Know Your Japanese Condominium: Common Use Areas v. Private Areas

By Jeff Wynkoop

When buying a Japanese condominium, purchasers expect they are going to have to pay monthly fees to the Homeowners’ Association (管理組合 kanri kumiai). But one thing they are often surprised by is how common use areas (共用部分 kyouyou bubun) and private areas (専有部分 sen’yuu bubun) are split up under the building’s bylaws (管理規約 kanri kiyaku) and/or use guidelines (使用細則 shiyou saisoku). Nobody takes the time to read those, since basically it is a matter of common sense, right? For example, everyone knows that you own the outside door to your condo, right?

Well, not exactly.

The condo owner has full ownership of the inside of the door, but the outside part is a common use area of the condo. What this means is that if you want to change the color of your door, or you want to decorate the outside of your door, you have to do it in accordance with the condo bylaws. The reason for this rule is that the value of the building may be negatively affected if everyone paints their door a different color, so typically condo bylaws require special permission for owners to repaint the outside of their door.

Windows

Another similar example are the windows to your condo. Say, for instance, you want to put in double glass panes to block out the noise. Before you begin construction, you had better first talk with representatives of the Homeowners’ Association, because usually bylaws don’t allow this type of construction without permission (although sometimes they do). Nevertheless, if a window is actually broken, you are allowed to fix it yourself under Japanese law (under the Japanese Civil Code rules on common ownership, this is defined as an ‘act of preservation’ or in Japanese 保存行為 hozon koui).

Balconies, Parking Spaces, Trunk Rooms

Surprisingly, the balcony to your condo is also defined as a common use area, not a private area. As a general rule, there are two types of common areas in condominiums. The first type are common areas that everyone who has a property right in the building may use (such as elevators and entrance halls). The second type are common areas that only certain holders of a property right in the building may use. In addition to balconies, parking spaces and trunk rooms are also common areas that only certain condo owners are designated a right to use. This means that if you want to rent out the parking space at your condo to a third party, you need to get approval of the Homeowners’ Association in advance.

Walls, Floors, Ceilings

Other examples of this type of common use area are the walls, floors, and ceilings of your condo. Condo owners can choose any wallpaper they want, but if there is any transformative change the owner wants to undertake, the owner will need to get permission from the Homeowners’ Association prior to beginning construction. The reason here is that the structural part of the condominium building itself is a common use area, so before you remove a wall between two rooms in your condo, you had better talk with the Homeowners’ Association first.