Category Archives: Damage

Condo Sump Pump Requirement

D.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is each condo legally required to have its own sump pump? We are a 2-unit condo and there is only 1 sump pump for the 2 units. If the sump pump fails/backs up is each unit both liable or just the unit that has the sump pump in it.

Mister Condo replies:

Since I am not an expert in local building code for your neck of the woods, D.H., I can only give you a generic answer. I am not aware of any requirement to have a sump pump in each and every unit. In fact, it is quite common for multiple units to be services by a singular sump pump, in my experience. The sump pump is typically owned by the Association and is a common element meaning that if it fails, the liability should fall upon the association. However, it is not uncommon for the unit owner where the sump pump dwells to have some maintenance responsibilities for the maintenance / power supply requirements of the pump. These details should be spelled out in writing if they exist at all. If the unit owner where the sump pump is housed deliberately disabled the sump pump, the subsequent damage could be charged back to the unit owner. I have heard tales of unit owners fed up with the banging that can accompany some models of sump pump where they cut the power to the unit. In that case, the association may have recourse with the owner for cutting power to an association-owned asset and any resultant damage. My best advice is to make sure the pump is maintained regularly and keep an eye out if it fails at all. Good luck!

Ownership of Burst Condo Water Line Questioned

T.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If a hot water line bursts in an outside wall who is responsible, the unit owner or the board? Also, the line was not where the Board said it was. Our kitchen sits above our neighbor’s garage. The board said both hot and cold lines are in the ceiling of the garage.

Mister Condo replies:

T.G., typically when water lines burst it is the responsibility of whoever owns the area where the line has broken. In other words, if you own from the wall in, a line that breaks outside of your walls is very likely the responsibility of the association. Regardless of what the Board says about it, a reading of your documents will very likely clear this up. If, by chance, the documents don’t appear to provide you with a good answer, it is time to speak to an attorney who can read any “legalese” that might make a simple determination possible. There are exceptions, of course. I know of some associations that have allowed modification of water lines at owner’s requests and along with the approval to do so came the responsibility to maintain the water lines. This is highly unusual though and does not sound like your situation. If you do own all of the interior walls where the water line burst (garage ceiling is a good example, a bathroom supply line would be another) then you may be on the hook for the repair. Like I said, when the unit owner and the Board don’t agree, it is usually time for a legal opinion. Good luck!

Condo Insurance Check Issued to Unit Owner for Building Damage

S.F. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Insurance check for house damage was made payable to a condo owner, who is the brother of the president of the condo association. Why did the insurance company allow this? Check amount was substantial, for several thousand dollars.

Mister Condo replies:

S.F., there are a few reasons that the condo owner was reimbursed directly for an insurance claim. For starters, the policy holder typically designates the payee. Was this entirely association-owned insurance or was it homeowner’s insurance as well? Typically, the homeowner gets paid for claims made against their own policy. If the damage had already been repaired by the homeowner, the check may have been for reimbursement. A typical association claim for exterior building damage would go to the association, who would then hire the contractor to repair the exterior building damage. It the damage were internal (water damage for instance) and the association’s insurance were covering that damage, it would not be uncommon for the payment to go directly to the homeowner.

Keep in mind that insurance claims are also records of the association. As such, you have the right to inspect the claim. If you think foul play is afoot, I would suggest you review the paperwork to determine why the payment went to the owner and not the association. Good luck!

Condo Roof Leak Causes $75K in Damage; No Insurance Claim Made

J.T. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo roof leak caused mold and extensive repairs paid by unit owner. The association refuses to pay the bill. $75,000.00 and never contacted master insurance but stated in emails that they did during initial assessments by environmental specialists provided by association who stated the need for immediate repairs. What is my next step?

Mister Condo replies:

J.T., you have a few different issues here. If it were me, my next step would be to contact an attorney to find out who I should sue for the $75,000 repair. That is a lot of money to be out of pocket for a roof leak and mold remediation. Of course, there is a procedure and protocol to follow here so don’t expect this to be a necessarily easy battle. Let’s start with the roof leak. Did the association fix the roof leak? That is their duty, regardless of whether insurance covers it or not. The association should have had insurance to fix the roof and made a claim to cover the cost or repair and any damage to any common elements. The association should have hired the contractor to make the repair. Is that what happened? You didn’t pay for the roof repair, did you?

Damage to your unit’s interior should have been covered by your own policy. If you didn’t have a homeowner’s policy in place, you should have and you should definitely have one in place moving forward. If the repairs were made in timely fashion, the mold issue may have been averted as most clean-up efforts would have included a dry-out of the damages area. However, as is often the case with mold, it doesn’t appear until months later. Regardless of how it got there, mold remediation is necessary because it can be toxic and, at the very least, a health hazard. If the mold can be determined to have been caused by the roof leak, the association may be on the hook for that as well. You should talk to an attorney about the mold issue to see who is responsible.

Again, I am not sure as to how you amassed a $75,000 bill for this problem, J.T.. If it was a lack of insurance on your part, this is going to be an expensive lesson on why you should always carry homeowner’s insurance. If it was simple mishandling of the claim by the association, an attorney can best advise you of your next steps. I hope you get the mold remediation taken care of immediately. All the best!

Condo Association-Hired Contractor Damages Unit Owner Ceilings

D.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A unit owner notified the condo association of a roof leak. A contractor, called by the association to inspect and give an estimate, caused several cracks in the ceiling while up in the attic inspecting, even though he was told the attic had no floor. Who is responsible for the repair, the contractor and his insurance or the Condo association insurance. The condo insurance company said they are not involved.

Mister Condo replies:

D.R., what an unfortunate situation. I am actually surprised that this contractor didn’t fall through the ceiling, which would have caused an even bigger problem for the association and perhaps even caused injury. The association hired the contractor to handle the inspection. Regardless of what the contractor was told, his actions caused the damage as reported by you. Typically, the association should go after the contractor for the damage he caused. Typically, that would have the contractor calling his insurance company to file a claim. It sounds to me like that didn’t happen. Instead, someone initiated a claim with the condo insurance who has subsequently denied the claim as it wouldn’t typically be covered by the type of insurance most associations have for their buildings. In fact, you have stated that the damage was caused by the contractor.

Without knowing all of the details, I would suggest the association needs to go after the contractor they hired and have the contractor make good on the damage he caused. If his insurance will cover it that should be a fairly simple process. If his insurance will not cover it, he should pay out of pocket for the damage. If he won’t do that, the association should sue him for the damage and make good on the repairs for unit owners. If all else fails, unit owners may have to sue the association for hiring the contractor that caused the damage. Sounds like everyone has to do what’s best for them in this situation although the legal fees could quickly outweigh the actual cost of repair. Good luck!

Responsibility for Broken Sewer Pipe in Converted Condo

J.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Who is financially responsible for replacing broken sewer pipe in a unit that was converted from an apartment to a condo? The complex was built in the 1960s. The condo’s new owner discovered the broken drain line subsequent to purchase and closing. Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., the short answer is “it depends”. What it depends upon is who owns the sewer pipe? If it is part and parcel of the common area owned by the association, then it is likely the association’s responsibility to maintain and repair as needed. If, however, the pipe is owned by the unit owner (which would be very rare), it may fall upon the unit owner to maintain and repair. The condo’s governance documents are the place to turn for your answer. Typically, in conversions, unit owners purchase from the “paint in”, meaning they are only responsible for what is inside of their unit. If a toile line breaks inside the unit, the unit owner is responsible. If the sewer pipe is beneath the unit or buried in a common wall shared with other unit owners, it is likely the responsibility of the association. Either way, I hope if gets fixed quickly. Regardless of who owns it, I’ll bet it stinks! All the best!

Unapproved Remodel to Upstairs Condo Damages Downstairs Unit

L.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The question I have is this, I live in a condo that has 4 units per bldg. I own mine. These condos were built in the late 50’s maybe early 60’s. Unfortunately, there is an HOA fee of 150 dollars a month and the outside of the buildings look horrible. They really need to be painted and new front and rear doors placed. The front porch is falling apart. The condos were not built like the newer ones are. Someone purchased the upstairs condo and decided that they would remodel the whole condo. There was a wall removed and other major repairs without a permit that has caused damage to my condo. I spoke to a contractor who looked at the damage and informed me that if we were to try to fix it, it would cause more damage. The upstairs condo would receive damage also. I am just wondering who should pay for the damage. The owner knows that there were issues and he wanted his handy man who caused the damage and himself to look at it. I am not sure what good that would do. Should I file a claim with my insurance company and let them fight it out or is there another way to deal with this? Am I going to be stuck with a huge bill?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., you certainly have a lot going on inside your 4-unit building. Let me address each item separately. First up, the HOA isn’t maintaining the property as they should. There is no reason for painting to go undone other than there is no money in the Reserve Fund for the project. You mention a fee of $150. If that fee isn’t enough to cover operating expenses and set aside money for routine maintenance like painting and door replacement, there will need to be a Special Assessment and/or an increase to common fees. Neither option is popular but that is the only way to get the association back on track so it can fulfill its duty to maintain the building exteriors.

The remodeling project is another issue entirely. It sounds like the upstairs unit owner did some unauthorized and unpermitted work on their unit causing damage to your unit. It’s time to speak with an attorney about suing the unit owner for the damage. You should file a claim with your insurance if you have suffered financial damage worth filing a claim over. However, the fault is clearly with the unit owner who did the unauthorized remodel. You governance documents likely spell out what types of repairs and improvements can be made to unit interiors. If they knocked down a supporting wall, you could be looking at a very expensive repair, not to mention the potential danger you are in. I would want to get this taken care of immediately. If they are amenable to correcting the problem at their expense, you may not need to sue but, in my experience, once the dollars start adding up, a lawsuit is almost inevitable. You should be able to recover your damages though and I am hopeful that your upstairs neighbor will do the right thing. Good luck!

Condo Insurance Payment to Unit Owner or Association?

S.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our building’s exterior was damaged by a falling tree. The claim check for six thousand dollars was made out to one of the condo owners. Should it have been made out to the condo association?

Mister Condo replies:

S.F., I am sorry that one of your buildings was damaged. Typically, the check is made out to whoever holds the policy. So, if the association was the policy holder and the damage occurred to association-owned property, the check is cut to the association. If the unit owner held a homeowner’s policy and that policy covered the damage, the check should have been sent to the unit owner. Building exteriors are almost always owned by the association and covered by an association policy, but exceptions do occur and insurance companies can also make payments directly to vendors or third parties at the policy holder’s request. Without knowing all of the circumstances, I cannot offer an opinion on exactly who should have received the check. However, as long as the damage was repaired and the vendors have been paid, there may be “no harm, no foul” to the association or the unit owners. All the best!

Condo Unit Owners Finds No Water Supply Shut Off in Unit

M.L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My friend has a condo and her water pipes burst. Her shut off is in her neighbor’s unit, and she was never told that. Is this legal? I just don’t see how it could be if you wanted to have work done to your own condo you would have to make sure your neighbor was going to be home?

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., yes, it is legal and quite common for condominium units to share items such as water shut-off valves. She may not have been “told” but the association is responsible for having access to shared common elements such as the water supply. If she wants to have plumbing work done in her unit that involves having the water main turned off, the request should go to the association and access is granted by the unit owner where the shot-off resides. The association’s right of access to such items is outlined in the condo governance documents which is where all unit owners are “told” about such items. Emergency situations such as a water line bursting are not uncommon and the association’s right of entry into the unit where the water supply shut-off is housed is protected by the condo’s governing documents. Routing repairs and upgrades are another matter. Depending on how many units will be effected by the water supply disruption, approval to do so could take a week or longer to get allow the association to properly notify all unit owners who will be effected. Good luck!

Jersey Co-op Unit Owner Strong-armed into Questionable Repairs

L.S. from New Jersey writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have unit in a large co-op (almost 500 units) which is rented out. The Manager of the co-op is pushing me into renovation of 2 bathrooms in this unit. The claim is that high moisture reading in adjacent hallway is caused by my bathroom. The reading of moisture is provided by co-op engineer who does what Manager wants. The Board doesn’t want to help. The Manager has only 2 approved contractors who do all work in co-op and gets paid from them (no proof, all cash). The Manager has same bullying background and law suit from previous work place (co-op) requesting unit owners to do unnecessary repairs and getting kickback.  Both bathrooms have no visible defects and look perfect from inside. What can I do? The Board doesn’t respond to my complaints. I wrote to them showing Manager’s background. All correspondence goes through Manager. Is there any organization that protects unit owners in co-op in NJ?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., thank you for writing. I am sorry for your situation. I am not an attorney so I cannot offer you legal advice. You are describing a particularly legal situation that may very well require legal action to settle. Further, since the Board isn’t amenable to take your side and question the tactics of the Property Manager, that leaves you alone in your battle. If you can’t afford an attorney to represent your best interests you may have little other practical choice but to sell the unit and buy elsewhere.

In NJ, the Department of Community Affairs is tasked with investigating allegations of HOA abuse, which this may fall under. Their website is http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dhcr/ and I encourage you to look there and see if there isn’t a resource to assist you. Good luck!