Dear Mister Condo,
Our condo association consists of 12 units that share a common water meter. Earlier this year we noticed that our water bill had suddenly more than tripled, and an inspection of each unit by the board determined that the cause was a constantly running toilet in one of the units (the continually-spinning water meter usage indicator stopped on a dime the moment that the water supply to that toilet was turned off; the toilet was fixed and our water bills subsequently returned to normal). Based on a review of our prior water usage history, we estimated that approximately 200,000 gallons of water was wasted at an excess cost of $1,500, from the time the toilet began running until it was repaired. Our board proposed a 50/50 split of this added expense with the unit owner of the broken toilet (the unit was occupied at the time by college students who likely never reported the toilet problem to their landlord), to which the unit owner tersely replied: “Not going to happen.” Is the condo association within its rights to demand that the unit owner cough up an additional $750 beyond regular monthly assessments to cover half of the excess water charged caused by the constantly running toilet in their unit?
Mister Condo replies:
J.C., the answer is “it depends” but most likely “no”. What it depends upon is the wording of the governance documents. If water is supplied as part of the common fees and there is no verbiage assessing penalties or expense to individual unit owners for excess water usage then the unit owner was right to refuse the charges. Also, there is an issue of documentation. Since your water is all supplied on one meter, you cannot say with any accuracy that all of the excess water was used by this one unit. Maybe another unit owner turned on a faucet and let it run during the same period of time. How would you know? How could you prove all of this water was consumed by this particular unit owner? It is unfortunate that the association has incurred this additional expense. However, the only way to prevent such an issue in the future is to submeter each unit’s water consumption (involving an expense of submeters) and also revising your documents to read that each owner is responsible for his/her water consumption. The local water company would bill the association and the association would then bill the individual unit owners. Short of that, the unit owner is correct in denying the charge. Good luck!