Category Archives: Insurance

Who Pays for Storm-Damaged Gutters Installed by HOA Home’s Previous Owner?

J.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Gutters were installed by previous owner and we’re damaged by a common area tree from a storm. Who is responsible for replacement and costs?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., since the gutters were installed by a previous owner it is likely the current owner (you) who is responsible. However, it is certainly worth a call or letter to the Board to report the damage and inquire of the HOA’s insurance will cover the damage, especially if it is particularly expensive. If there is a deductible or the repair doesn’t meet the insurance threshold, you will likely be told it is your expense. Finally, check your by-laws. If there is wording that indicates such damage is association responsibility, you may wish to highlight the language and send it along to the Board along with your request for the repair to be paid for by them. If they refuse and you strongly feel you are right, you might wish to speak to an attorney to get a clarification on the rules. If the Board has refused to pay and the dollar amount is not significant enough to seek further remedy, I would suggest you simply make the reapir yourself and continue to enjoy your gutters. Good luck!

Condo Neighbor’s Leaking Air Conditioning Causes Moldy Nightmare!

B.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi Mr. Condo! I hope you can help me. I’m an owner of a condo in an apartment style building. Last week, I discovered a leak from above into my AC closet which shares a wall with my linen closet. My AC is non-operable (since 2012) so I know it isn’t mine. I checked my linen closet and found the back wall covered in mold. I contacted the property management company right away. They said they would contact the above tenant/owner to stop the leak so I can begin repairs. I’ve since sent several emails and called twice. For the past 5 days I have not received any response. I even went so far as to call the tenant myself. No response there either. What are my options?

Mister Condo replies:

B.L., I am sorry for your problems. Leaks caused by neighbors are bad enough but mold problems are quite serious. You did the right thing by contacting the Property Manager. You should also document the mold intrusion with lots of photos in case they are needed down the road. The association is responsible for getting involved and making the repairs. Unfortunately, it sounds like the manager is off to a slow and ineffective start. You need to be persistent and write to the Board along with your documentation showing what is going on and demanding they make the repairs. The other unit owner’s lack of cooperation may be a problem for you but the Board can take legal action against them to make them comply. You should not need to contact them at all, email, in person, or otherwise. If they are responsive to you, you can certainly speak with them to ask them to be more helpful but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Board needs some time to get this situation remedied and you may wish to be patient for a few months while they get this straightened out. However, you may also wish to speak to an attorney if things are moving too slow for you. Mold can be deadly and you need to have it removed quickly. You may even need to vacate your unit if it is found to be toxic. In that case, you would turn to your own homeowner’s insurance to see if you have coverage that would pay for your temporary relocation while the mold is abated. Ultimately, you want the neighbor’s A/C unit repaired so it stops leaking. You want your unit dry and you want the mold removed. Once all that is done, you’ll be back in business. Be persistent and apply the right amount of pressure to make sure you aren’t forgotten. Your problem is there problem and it needs to be taken seriously by all involved. Good luck!

Condo Grease Trap Back-up Leaves Unit Owner Footing Amelioration Costs

K.K. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo sustained water damage from a backup in the sink drain line shared by three units, in a three-story building. My unit is on the first floor, and when the exterior grease trap backed up, water was forced up through my kitchen sink and into the unit. I was out of town at the time, and by my return there was a significant amount of water, slime and mold in the unit. The amelioration bill was $2,300. My insurer covers everything except this, and the condo board refuses to file a claim with the association’s insurer. Also, this happened before to the previous owner of my unit, and to other first floor units. Doesn’t the association have the responsibility to file a claim rather than deny responsibility? The condo is in Illinois.

Mister Condo replies:

K.K., they don’t necessarily have to file a claim but they are likely still responsible for the damage seeing as it was caused by a common element. Your homeowner’s insurance is always your first line of defense and it looks like they paid for the worst of the damage. If your association is refusing to file a claim or pay for the amelioration, it may be time to seek the advice of an attorney. Personally, I would file a suit (most likely Small Claims although I don’t know what your local laws dictate for a $2300 claim). If the association doesn’t want to file a claim, they don’t have to. However, if they are liable, they still have to make you whole. I am sure finding your condo water damaged was stressful enough. Getting the association to pay for the amelioration shouldn’t be. Good luck!

Disaster Floods Condo; Association Refuses to Remediate Resultant Mold

C.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My niece owns an upstairs condo unit.  Recently, the bottom unit was flooded by rain to the point of 6′ high.  The area has been declared a national disaster area and FEMA is processing claims.  My niece’s unit has mold growing up her walls and her floor is buckling due to the flood.  The owner of the downstairs unit started working to rid his unit of mold, mildew, etc. but stopped for some unknown reason.  FEMA has told my niece that her unit is a health hazard and needs to be vacated immediately. Here’s the kicker:  They tell her they cannot help her as had the downstairs owner took care of his condo, her condo wouldn’t have felt any effects of the flood.  What say you?

Mister Condo replies:

C.D., I am truly sorry your niece’s condo unit was flooded and damaged. Unfortunately, it would appear we live in a time of escalating natural disasters and many condos around the country have been impacted this past year. How a community association or HOA responds to these disasters can be just as damaging as the disasters themselves. Clearly, your niece has suffered a catastrophic loss here and it sounds like the HOA isn’t doing right by her. This could be because they aren’t familiar with how they should handle this disaster or they may not know where to turn to get the money to make the repairs or there may just be confusion caused by insurance companies or poorly written condo docs. It may be that the downstairs neighbor is also to blame and may be sued as well as part of the money recovery efforts. Whatever the reason, my next call would be to my attorney as this doesn’t look like it will be settled by simply asking the association to make the repairs. Also, if your niece has adequate homeowners’ insurance, she might be eligible for housing costs while the repairs are made. Clearly, she should not reside in a mold-infested unit. This is going to take a while to sort out but I am sure she will get the problem addressed once legal action is taken. Good luck!

Condo Board D&O Dos and Don’ts

C.V. from Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can board members be sued along with the management company? Should board members carry extra insurance other than the standard policy already in force by association? Thank You!

Mister Condo replies:

C.V., that is a great question! I am not an attorney, so please accept my reply as friendly advice. You may wish to pose the same question to your association attorney for a proper legal answer. In today’s litigious society it is quite possible for Board Members as well as the Property Management company and even the Association as a whole to be sued. The association typically holds insurance policies that cover them for a wide range of possible lawsuits. Directors and Officers (D&O) is one of those policies and it covers Board Members for most typical lawsuits they might face in the performance of their duties. For most Board Members, that is enough coverage for peace of mind while serving as a volunteer member of Board of Directors. However, there have been cases where Board Members have made exceptionally poor decisions that can lead to criminal and/or personal lawsuits that are outside the scope of this coverage.  I am not sure if any additional insurance coverage would have helped them but it may be worth a conversation with your personal agent, especially if you are quite well off and concerned that a personal lawsuit would be a burden worth insuring against. I have personally served on Boards for most of my adult condo life and I have never sought additional coverage. Then again, I have never been sued performing my duties as a Board Member and I can’t imagine any of my actions as a Board Member not being covered by the association’s D & O policy. That being said, I wouldn’t consider serving on a Board where the D & O policy wasn’t in place and kept current. All the best!

Insurance Runaround Leaves Condo Renter with Uncovered Losses

P.P. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I was a tenant in a condo that was damaged by water that entered the unit causing complete damage to 800 square feet of the hardwood flooring, Sheetrock and our personal property/furniture. Since owners’ insurance approved full compensation for damage, cause described as ice dam. Our tenants’ insurance declined claim because of owners’ insurance ‘ice dam’. Upon demo of floors and walls it was discovered that the damage was long term and was the result of gross negligence. It was discovered that incorrect installation of replacement windows which cause a gap under the windows causing water to enter the full length of the wall. Our furniture against that wall was no only water damaged, but infested with mold. A total loss. The condo association also received insurance money to pay the owners deductible and repair the gap and siding. Our tenant’s insurance refuses to revise the original decline. Neither the owner, who had the Windows replaced without a permit from the condo, nor the condo association is taking responsibility for the cost of our damage. We continued to pay rent during the three-months-time to repair, without access to the main level of the house. We’ve contacted the state of CT INSURANCE DEPARTMENT and representative simply sends us the original ice dam determination from Liberty Mutual. We are in contact with the association’s insurance who points to owner’s liability so points back at negligence of association. We have lost 50% of our furniture and damage to the rest. Where can we go from here?

Mister Condo replies:

P.P., I am sorry for all of your problems. As a tenant, your renter’s insurance should be your primary method of recovery for loss such as this. Unfortunately, your insurer is looking to shift the burden and has pointed a finger at the association, delaying your claim and leaving you stuck in the middle. For starters, I would not renew my lease when it is up. You have identified enough underlying problems that you would be wise to seek a new rental. Your claim of loss is most likely going to be against your Landlord and his claim will be against the association. However, before you get into the expense and ongoing legal battle with insurers, your landlord, and the condo association, you need solid legal advice from a local attorney who can tell you what to expect. I would think your insurer is going to be your best bet for getting money back. You paid them a premium and they offered you the coverage. You put in a claim with them and they denied the claim. They are the most direct path to recovering your money. Then, they can take on the expense of suing the association’s insurance company for damage caused by negligence, and so on. If you try to tackle all of these issues on your own, you could end up spending thousands of dollars with little to show for it at the end of the day. At least with your own insurer, you can demonstrate the coverage you had in place at the time of the loss. They have their own attorneys who may be willing to settle with you to avoid a lawsuit. Speak to an attorney today to get a legal opinion on your best course of action. Good luck!

Inadequate Condo Board Meeting Notice

N.T. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a first-time condo owner in California for a year. I wrote a letter to the board requesting for reimbursement for an expense that my condo insurer and I felt was a responsibility of the HOA to prevent further damage to the interior since the HOA contractor was overwhelmed and was unavailable. I wanted to attend the next board meeting in case my issue comes up on the agenda. The board typically meets on a certain day of the week every other month. The community newsletter typically indicates which day the month prior or it has been rescheduled. However, the past month the date was left empty on the newsletter but there was a meeting and my issue was raised and I was not there to clarify the statement the manager made which was not true. My question, is the board required to publicize the dates of the board meeting? I plan on attending the next board meeting which was publicized in this month newsletter which listed both the prior month meeting date that occurred and the upcoming meeting date. Thank you in advance and will greatly appreciate any information you can provide.

Mister Condo replies:

N.T., I am sorry that your introduction to condo living has been so controversial and that you experienced problems right off the bat. You asked about meeting notice requirements and the short answer is, yes, the Board does need to give advance notice to all unit owners of the association as outlined in either the governing documents or local or state law. Typically, the notice requirement is in writing to the individual unit owners, although other methods may be acceptable as long as they are agreed to by the unit owners. If the newsletter is the standard and medium used then that is how it is done in your community. I will say that a newsletter alone is not typically considered due process for serving notice of a Board meeting and that email would be more common in this day and age. The notice needs to include the agenda as well as the date and time. Board meetings are open for unit owners to attend but unit owners don’t participate unless asked by the Board to do so. In your case, you wanted to clarify your petition to the Board for reimbursement for expenses you made to prevent further damage. Ideally, the Board would have undertaken this expense and you wouldn’t have been out of pocket in the first place. The Board, and only the Board, can make repairs or alterations to common elements even though common sense likely drove you to take the action you took. I hope you are not out a tremendous amount of money. It might be best to write this one off and understand that you need to let the Board take this action if it comes up again. Good luck!

NYC Condo Board Forcing Rule Changes on Unit Owners

M.T. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We live in NYC in a 22-unit condominium building. We recently received an e-mail from our management company (on direction by our board) that certain “rules” would be changed, including language that limits what the building insurance would cover and how many pets are allowed per unit. We don’t really care about the change in pet policy though it does strike us as funny that one of the condo board members has more than the two dogs currently allowed. The change to the insurance language however does seem odd since it’s contrary to our by-laws. In the same message that contained the new “rules,” we were also informed that we needed to sign the attached document within 2 weeks and return it to them. Failure to sign would result in escalating monthly fines. I don’t see anything in our by-laws that specifically authorizes this – except that the condo board of course can enforce rules and fine for non-compliance. Do I have to sign? Or in other words, can they fine me for not signing this? The rules at this point look more like an amendment of the by-laws and it’s our understanding that we need to vote on that in order to make a change.

Mister Condo replies:

M.T, I can see where you would find it odd that these rules are being changed almost arbitrarily, especially by a Board of such a small condo. If there are 5 Board members and only 22 units, almost 25% of the units are represented by Board members. You are correct to challenge the process of changing rules or by-laws and you should look at both your governing documents and any local laws that may offer you protection from a Board that oversteps their authority to make changes that require a full vote of unit owners. As for signing a document provided by the Board that states they have informed you of the rule changes, I don’t see where that is a foul. Fining you for not acknowledging these rule changes seems a bit extreme. Typically, the Board only needs to notify unit owners in writing of rule changes for the rules to be considered in place and due process to have been followed. Forcing unit owners to sign this acknowledgement and then fining them for not doing so sounds like an unnecessary step to me but your governing documents may call for such a measure. You might want to attend the next Board meeting and observe what is going on. If they offer an opportunity for unit owners to voice concern, you could ask what these changes are about. It could be that the insurer has given the Board reason to make these changes. One instance I can think of is creating maintenance standards for things such as water supply lines inside of units. If left unmanaged, broken water supply lines can cause a fortune in damage. Many insurance companies now require that these lines, even if working properly, be replaced at regularly scheduled intervals. All the best!

Shared Water Main Creates Condo Chaos

K.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 4-unit condo where two units share a main water line. HOA newsletter in Nov. 2015 there was an article stating to make sure you notify your neighbor when you turn off the water line to both units. Recently my neighbor has been working on their condo and turned off the water while they were working. I was never notified that the water was going to be turned off. I saw their contractors leave and my neighbors return home around 4:30 p.m.. Water still was not turned back on, at about 6:00 p.m. I knocked on the door, no response. I thought they forgot to turn on the water. I turned on the water to take a shower. I went straight up the stairs heard water running and ran back down the stairs to turn the water back off. Not till 6:30pm did my neighbor return home. Their contractors did not cap her pipes in the bathrooms and she expects me to pay for the damage. Who would be responsible for the repairs?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., it is too bad that there weren’t better communications between you and your neighbors. They needed to communicate with you when they turned the water off. You needed to communicate with them when you turned the water on. Neither of you did. Typically, I would say neither of you are responsible and let each of your insurance companies battle it out for how to handle the expense of the repair. The newsletter article is a nice way of reminding unit owners about the issue but it isn’t a legally binding notice. If your neighbor has insurance, I would think their homeowner’s policy would cover the damage. If not, they might elect to sue you in small claims court or such. Unless the damage was extensive, I doubt they will do that. I would offer my apologies and also ask them to make sure they do a better job communicating when and if the water is ever shut off again. All the best!

Hoarder Refusing Unit Access Adds to Hurricane Irma Damage

E.E. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We just suffered flooding due to Hurricane Irma in 3 of our 6 townhome buildings. The building where we are having an issue has 6 units adjoined by a 2-hour firewall. We have 1 unit owner is a hoarder – very bad, almost no walkpath. The unit flooded and we need her to move everything on the 1st floor for the repairs that the Association’s insurance is willing to do so that she doesn’t have a black mold issue. The drywall, the cabinets and flooring all have to be removed. She is saying she has no plan to move anything out or make repairs. The concern is not only for her but the adjoining unit owners. Can we make her comply for repairs?

Mister Condo replies:

E.E., I am sorry that your community suffered Irma’s wrath. Like so many other condominiums in your region, damage was significant and clean-up efforts will be ongoing for quite some time. You now face a serious challenge with a hoarder blocking access to her unit for clean-up. While most folks would welcome the cavalry arrival to get things back to normal, the hoarder’s brain works in a different manner. All is not lost, although I think you will find this a difficult battle. It’s all about where the line is drawn between unit owner’s rights and the rights of the HOA. My first call would be to the association attorney who can help guide you through what may become a lengthy legal process of actually having access granted. Of course, your first step is to work with the unit owner and/or any known family members who may be able to step in and let the restoration company get in and do its work. However, if the unit owner refuses to voluntarily provide access (typical hoarder behavior from my experience), the association needs to take more aggressive action. While the unit owner’s health is most certainly at stake, so are the neighboring units and even the entire building. Mold isn’t just unsightly; it can be deadly. This is an unfortunate complication to an already bad situation but, trust me, you will get through this. I wish you all the best in your recovery efforts.