A Condominium Map for Directions? Who Needs One?

The male gender of our species is often accused of failing to stop and ask directions, sometimes creating a fair amount of discord, particularly when being directionally challenged. Likewise, we are accused of failing to consult a map, instead, simply relying on our instincts, which often as not, turn out to be wrong.

At our firm, we often encounter a similar problem with respect to the common interest communities that we represent – neither the Association, nor the manager have a map – literally. Or, in the case of a planned community, they do not have a plat.

The Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) defines “map”

as that part of a declaration that depicts all or any portion of a common interest community in three dimensions, is executed by a person that is authorized to execute a declaration relating to the common interest community, and is recorded in the real estate records in every county in which any portion of the common interest community is located. A map is required for a common interest community with units having a horizontal boundary. A map and a plat may be combined in one instrument.

CCIOA defines a “plat” as

that part of a declaration that is a land survey plat as set forth in C.R.S. Section 38-51-106, depicts all or any portion of a common interest community in two dimensions, is executed by a person that is authorized to execute a declaration relating to the common interest community, and is recorded in the real estate records in every county in which any portion of the common interest community is located. A plat and a map may be combined in one instrument.

So what does all this mean? In the simplest of terms, a plat is a two dimensional representation of the units and common areas that make up a community. In other words, it is a birds’ eye view of lot lines, common area boundary lines, easements and other things that can be represented by a drawing, and are prepared in connection with a planned community (think single family homes, or townhomes where there is ownership of the real estate underneath the unit). It represents vertical boundaries (i.e., the boundaries go vertically).

A map is a three dimensional representation of the units and common areas making up the community. While it depicts vertical boundaries like a plat, it also depicts horizontal boundaries (i.e., the boundaries go from side to side), and it is prepared in conjunction with condominium declarations. The horizontal boundaries depict, from an elevation perspective, the lower most and upper most boundaries of the units and give the specific elevation above sea level of the lower horizontal boundary, and a dimension in feet above the lower horizontal boundary of the upper most horizontal boundary.

Section 209 of CCIOA states that a plat or map is a part of the declaration and is required for all common interest communities (except cooperatives). (Before CCIOA, the Colorado Condominium Ownership Act also required the filing of a map.)

So why is this important? Plats and maps typically contain information that might be able to be described in words in the declaration, but are more easily depicted visually. They lend themselves to labeling and descriptions, such as “limited common elements” or “general common elements.” With respect to condominium projects particularly, they help determine what, exactly, makes up the unit – does the unit include attic spaces? How about crawl spaces? Are parking areas general common elements, limited common elements, or part of the units? What about those decks, patios and porches? Plats enable the identification of the common areas. Ever wonder if that entry monument is located on the Association’s property, or on the adjacent owner’s property? Is the area between the boundary fence and the road property owned by the Association, or the adjacent land owners?

Without reading the declaration hand in hand with the map or plat, the information on the map or plat is incomplete, and gives only a partial understanding. However, the reverse is true as well – trying to read the declaration without the plat or map gives only partial information, and an incomplete understanding of the restrictions, rights, duties, and rules of the community.

When we are asked to provide an opinion that requires an interpretation of the declaration, don’t be surprised if we ask for a copy of the plat or map as well. We are trying to “drive” less by instinct, and more based on the actual directions that are part of the governing documents of the community.