B.C. from Florida writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I live in Seminole County, Florida and own a condo which my family and I occupy in a community of 150 units. Many of those units are owned by out-of-state or even out-of-country owners and managed by local property management companies. Our unit was damaged by the unit above us two months ago when that unit’s A/C air handler (original air handler, dating back to 1984) had its drain line back up (horribly clogged and not maintained), overflow and leak a considerable amount of water into our unit’s ceiling, walls and floor below. The unit is owned by someone in California, but it is managed by a local property management company. That company had initially agreed to pay for the damage to our unit, but has since reneged on that promise. Can I sue the management company in small claims court or do I have to sue the California owner? If it is the owner whom I must sue, can I have the process service done on the management company instead of having the owner served in Southern California? Please help if you can! Thank you!
Mister Condo replies:
B.C., I am sorry your unit took damage from an improperly maintained air handler from a neighboring unit. I am not an attorney or an expert in Florida state law so I can only offer friendly advice here. Your claim should be against the unit owner. The unit owner needs to be served papers according to your state’s laws on such matters. My guess is that will require a certified letter from you (or your attorney should you decide to use one) and the owner of record according to your local real estate authority. After that, it is simply a question of working through the legal process of a hearing, which, from what you have told me, you would likely prevail. Ideally, the expense and inconvenience of a lawsuit can be avoided by the unit owner simply paying for the repairs or issuing a claim against any insurance they might have to either pay the claim or a portion thereof. In my opinion, you cannot have process service done against the management company because they don’t own the unit. Good luck!