Is a church parking lot a common area

Visitor Question: Our condo association wanted to have an event on a large church parking lot that is really central to our residents. The church refused. One of our trustees said that the parking lot really is considered a common area. Can this be so? How would we find out for sure?

Editors Reply: It is possible that a church parking lot is a designated common area, although in the vast majority of cases, it would not be.

Almost any space can be a common area belonging to the entire condo HOA association, but of course it would be much more typical to have parks, amphitheaters, streets, woods, community gardens, community centers, and such as common areas.

However, in a few places we have known about, a church building was shared by several congregations and therefore not the property of an individual congregation but rather a worship center belonging to the condo association. In this case, presumably the parking lot would be a common area also.

It is also possible that the parking lot is a common area and the church building is not. Again, that isn't too likely, but it could be that what you call the "church parking lot" actually is community-owned parking that could in theory be shared with other uses at the HOA's discretion.

Now that we have given you some wishy-washy answers, let's deal with the main question, which is how you find out for sure.

Ideally you have in your possession a master deed that describes in detail the condo association's governance and makeup, as well as any deed restrictions that have been imposed on the development. If so, that may tell you what areas are considered common areas.

If not, you might choose to ask your question to the president of the condo association. If the association hires a professional property manager instead of tending to administration itself, you probably should be referred to the management company.

Now notice we did not say just ask someone who thinks they know. We did not say ask the past secretary or someone who was on the board a couple of years ago. We did not say ask your next door neighbor. We suggest dealing only with the president or the person the president designates to answer the question.

If you do not feel fully satisfied with the answer you receive, ask your local government for some help. Ask your county government to see all documents relevant to the approval of the development. In most states, counties, and cities, there would be a plat map of some sort required, and that should show you visually which areas are common ground.

If the county says they have nothing to do with a plat in the case of a condominium development, or if the plat only shows a blob saying XYZ Development, then you go to your city government. Ask the planner or planning department for help in locating any and all documents that might specify what the common areas are for your particular development.

Another tactic dealing with your county might be approaching the office that deals with property taxation, if you have real estate taxes in your state. Then with help from a county staff member, look up who receives the tax bill for the property in question.

Among these several different approaches, you should find one that would tell you definitively who controls the church parking lot in your condo development.

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