B.V. from Illinois writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Can an HOA force a condo owner to pay for water damage behind a wall in a neighboring unit if they claim that the damage was caused by a pipe bringing water to my unit and the 3 other units that are connected together to form the quad building? My condo docs say that I am responsible from the walls in? But what the HOA is saying is that another “state” condo act (no copy ever provided to me at the closing) makes me responsible for property (water) damage occurring behind another unit owner wall caused by a leaking pipe bringing water to my unit. In essence what happened, is that the water supply for all 4 units is brought into the ground floor unit. Then it is split off inside that unit to bring water via pipes to the other 3 units. Somehow it was determined that my water pipe was the leaking pipe behind the ground floor unit wall where the damage occurred. My HO6 policy says behind walls is common elements and responsibility of the HOA. The property manager and the HOA say I’m responsible because of my state’s HOA amendment. My HO6 insurer (like a good neighbor) canceled my insurance and I’m responsible somehow for water damage that didn’t happen in my unit. And now I live in fear that another water leak that brings water to my unit, and 3 other units will be blamed on me despite condo docs that say damages behind walls should be common elements responsibility of the HOA! I can’t very well break into my neighbor(s) walls every year to check for leaking pipes, can I? Who will be responsible for that damage? Nor pickup legal fees and court costs for me to defend myself, against some kind of state document that protects the HOA more than condo owner and HO6 policy issuers who won’t honor what their policies claim to cover! Suggestions…other than never to buy a condo AGAIN. I am 70+ plus to boot!
Mister Condo replies:
B.V., what a terrible situation! I am sorry that you and your neighbors have such water damage and that you are now facing an additional battle of an uninsured loss and a questionable interpretation of a state statute. I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column. In my opinion, this matter is worthy of a discussion with a locally qualified attorney to see what legal recourse and relief you may be entitled to.
Illinois does have a liability rule in state law that pertains to all condominiums. The local Illinois chapter of CAI has an excellent article on the piece written by attorney Mark Rosenbaum that you will want to read: https://www.cai-illinois.org/liability-condo-associations-damages-caused-failure-common-elements/.In essence, the law does assign some liability to unit owners for damage caused by certain common elements under certain circumstances. From what you have described here, this water damage doesn’t satisfy the requirements that allow the association to transfer the risk and repair expense from damage to you. In other words, if this were me, I would push back hard. I would let the association Board know that they have misinterpreted the law and that you are willing to sue to protect your rights. While the court costs may be expensive, you should be able to claim all legal expenses in your suit. If your attorney is encouraging and suggests you will prevail, it is likely worth the risk. It is unfortunate that your association Board and Property Manager have decided to go down this path. Your only recourse is to fight back. All the best!