S.B. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
A unit owner hired a contractor to replace a one-piece tub in lieu of a walk in shower. It was necessary for the contractor to remove the toilet in order to get the old tub out. Naturally, the contractor had to shut off the water supply valve to the toilet. The valve was off for three days because contractor was not finished with new shower installation. On the early morning of day four, unit owner awoke to the sound of water coming from bathroom. The shut off valve failed while in the closed position probably due to age or defect and water leaked thru to ceiling below and caused damage. According to CT condo laws and maintenance standards, who is responsible to repair damage? Contractor, unit owner or master insurance company? Please keep in mind there was nothing wrong with the old tub. Unit owner simply chose to update. Thank you.
Mister Condo replies:
S.B., water damage claims are tricky business to say the least. I am not an attorney so please accept my advice as friendly. You may wish to confer with the association’s attorney for a legal opinion on this matter.
The simplest answer would be that the unit owner’s insurance is responsible for the damage to his/her unit and the association’s master insurance is responsible for resultant damage to the building’s structural components. You didn’t mention if the ceiling below was in the unit owners unit or a neighboring unit but the same is likely true for that unit as well. HO-6 (homeowner’s insurance) is supposed to cover damage inside of a unit. Master Insurance is supposed to protect the association from claims against damage to association-owned property and liability. However, if the association had published maintenance standards for the shut-off valve and that maintenance standard was not adhered to, there may be some wiggle room for the Master Insurance to deny the claim. In that case, the association would likely pass the cost of repair to the unit owner who didn’t follow the maintenance standard. Depending on the dollar amount in question, I could see where a lawsuit could easily ensue. The contractor may also face some liability although it may be hard to prove that the faulty shut off valve was his responsibility. Some might argue the water supply to the whole unit should have been turned off, not just the shower valve.
Speak with the association’s insurer as well. These folks have the best first-hand knowledge of how best to handle the claim. The insurance laws for condos have changed a bit but the underlying principles of limiting liability have not. The fact that this was a remodeling job should have no bearing on the outcome to the association although the contractor may bear some of the burden for the damage. That is a battle best fought by the insurance companies and their attorneys. Good luck!