Owner associations in Latin America deserve a better legal base

The property law in Ecuador and Colombia is a source of constant frustration for the functioning of owner associations, and therefor also for the maintenance of dwellings. The guidelines supporting self-government and prescribing the need for professional guidance fall short, concludes Rosa Donoso Gomez in her PhD thesis.


In various Latin American countries, governments are investing large amounts on a large scale in owner-occupied homes for low-income households. Owning one’s own home is seen as providing basic security and is something everyone dreams of. In large cities, the dwellings tend to be apartments in the shared ownership of homeowners’ associations (HOA). It is precisely this shared ownership that lies behind the rapid deterioration caused by poor maintenance, even if an HOA is active, argues Rosa Donoso Gomez, herself from Ecuador. Inadequate maintenance of apartments also has major consequences for the quality of life in cities and the wealth of individual owners.

Mutual interdependencies

Most studies exploring maintenance by HOAs concern the relationship between maintenance and the characteristics of households and dwellings. Donoso Gomez’s research also looks at the formal rules and self-organisation. Her research into cooperation between the professionals involved (municipalities, developers, real-estate managers, banks and social workers) in the cities of Quito (Ecuador) and Bogotá (Columbia) reveals a world of complexity and mutual interdependencies. In developing owner-occupied apartments for people on low incomes, professionals depend on the municipality and on financiers. Problems with maintenance, especially confusion about the rights and responsibilities of the joint owners, arise as a result of the Condominiums Act. Although all participants acknowledge the problems, they attribute it to different causes. It is often unclear who should tackle any problems.

Increasing residents’ engagement

Legal obligations can prove counter-productive in terms of the engagement and self-organisation of owners. The fact that it is compulsory to appoint a professional HOA administrator reduces the sense of responsibility felt by residents and lowers their attendance at meetings. In Ecuador, the rules for maintenance are much more flexible and the HOA chairperson can take on the role of administrator. As a result, residents appear to be much more involved in decision making, but they are also less satisfied with the results.

It also emerged in Bogotá that the problem of neglected maintenance is generally attributable to poor management by professional HOA administrators. In Quito, the causes appear to be a lack of communal spirit, little respect for rules and standards and differences of opinion about the use of communal areas. In order for an HOA to operate effectively, residents must have knowledge of the maintenance situation, schedule and rules, trust the leaders of the community and participate in HOA meetings.

Management of collective homeownership on the research agenda

Urbanisation, urban densification and the promotion of homeownership go hand-in-hand. The proportion of owner-occupied apartments is increasing, and along with it the risk of HOAs that operate ineffectively. This then increases the likelihood of homes being neglected, which in turn has a major impact on quality of life in neighbourhoods. The management of collective home ownership should therefore be on the research agenda of many cities. Knowledge of the interaction between formal and informal institutions involved is essential in a world in which citizens must take individual responsibility, government bodies have ambitious goals and quality of life is under pressure. “In Latin America, the old adage ‘my home is my castle’ requires updating when it comes to owner-occupied apartments, where it actually should be ‘our castle’,” concludes Donoso Gomez.