In the intricate tapestry of condominium living, disputes over maintenance responsibilities and repair costs often weave through the fabric of shared spaces. One such area of contention arises with the maintenance and repair of floors and ceilings that horizontally divide two private units within a condominium, delineating vertical boundaries.

As residents navigate the complexities of communal living, questions loom large: Who shoulders the responsibility for maintaining these structures? And if repairs become necessary, how do Maltese Courts distribute the financial burden among the condominium's occupants? In exploring these inquiries, we unravel the legal nuances and practical considerations surrounding condominium maintenance and repair obligations in Malta.

Article 423 of Chapter 16 of the Laws of Malta: Where the several storeys or other parts of a building belong to different owners, the contribution of each of the owners to the expense of the repairs or reconstruction which may be required shall be in proportion to the benefit which the respective part of the building derives from such repairs or reconstruction.” The aforementioned article was cited in the case of ‘Emanuel Fenech vs Tabib Dr Anton Mercieca’ (1989)

The plaintiff brought forth a claim against fellow co-owners in his apartment complex, seeking reimbursement for expenses related to maintaining the roof over his unit. The defendants argued, among other points, that the plaintiff should bear the sole responsibility for these costs as the roof above his apartment was part of his private space. However, the Court disagreed with this argument.

Although the roof above the building constituted the ceiling of the topmost apartment, it also served as an essential element of the entire structure. Nevertheless, the Court refrained from applying Article 492[1] (Chap 16, Laws of Malta) which would have mandated that expenses be divided among co-owners based on their respective shares in the property. In this instance, each co-owner would have been responsible for one-eighth (1/8th) of the expenses, given that there were eight co-owners involved.

The court however adopted the following ratio to determine how and by whom the expenses should be borne:

Given the mutual benefits gained by the individual ownership of the ceiling and the shared ownership of the roof resulting from maintenance efforts, the costs incurred for such maintenance must be split evenly.

NB - Specifically, fifty percent (50%) of the expenses are to be borne by the owner of the top flat (referred to as the plaintiff), while the remaining fifty percent is to be collectively shared among all co-owners, divided equally among them.

Chapter 398 of the Laws of Malta, the Condominium act, came into force in 2002 and provides for this same principle (that is provided for in the Civil Code)

Namely, Article 12 et seq of the condominium act provides for the maintenance and repairs of ceilings, as follows:

Where a ceiling is a common part and is the ceiling of a lower storey and the floor of a higher storey of a condominium, the costs incurred for the maintenance and ordinary and extraordinary repairs of such ceiling shall be borne as to one-half by the condominus of the lower storey and as to the other half by the condominus of the higher storey.

The leading precedent regarding the upkeep of ceilings and floors that divide privately-owned units is the case of ‘Vella pro Et. Noe. vs Pauline Mizzi Et Al’ (2004)

However, if the deterioration or damage to the ceiling/floor resulted from the negligence or fault of one of the co-owners, that co-owner is responsible for covering the entire cost of maintenance. This is based on the general principle that individuals who cause damage to another's property due to their own negligence must fully compensate for the damage incurred.

Furthermore, there is no prohibition preventing the two respective owners from reaching an agreement regarding the division of expenses, as Article 12 of the Condominium Act is not considered a mandatory rule. Conversely, the regulation stated in Article 11(2) of the Condominium Act, which addresses the fair division of expenses concerning items that benefit the condominium unequally, cannot be overridden.

In cases where a ceiling horizontally separates 2 units, the associated expenses are to be shared equally by the owners of the respective units. This provision is outlined in Article 12 of the Condominium Act, which specifies that when a ceiling serves as a partition between two units, the expenses related to its maintenance, ordinary upkeep, and any extraordinary repairs are to be divided equally: fifty percent by the owner of the lower unit and fifty percent by the owner of the upper unit.

[1] Article 492 Chap 16 laws of Malta – “Each of the co-owners may compel the others to share with him the expense necessary for the preservation of the common property, saving the right of any of such other co-owners to release himself from his liability therefor by abandoning his right of co-ownership.”

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Disclaimer This article is not intended to impart legal advice and readers are asked to seek verification of statements made before acting on them.
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