What's the difference between maintenance and common charges?

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Besides what they're called, there are some substantial differences between maintenance fees, which you pay in a co-op, and common charges, which you pay in a condo. In both ownership structures, the monthlies cover the costs of running the building (cleaning, staff, shared utilities like heating, etc.). But they diverge from there.

Since co-op residents own shares in the building (as opposed to owning the property outright as you do in a condo), maintenance includes the cost of the building's mortgage, whereas common charges do not. "The biggest difference between maintenance and common charges is that common charges almost never include any type of mortgage payment [on the building itself]," says Dean Roberts, an attorney with Norris, McLaughlin, & Marcus who represents co-ops and condos. (FYI, the firm is a Brick sponsor.) "The co-op can take out a loan or mortgage against the building, while a condominium cannot."

Similarly, co-op maintenance fees also include the owner's share of the building's property taxes, while condo owners pay property taxes on their apartments separately. "For this reason, maintenance tends to be a much larger number than common charges," says Roberts. "In most condos, the only thing [everyone pays for] is heat and maintenance for the building."