Condominium Disputes in Thailand – Rights and Responsibilities of Joint Owners
Article by Tilleke & Gibbins
“Condominium” combines the Latin roots com (“together”) and dominium (“right of ownership or property”) into a word that literally means “shared property.” This shared ownership of property—which in the condominium’s case has come to mean a large building of residential units—has been enormously popular in Bangkok and other Thai cities, and regardless of the economic situation in Thailand, condominiums continue to be attractive to Thai people and foreign investors due to their favorable locations, pleasant common spaces, access to convenient methods of transportation, and reasonable prices. The land available for “low-rise” buildings—such as detached houses, townhouses, twin houses, or commercial constructions—is expected to become progressively scarcer in urban areas, with condominiums or “high-rise” residences eventually becoming the residence of choice.
Despite its advantages, living in condominiums involves the coming together of the people owning or leasing the units, so various conflicts among the owners or with the condominium juristic person are bound to arise from time to time. As a continuation of a similar discussion of condominiums that we wrote a few years ago, this article aims to provide some clarity to these issues by identifying some key elements of the legal framework governing condominiums, considering some of the more common disputes that arise, and suggesting legally sound resolutions to those disputes.
The main law governing condominiums in Thailand is the Condominium Act B.E. 2522 (1979), which establishes the following key definitions:
Condominium. A building in which the ownership is divided into multiple parts consisting of individual personal properties and jointly owned common property.
Personal property. A condominium unit, including constructions and land provided to each unit owner. Personal property can be divided into two main types: a “unit,” which refers to the parts of the condominium that are divided to be owned by different persons; and a developed or undeveloped piece of land provided for each condominium owner, such as a space in the parking lot or a small plot of land for gardening.
Common property. Land on which the condominium is situated and other land and property provided for use or common interest of the joint owners. Examples of common property in the Condominium Act include land, constructions, tools, and supplies for common use or common interest, and in practice these often include walkways and stairwells, grounds and gardens, amenities such as pools and fitness facilities, and other common areas of the property. In short, the parts of the condominium that are not units or personal property provided with units. The joint owners thus share ownership over these things as well.
A noisy air-conditioner from a neighboring residence can be a serious issue as it can disturb the peace, quiet, and quality of life that condominium residents expect. If a condominium resident finds that the noise from a neighboring air-conditioning unit is severely intrusive, the first step is to notify the manager of the condominium juristic person so that the manager can inform the neighbor and request that they fix the problem. This is because one of the manager’s duties under section 36 of the Condominium Act is to keep order in the condominium. Attempting to fix the problem on one’s own, on the other hand, is not recommended because it may exacerbate the conflict.
If the neighbor ignores the problem after having been notified, a second step may come into play. In this case, the affected resident has the legal right to file a civil lawsuit against the neighbor, on the grounds that neighbor committed a wrongful act, and requesting a court order requiring the neighbor to stop the noise or fix the air-conditioner.
The affected resident may also claim damages if they have suffered monetary damage from the problem caused by the neighbor’s intentional act or negligence. In such a case, the claimed damages would have to be substantiated by evidence such as records of the disturbing noise, proof of medical treatment costs (if the affected resident suffers insomnia from the noisy air-conditioner, for example), or other documentation.
Who should be liable when a pipe in the common area (common property) that runs through a unit (personal property) breaks because the plumbing is outdated?
As described above, common property refers to land, constructions, tools, and supplies for common use or common interest—including systems for fire protection, lighting, ventilation, air conditioning, drainage, and wastewater treatment. The condominium juristic person is established to take care of, administer, and maintain this common property.
When a pipe that runs through a unit leaks or breaks because of its old condition (where no one is at fault), to determine who should be responsible we must first determine whether the broken conduit is a central pipe (i.e., a pipe that enters the unit directly from the common property, or via other units). If it is, then the condominium juristic person would be liable. If it is not a central or major pipe that runs through multiple units, but is instead inside of only a single unit, the unit owner would be responsible.
Parking lot issue
Another problem that condominium residents often experience relates to parking lots, which are part of the common property. If a condominium does not have enough parking spaces in its parking lot for all residents, the “first come, first serve” principle would normally apply, which can lead to disputes if the number of parking spaces is low compared to the number of residents’ vehicles.
Whether a buyer has his or her own parking space depends on whether the condominium developer or seller offered this when selling the condominium unit. If the condominium sale and purchase agreement states that the unit is being sold together with a fixed parking space, the parking space would become the owner’s personal property, and the owner then has the right to park there and prevent anyone else from doing so. This has been confirmed by the Supreme Court, and the condominium juristic person may not do anything to interfere with the buyer’s use of a parking space which is part of the owner’s personal property.
On the other hand, if there is no such agreement between the seller and the buyer, the parking lot would be considered common property under the Condominium Act. While a unit owner would have the right to use the parking lot in that circumstance, they would not have ownership over any particular spaces in it.
Many of the disputes among condominium joint owners or residents, such as the scenarios described above, can seem mundane and can start from minor issues. However, in the context of condominium ownership, it is not unusual for these minor issues to become more serious if the parties cannot find a mutual solution to their dispute. The best way to resolve the dispute is for the parties to discuss and agree on a fair solution, which is most likely to be achieved if it is based on a clear understanding the rights and legal principles of condominium ownership in Thailand. Finally, if a mutual agreement proves unattainable, the legal framework for condominium ownership in Thailand clearly delineates which rights belong to owners, residents, and juristic persons in each situation.
By Tilleke & Gibbins – Alongkorn Tongmee, Jamorn Pornponwat and Chareef Wattana