Q: I am new to a condo living and we have over 10 owners in my development. Naturally everyone does not agree on everything, so there are issues.

An unmarried couple lives in one of the units. The boyfriend signed a quit claim deed a few years ago to his girlfriend. Individuals on the board say that he can’t hold office, vote, or have an opinion, because he is only going to be the owner of the property when his girlfriend passes away.

Is this true? I have no idea since I am coming from a single family home.

A: One of the joys (and problems) of community living is that everyone is in everyone else’s business all the time.

From your email, it’s hard to tell whether these partners co-own the property, or originally were co-owners the property and for tax planning purposes have now set up a different ownership structure of the unit.

Depending on the condominium laws of each state and the condominium documents for the building, most associations usually require that a person that is going to be a member of the board of the association must also be an owner in the association. Therefore, the unmarried partner who is not an owner of the condominium would not have the right to sit on the board or vote (unless he is casting his partner’s vote by proxy).

To determine the answer to your question, you need to see if the boyfriend is an owner of the condominium or not. If he is an owner, he should be entitled to vote and sit on the board of the association. But if he is not an owner, directly or indirectly, he likely can’t vote and can’t sit on the board.

But when it comes to unmarried partners, some of the anti-discrimination statutes may apply, particularly if you live in a community property state. In community property states, the boyfriend might be considered an owner of the property even if his name is not on the deed. You’ll probably have to consult with a real estate attorney who can advise you whether the unmarried partner has any rights or you might need to get evidence from the boyfriend to establish whether he is an owner or not.

The other issue is that while you think these partners executed a quit claim deed, they might have put the unit into a trust or might have taken other actions that might make the picture fuzzy as to whether the boyfriend is an owner or not. A living trust agreement or other like document might confer ownership rights to the boyfriend whereas a quit claim deed that got rid of his ownership rights would not.

Please consult with a real estate attorney who is versed in condo and HOA matters for further clarification.

April 3, 2009