requires HOAs to allow a disabled owner to make—at the owner’s expense—reasonable modifications to the owner’s unit and common areas in order to accommodate their disability.

Some typical examples include:

  • Power stair lifts
  • Ramps and handrails up to the main entry of the home
  • Wider and longer entryway steps
  • Curb ramps from the condo unit to the parking area or driveway
  • Repairs to walkways from the condo unit to the clubhouse, pool, or public sidewalk

Meanwhile, modifications to the unit and common areas must be:

  • Consistent with state and federal building codes
  • Consistent with HOA governor documents regarding safety and aesthetics
  • Passable by other residents or owners
  • Removed when the disabled occupant no longer lives in the unit
  • Submitted to the HOA board for review prior to construction.

Other Ways HOAs May Restrict Renovations

The rules may not allow you to make changes to the plumbing behind the walls, limiting your ability to move toilets and sinks. This can sometimes be important for aging-in-place projects, since toilets and sinks may need to be relocated to ensure wheelchair or walker access. One way to get around this rule is to extend the pipes once they’ve entered the unit, though that may increase your costs. Even then, you may need to check the rules to be sure extending the pipes is allowed.

HOA rules may restrict other aspects of the renovation, as well. These include:

  • Hours in which work may be done
  • Parking and property access
  • Debris disposal
  • Modifications to front doors, windows or balconies

For most general contractors, these restrictions pose one of the biggest challenges to condominium renovation projects. The other challenge to these renovation projects is the lack of a staging area.

2.    Lack of a Staging Area or Access to the Building

Depending on the layout of your condo community and depending on the scope of work to be done, there may not be a lot of space for the construction crew to stage the renovation or access may be limited. Construction staging is where construction equipment, supplies, and building material are stored during the build or renovation. Some associations may restrict access or not allow equipment or materials to be stored outside, may have space limitations both for parking and storing materials, may restrict access to an elevator, or may not allow renovations during certain times of the year (i.e. tourist season).

Typically, what will happen in these situations is the contractor will have to arrive early each day to drop off materials and supplies and stay late to collect those items during the build or renovation. Given the time parameters that might be in place by the association, this not only can delay the project due to the additional time involved in the daily setting up and closing down of the workspace, it can also be more expensive for the same reason.

Furthermore, if the condo unit is within the building, rather than an individual townhouse-style unit, the contractor will need to reserve the freight elevator for periods of the day, which will require coordination with the HOA or building manager.

Your CAPS contractor may be able to time deliveries of materials to be installed immediately, reducing the amount of storage that’s required. If space is an issue, it might be wise to make accommodations elsewhere while the renovation work is being done, even though most condo owners choose to stay in the home during renovations.

What to Do Now

Before you focus on your condo association, the first step is to identify your needs for now and in the future. If, for example, you have a deteriorating eye condition, you will want to make sure there is plenty of light in your condo for when your vision starts to change.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Lighting for Aging in Place for ideas on how to layer lighting or where to install recessed lighting.

On the other hand, if you have, or anticipate having mobility issues, you’ll want to pay close attention to flooring.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Flooring to see what kinds of problems could arise and how to tackle them.

Once you have identified the areas of your condominium that need to be renovated, then you should review your association rules and regulations to see if there are any impediments to doing so. If not, then a good idea is to talk with a CAPS contractor.

An experienced CAPS contractor should be able to quickly determine whether your renovation ideas are possible from a construction standpoint (for example, can bathroom and kitchen fixtures be moved or new plumbing lines installed), and they should know how to work with your association to find solutions to any issues raised by your governing documents.