By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
It took a while before Ilonggos started to get a hang of “condo-living.” For the longest time, even if in Metro Manila, condominiums were already all over, people from Iloilo City still literally had their feet planted on the ground by living in bungalows.
The past decade or so had seen condominium projects mushrooming all over Iloilo City and with it is the affirmation that finally, people from this supposedly sleepy town had embraced a lifestyle that’s closer to the sky.
When condominium units had been turned-over for occupancy to their owners or residents, what rights do they have in cases of, let’s say, an illegal takeover of the building? Should the individual owners and/or residents wait for the condominium developer to take the legal steps and just join in; or can they initiate the legal action by themselves?
The answer must be properly premised to provide a better context.
Pursuant to the “Condominium Law,” ie, RA 4726, a condominium unit owner is the absolute owner of the unit and at the same time a co-owner or shareholder of the “common areas,” eg, lobby, swimming pool, elevator, and the condominium building itself. The “common areas” may be owned by the unit owners as co-owners unless there is a condominium corporation that was formed to manage the “common areas,” in which case they automatically become stockholders/shareholders.
In short, the unit owners individually have a separate legal personality from the condominium corporation even if they are shareholders therein.
So in the recent case of Kaimo Condominum Building Corporation v. Leverne Realty & Development Corporation, G.R. No. 259422, which was handed down on January 23, 2023, the Supreme Court explained that the unit owners are the absolute owners of their individual units and thus they can pursue a legal action independently of, or concurrently with, the condominium corporation.
Resultantly, the unit owners who file a case for forcible entry against the interlopers will not be committing forum shopping if a parallel case is filed by the condominium corporation itself for contempt of court for the unlawful taking of the “common areas.” Thus:
“Two rules on forum shopping. As explained in Mampo v. Morada, there are two rules on forum shopping, separate and independent from each other, provided in Rule 7, Section 5, which are: (1) compliance with the requirements of submission of a certificate of non-forum shopping and (2) avoidance of the act of forum shopping itself. X x x.
There is no forum shopping when the unit owners themselves file an action for forcible entry independently of the condominium corporation’s act of filing a petition for contempt for the illegal takeover of the building. Simply stated, the action filed by the Kaimos was solely and exclusively for their own benefit and based on their own individual rights as unit owners and lawful possessors of their own respective units in the Kaimo Building and such action does not involve nor affect the other unit owners of Kaimo Building and neither is it adjudicative of KCBC’s ownership of the building and thus, the Forcible Entry Case is separate and distinct from the Contempt Case filed by KCBC, as real party in interest. The piercing of the corporate fiction of KCBC was thus unwarranted for failure of Laverne to clearly and convincingly establish bad faith on the part of the Kaimos in filing the Forcible Entry Case. Therefore, there is no identity of parties that represent that same interests in the Forcible Entry Case and the Contempt Case. Hence, the first element of forum shopping is absent.”
Inevitably, the unit owners can act on their own individually by filing separate cases to protect their units; but in respect to the common areas, the right to recover possession of the same devolves on the condominium corporation.
A basic understanding of the legal principles governing ownership of condominium units will surely go a long way for the unit owners or residents especially nowadays when condominium projects are spreading in the Iloilo metropolis.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).