S.G. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Who is responsible for damage to newly installed kitchen caused by roof leak; owner or association?
Mister Condo replies:
S.G., this has been a particularly bad year for condo roof leaks. It’s been an even worse year for condo insurers who seem to be involved in a game of volleyball when it comes to handling the claims. I am sorry you are yet another victim. The truth is that as a matter of responsibility there are no clear answers from the insurer’s viewpoint. Traditionally, regardless of responsibility, the homeowner’s policy covers interior damage. Of course, homeowner’s insurance companies don’t want to pay for damage caused by negligence on the part of the association so they do what they can to fight back and shift the responsibility, and therefore, the liability. While the insurance companies battle it out it is often the unit owner who is caught up in the battle while the claim gets resolved. It often comes to the point where a unit owner needs to sue their own insurance company as well as the association and the association’s insurance company. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that for you, S.G..
Let’s start at the beginning and see if I can give you some advice you can use. I hope you had purchased a homeowner’s insurance policy before this leak occurred. In Connecticut, that policy is known as HO-6 and it is necessary to protect you in the event of damage to the interior of your unit amongst other things. Many associations require that this insurance be purchased by the unit owner. My advice is will always be to have a solid HO-6 policy in place to protect your investment. The condo association has all types of insurance to protect the common elements of the association. The Master Policy covers the buildings. When a water incursion event occurs, such as water leaking through the roof, one of those two insurances should kick in depending on the type and terms of the policy that were in place at the time of the event. In your case, it is likely that an ice dam or similarly naturally occurring event caused the water intrusion. In my opinion, that is what your homeowner’s insurance is for. Mother Nature dealt us a nasty winter and the ensuing damage should be covered under your policy. If common elements were also damaged (say, for instance, the gutters came away from the building and need to be replaced) then the association’s insurance policy should cover the damage to the common elements.
Of course, both of those scenarios assume a perfect world, which we don’t live in. If a claim is made against the Master Policy, the association runs the risk of increased premiums and/or denial of future coverage. The same may be true of your homeowner’s policy. After all, insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums. Paying claims does nothing for their profitability and, as you have seen, they would much rather deny the claim than make payment.
So the real question is what do you do while the insurance companies battle it out? If the association isn’t taking responsibility for the damage then you are likely the one who will need to take action to make the repair. That means you may have some out of pocket expenses up front to make the repairs. At the same time, you should very likely seek legal counsel to guide you in determining if you have a case against your association and their insurance company. If not, you may need to go after your own insurance company to cover the damage. I know it can be argued that it was a common element that failed (the roof) but this really isn’t a maintenance issue as much as it is a disaster issue which is exactly what the HO-6 policy is for. Depending on the dollar amount of your damages, you may be able to handle this yourself via small claims or you may need to escalate it if the dollar amounts are substantial. You may also be able to claim your legal expenses as part of your claim.
The bottom line is that it is not as simple as simply picking up the phone, filing a claim, and waiting for the check to arrive. My guess is that you will prevail against your homeowner’s insurance company but you may be facing a fight. I wish you all the best in arranging a settlement and a dry condo unit.