A.C. from CAI-CT’s Facebook page writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I have a question about a condo in my complex. The ceilings, floors and doors are all sagging and are no longer square. It’s been like this for many years. Now, the unit owner wants it all fixed so it can be sold. Is the association responsible to hire an engineer and possibly gut the unit and have it reframed as may be necessary and then be responsible for new floors, carpet, etc.? Is there any way I could get a straight answer. And, yes, there are attorneys involved with this.
Mister Condo replies:
A.C., thanks for reaching out via Facebook. You have an age old problem facing most aged community associations across the country. Who is responsible for what inside the condo unit as the unit ages? I want to point out that I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly. As you have noted, there are already attorneys involved so I have no doubt you will receive lots of qualified legal advice from your attorney as this situation develops further.
I will do my best to give you as straight an answer as I possibly can. For the most part, the condo association’s Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&R’s) will spell out who is responsible for what. Further, it is typical that the unit owner is responsible for the maintenance and repair of those items inside their unit and for those items that are for the unit owner’s explicit use. In the case of sagging floors and walls that are out of square, there is some wiggle room as the unit may still be structurally sound even though it is not cosmetically perfect. The owner cannot repair the items causing the sag if it is the association’s property. This is where the attorneys will most likely argue on their client’s behalf against the other party. The unit owner will likely claim that the unit cannot be sold in its current state of repair; the association will argue that the current state of repair is perfectly acceptable from a structural engineering point of view. Both sides will likely present expert witnesses to support their views and a judge will likely rule in favor of whoever did a better job presenting their argument. Both sides will have expense in bringing and responding to the suit. Depending on the outcome, the association may, in fact, be on the hook for all of the expense. Alternatively, the association may be found completely devoid of any additional expense if the structure is deemed sound. The Structural Engineer’s report will be most telling. This is the legal way of the world.
I have a separate question for you, A.C.. If multiple units have fallen out of square over the years, do you, in fact have a structural problem? Even if the Structural Engineer’s report deems the buildings sound, it is possible that some preemptive measures should be taken to stop the buildings from further deteriorating and/or bring them back closer to square. Depending on the age of the buildings, Mother Nature may be the cause of settling. If the building was not properly designed back in the day and there is now damage to supporting walls and beams, the association might be well advised to hire a contractor to remedy the situation. This may be expensive and, as you have noted, may lead to other costs arising from the repair but the association should not let these warning signs go unchecked. Heaven forbid a building was to fail and cause death or injury and there is record that the Board knew of the potential failure and took no corrective action. That would be truly tragic for all involved.
My advice is to work closely with your attorney. I hope you have hired one that specializes in community association law as can be found at http://www.caict.org/?page=Directory#Attorney – Law Firms. These folks have seen it all in Connecticut’s community associations and can give you real world advice on similar situations. I assure you that yours is neither the first nor the last of our state’s aging condominiums that is facing this problem. I wish you good luck and a satisfactory outcome for all involved. All the best!