Change of Story in Condo Damage Responsibility Claim to Unit Owner

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(Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up question to a post that appeared on September 10, 2013. You can read the original question and answer at http://askmistercondo.com/leaking-air-conditioner-creates-a-mess-in-the-condo-insurance-coverage-even-messier/)

J.R. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Thank you, Mr. Condo, for reviewing my question. I just received a letter from the Property Management stating that I owe $500 (which will be applied to my assessments) for damage to my neighbors bathroom in July 2013, this $500 was a verdict from the board. Back in July of 2013, the head engineer and the Property Manager at the time said it was not my responsibility and I wouldn’t be responsible for any of the charges. Unfortunately, I did not get this in writing. When I received the letter I immediately had a meeting with the new Property Manager and the same head engineer. The Property Manager said there was nothing more in the file other than the incident report and the head engineer said he didn’t recall anything from the meeting back in July 2013, once again my fault for not getting anything in writing. Since my last meeting back in July 2013 I haven’t heard anything more about the incident and then the Board says I owe $500. I did get a copy of the condominium association homeowner rules and regulations. While reading it I discovered they did not follow rule 34.6 “The Board of Directors reviews Rules and Regulations’ violations or complaints. Fines may be assessed after the owner or resident has been given an opportunity to be heard.” I am writing a letter to the board to complain that I was not given the opportunity for them to hear my side. What other actions can I take? Are there any government departments I should report this to? Any assistance would be great!

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., I am sorry for your ongoing problem with your condo, your Property Manager, the engineer, and even your Board. I guess we can add Musical Chairs to the debacle as it would appear you now have a new Property Manager in the mix. Regardless of who is in the mix, the ultimate responsibility for the interpretation and application of the rules and regulations for your community lies with the Board. Both the Property Manager and the engineer work for them. The Board is further bound by CT state laws on community association governance, better known as the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA). Violations of the act can be reported to the Department of Consumer Protection and/or the state’s Attorney General. Neither looks kindly upon Boards that do not follow the law when it comes to carrying out violation notices and assessing fines or fees against unit owners without due process. You certainly could take your case to them if you are unable to resolve this issue with a little negotiation.

Let’s start at the beginning, J.R.. Do you disagree that there was damage to your neighbor’s unit? Do you agree that something in your unit that failed caused the damage? If not, the responsibility may, in fact, lie with you. If you feel that the engineer and Property Manager who told you that it was not your fault were correct and you wish to contest the finding by the Board that it is your responsibility you have the right to do so. That may involve you bringing suit against the Board which you may wish to hire an attorney to do. But let’s hold that thought while we look at the bigger picture…

Did you have homeowner’s insurance (HO6) in place at the time of the incident? If so, you may be able to put in a claim for the damage to your unit as well as your neighbor’s unit. That may be the more common approach to handling a situation like this. Air conditioners are certainly known to fail and quite often the damage that results is to neighboring units as well as the unit where the air conditioner leaked. If you didn’t have insurance in place at the time, this may be an expensive lesson on why you should always have HO6 coverage in place to protect yourself.

The bottom line is that it was your air conditioner that failed and created the leak that damaged your neighbor’s unit. Your Board needs to follow protocol for determining who is at fault and that may involve bringing you in for a hearing on the matter. However, it would appear to me that the same outcome is going to be reached. This is what insurance is for. If you didn’t have the insurance in place, you may be out of pocket for the portion of the damage you are being asked to pay. You may wish to get an attorney involved to make sure your rights are not being violated and that you are not paying more than you need to but since $500 is the sum of damages you are being asked to pay, I hardly think spending money on an attorney is going to be economically feasible. Good luck!

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