Paying for HOA Common Area Improvements

By Daniel Zimberoff
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Can an individual homeowner in a condominium pay for improvements to common areas? Often, there’s a difference in what can legally be done versus what can practically be done. To obtain a legal answer, one must refer to the state laws for the jurisdiction and review the specific association’s governing documents. I am unaware of any specific law that forbids a homeowner from paying for common area improvements. Please check the law to verify along with reviewing your CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules.

Even if your association’s governing documents and state law allow a homeowner to pay for common area improvements, absent unusual circumstances, it may not be a sensible practice. First, common areas by their very nature benefit the entire community. Why should the cost of an improvement fall upon the shoulders of a single homeowner or small group of owners? If an owner pays, are they going to claim heightened privilege to use the common areas under a “pay to play” claim? What is their motivation for reaching into their own pockets to pay a common expense? It may be in exchange for an actual or perceived benefit, which goes against the concept of common areas.

Next, if the owner or group agrees to pay, are they going to insist on selecting the contractor or vendor? Ordinarily, boards retain exclusive authority to select contractors and vendors, keeping in mind insurance and other risk management criteria.

Who pays for ongoing maintenance of the improvement? Also, what happens if the work is not done properly and must be redone, or if the work causes damage to other components or areas? Will the association look to the owner or group to reimburse the community for these anticipated or unforeseen costs?

Remember, common areas differ from limited common areas, also known as exclusive use common areas. Limited common areas don’t benefit the entire association membership (e.g., patios, decks, parking spaces, etc.) For these areas, it is quite common for individual homeowners to be required by statute or governing document to pay for maintenance and improvement, as individual owners are the sole beneficiaries for use of this category of property.

If allowed by law, having an owner or small group of owners pay for common area maintenance or improvements opens a can of worms. The better practice is to stick with the tried-and-true method of having common area expenses paid by the entire community per the association’s applicable expense allocation schedule. explores questions and comments from community association members living in condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives. We then assemble trusted experts to provide practical solutions to your most commonly asked, timely questions. We never use real names, but we always tackle real issues. Have a question or comment about your community association? Submit here for consideration:

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Daniel Zimberoff

Daniel Zimberoff is a consultant and mediator for homeowners associations in San Diego. He also is an emeritus CCAL fellow.