8 Parts of Condo Apartment Unit You Can’t Renovate or Change

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    Owning a property should automatically mean you are entitled to renovation anything you want, but this is not always the case. Condo renovations are completely different and to upgrade most of the items you need permissions, while some things cannot be touched at all.

    The main reason for restriction has to do with ownership and building structure. Purchasing a condo apartment give you right to use the premises with ownership some percentage of corporation that hold the building. In other words entire building is owned partially by people who purchase units with occupancy of exact unit and permission to amenities.

    Heating and plumbing systems are centralized. Each unit has elbow connections from main system that is well thought out and has been approved. Changing position for plumbing or heating could affect overall system. For this reason condominium corporations forbid renovating, moving or changing specific items in condo apartment.

    Here is a list of items that you cannot change in condo:

    • Windows
    • Structural walls
    • Roof Material
    • Exterior Façade
    • Entrance Door
    • Ducts/heat system
    • Plumbing stacks
    • Electrical panel

    Other part of the unit may also be on no touch list, but for the most we will cover most of the items here. Some condos may allow renovation of the things we mentioned in our top 8.

    Exterior Windows Are to Stay the Same

    Tall or short buildings, the intent is to have similar look. Windows take most of the exterior surface if not all on newer high risers and changing those would be impossible by unit owner. Smaller buildings with several windows per unit also have restrictions and want to keep consistency on having everything the same for all apartments.

    In situation when the window breaks and replacement is necessary, the management contacts the window manufacturer or installer they deal with to replace it. Owner is responsible only for paying the bill. Rarely, we see building management does not want to take on work and lets unit owner take care of window replacement.

    Compromising Structural Walls is Forbidden in Condos

    Space limitation inside and outside
    Tools and materials from different trades together

    No one in their right mind will let you tear down supporting walls. Unlike in small house, where structural details can be simply calculated by local engineer, load of every floor above is impossible to calculate. Even local building authorities would never approve such a permit and taking out structural wall without a permit is illegal.

    We all want to demolish several walls and make open concept condo, but some walls cannot be removed. Also think of your fellow neighbor when remodeling apartment. We have seen projects where by mistake demolition crew took down sharing wall between two condo apartment units.

    Top of Building Roof Material

    There is absolutely no way, condo building management would let unit owner to decide what roofing materials to install. No matter where you live or if your unit is the first one below roof, they decide about roof without anyone else getting involved.

    Requests for replacement or repair of roof can be from home owners that are directly affected by roof leak. Tell management that something is leaking and claim damaged materials inside the unit that are leaked on from the roof. Home insurance helps to cover some of the items that get damaged.

    Other than requests there is no actual way to change the roof by yourself in condo building. This is quite logical, and it falls under our 8 parts of condo that owners cannot renovate.

    High or Low Rise Exterior Façade

    Let’s say you live in condo building and do not like exterior faced it has. Can you actually change the material or even paint of exterior building surface? This can be quite frustrating but home owners are limited in this option as well.

    Property management does not allow all or any condo unit owners renovate exterior. Imagine looking at the building with 5 or 10 different colors and several selections of materials that owners changed by themselves.

    They will not even let you fix cracks or damaged façade by your windows or balcony. Request property manager to inspect any damaged surface and tell them to fix it. After all it is in their interest to keep building in good condition and attract other potential buyers/renters.

    Personal Unit Entrance Door Stays the Same

    Although seems very reasonable to change front door if it is damaged or outdated, you cannot replace it on your own. The only thing can be done is a request to management for replacement. Building office contacts supplier for new door that matches the all other doors in the building.

    The idea behind this rule is it to keep every unit looking the same from the hallway. Condo and apartment buildings need to make sure the value of the building does not drop. Imagine if every door would be changed to whatever renters or unit owners want. One front door will be green, one have frosted glass and so on.

    There is no restriction to what you can do inside the unit with this door. Potentially it can be painted to any color that matches interior design and flow of the unit.

    No Way to Redirect Ducts and Heat System

    Whatever positioning is changed inside the unit, ducts are mandatory to stay in original position. It includes heat runs, duct system, ventilation, returns and radiators.

    Entire building has connected heating system that spreads out for every unit on every floor. Mechanical engineers created this plan using heat loss calculations supply of heat from main unit and necessary BTU power that boiler or furnace has. If every unit changes ducts it will affect overall heat flow that building management needs to control and maintain.

    Solution to this would be additional heating sources that are allowed. For example during renovation in apartments and condos contactors can install heated floor mats that are popular in bathrooms. Heat towel racks and electric radiators can be used as well.

    Main Plumbing Stacks Unite All Units

    Plumbing materials
    Different types of plumbing materials for the bathroom.

    Another item that cannot be moved and repositioned within condo apartment is plumbing stack. It collects drain waste from tub, toilet and sinks for the apartment and flushes it all the way down.

    To help everyone understand how it works, imagine a straight line of drain running from very top of the building down to the basement floor. It would be main drain line. On each floor apartment units connect their sewage to this exact line. Moving or diverting stack would change everything in the building.

    Do not mistake it with regular drain pipes for sinks. They could be repositioned as long as done properly. Unfortunately toilets are impossible to move, because its’ drain goes directly into concrete floor that contractors cannot demolish for structural reasons.

    Electrical Panel is Connected to Power Station or Splitter

    Our last item in this discussion is electrical panel. This is serious business and only in rare cases you are allowed to upgrade/change it. Moving it to different position is much harder and we will explain why.

    Every building has electrical service line from city or major electricity supplier. Thick cable goes to main distribution panel in the building. From there electricity travels to each unit with separate panel that controls apartment. In larger building there are additional power stations on each floor.

    Building controls power line from their distribution or power station to your unit and they do not want you to mess with it. Therefore location of electrical panel stays the same.

    With requires to office management you can temporary shutdown power in order to change or upgrade panel in rare situations. This can happen with intense renovation where additional lights and outlets needed.

    Summary for Things That Cannot Be Changed in Condo

    For those of you who plan to remodel apartment condo unit, be sure to understand what you can and cannot upgrade or relocate inside. Some buildings may be less or more strict depending on city bylaws or interior corporation rules.

    If you have any doubts ask building management to guide you on all restrictions. They are always happy to provide information for renovation and upgrades because it increase value for entire building and attracts new buyers.

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    Steven H.
    General Contractor and Home Builder with over 20 years of experience. Write and Edit educational posts for several Remodeling Blogs. Specialize in trade management and technical construction details.

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