Prior to the mid 60s, the typical family American home was usually a single-family detached house located in a neatly arranged subdivision. Construction costs were moderate and stable. The sidewalks, streets, lighting, other basic services, and parks or recreational facilities in the neighborhood were provided and maintained by the local government through taxes.
In recent years, land in desirable areas for home building has become much scarcer and, consequently, more expensive. Construction costs have continued to rise along with everything else. Government can no longer afford to provide the same level of service and variety of amenities to enhance the quality of life as it has in the past.
In order to continue to produce affordable housing and maintain an adequate housing supply for the population, land use became more efficient and construction methods more economical. Ways to relieve local government of the burdening costs of infrastructure were discovered. Various forms of cluster housing with shared ownership of the land were developed which collectively are referred to as "community associations" (CA). It is estimated that at least 20% of Americans live in this form of housing.
CAs represent both a form of home ownership and a life style that is becoming more common in America. They come in a variety of types and styles, such as single-family detached houses, townhouses, garden apartments with shared "party walls," and apartment-like, multi-storied high rises.
CAs range in size from a simple two-unit development up to a large complex having thousands of units, many commonly owned facilities, and multiple associations under the auspices of one master association. Despite the wide range of differences, all allow individual owners the use of common property and facilities, and they provide for a system of self-governance and some degree of service for the benefit of the homeowners.
CAs have distinct legal characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of home ownership. One important feature is that the ownership in a community association combines the right of exclusive occupancy of a residential unit with the shared ownership of the common area. Another distinguishing trait is that owners are automatically members of an association that is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the common area and a system of self-governance. To pay the costs of the operation, owners are assessed fees to cover their fair share of association expenses.
The three forms of associations are condominiums, planned developments and cooperatives. Condominiums and planned developments are similar in that both provide the owner with title to a unit and the right to use the common area. The main difference between condominium and planned development ownership lies in the way title to the common area is held. In a condominium, all owners have an undivided interest in the common area, whereas, in a planned development, the association usually owns the common area. In cooperatives, owners own shares of stock in a corporation that owns the structures and land. The owner has the exclusive right to use a specific unit.