There are two types of property or land ownership--fee and leasehold. In this case (fee simple), the land underneath the buildings where your new home is located is owned by either you or your homeowners association. In many places throughout the world, Hawaii, for example, there are restrictions on land ownership, so the only form of ownership available is a form of leasehold ownership where the buyer agrees to a long term (usually 50 year) lease to rent the property from the rightful owner.
Now this addresses the ownership of the land beneath the buildings, but does NOT address what you own at the adult community. If this is a common interest development, often called a "homeowners association" there are four (4) types of legal ownership: 1) condominium; 2) planned development; 3) co-op; or 4) community apartment.
Most homeowners associations are either condominiums or planned developments (people often use the words "townhouse" community, but that is incorrect--"townhouse" refers to a type of architectural, but says nothing about what the buyer actually owns). Co-ops, which are corporations in which owners own a "share" in the business entity, are most prevalent on the East Coast, but there are a few throughtout the US, and the owner owns all of the community--land and buildings--as a shareholder. Community apartments are one unit owned by a "community" of homeowners--think "time share".
If you what you are purchasing is a 'condominium', then you will own only the "box of air" and the improvements therein, bounded by the perimeter walls of your home. We often call this type of ownership the "paint-in" owner because you own everything from the "paint in" to the home. However, in this form of ownership, you own only the box of air, and NOT the building or the land below--these items are owned, and more importantly, maintained by the homeowners association. As a result, don't expect to plant a satellite dish on a condominium unit because you don't own, technically, own the building.
If you're buying a home in a planned development, then you would own not only the box of air, but the building and the land underneath the home and bounded by the "lot lines" of your property. This is why even single family detached homes may be part of a homeowners association or planned development. Although the homeowners association may be required to reroof the building periodically or paint the outside of the home, because the homeowners association does not own the building (you, as the owner, own the building) you would also be required to maintain the property in-between the association's periodic maintenance responsibilities. Also, in this type of ownership, you can stick an antenna on your roof if you want (per the provisions of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996) or insure your home for flood, earthquake or any other catastrophy not covered by the Association's fire policy, if there is a common policy.
If you are having trouble determining what you own, look for the words "unit" or "lot" in your Association's governing documents. If you see "unit" then you most likely own a condominium. A "lot" refers to a planned development where, again, you own the land (fee simple) and the building.
I hope this answers your questions. If you have any others, please feel free to contact me or check out my blog at the address below, which contains a three-part series on homeowners associations.
Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
CID Specialist, Forward Planning Consultant
Co-Author: Homeowners Associations: A Guide to Leadership
Area Pro Realty
San Jose, CA
This is a legal definition and an attorney is the best place to get it answered. I am not an attorney but will take a stab at it for you. Further definition should be obtained from a lawyer, if you require it.
Fee Simple is the common law form of property ownership and it goes back to our English heritage. It simply means that you own the property and can therefore sell it or bequeath it (If that's the right term for leaving it in a will.)
Many senior communities are in some form of Condominium (Condo) ownership. This form goes back to about only 1958! Depending on the structure, the ownership is of the space, as in an apartment house or it can be the dwelling, in a single-family structure. In that case, the grounds and clubhouse may be a condo ownership. There is an association which handles the common buildings and ground problems, ranging from lawn care to major renovation. In some or all condo ownership, you will find that you also have fee simple ownership. (I'm not sure how that line gets drawn., if it does at all.)
Anyway, fee simple does not mean that you mow your own grass or have access to the pool or anything else. If you share in a condo, (or Co-operative, which is different and probably does not result in any kind of property ownership but in share ownership but an attorney will have to define that one more precisely) you have an agreement that spells out exactly what you get and how you participate in the arrangement. They are all unique to a single association. Some, for instance, allow pets to a certain weight limit, other do not.
Anyway, if you have bought a senior citizen property and it's fee simple, it should mean that you have certain ancient rights, just like the Peers of old England. (Buckler and sword not included.)
Jillian Mason-Sales Associate