I live in a townhouse that has a common area designated as parking space for its residents.
An elderly resident, however, decided to put up a religious statue at the space without consent and permission from all other townhouse residents. She now wants us to contribute and pay for her expenses in setting up the statue, saying we all benefited from it as co-owners. We rejected her demand since aside from her statue cramping the parking space, it was made without our permission and most of us don’t even belong to her religious sect. I want to ask if she has a legal right to charge us because she claims that we are legally liable to pay her as co-owners of the space. I hope you can enlighten us on this matter.
To answer your question, we must first establish the extent of your legal rights over the property involved in your problem. You have mentioned that the parking space of your townhouse is a common area for all of the residents in your townhouse. Being a common area, there is no specific division among the townhouse neighbors over the subject property. This being the case, it is apparent that you, together with the rest of your neighbors in your townhouse are co-owners of your parking space. This is supported by law, which provides that there is a co-ownership whenever the ownership of an undivided thing or right belongs to different persons. (Article 484 Civil Code of the Philippines [CCP]).
As co-owners, the law provides that you all have the right to use the thing owned in common for the purpose which it is intended–in your case the parking space (Art. 486, CCP). Also, the use of it must not injure the interest of the other co-owners or prevent them from using it according to their rights (Art. 486, CCP).
More importantl the law on co-ownership provides that none of the co-owners can make alterations on the thing owned in common without the consent of the other co-owners even though it would benefit them all (Article 491, CCP).
The law also provides:
“Repairs for preservation may be made at the will of one of the co-owners, but he must, if practicable, first notify his co-owners of the necessity for such repairs. Expenses to improve or embellish the thing shall be decided upon by a majority as determined in Article 492.” (Article 489, Civil Code of the Philippines)
This means that expenses for the improvements and embellishments of the co-owned property must be approved by the majority of the co-owners as they are considered to be in control of the co-owned property. Since the religious statue of your elderly neighbor is a mere embellishment, not a primary necessity for the preservation of the co-owned property, she should have asked first for the consent and approval of the majority of the townhouse residents. Consequently, her failure to obtain proper consent from the rest of the co-owners prevents her from claiming payment and contribution for her embellishments. Because of this, you and your neighbors are not legally obligated to contribute for the expenses of the statue while your elderly neighbor has no legal basis to claim any contributions for it.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org