E.L. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Who pays for damages to decks caused by moving earth? Our condos were built in 2005 on a lovely sloping hillside. Since then, the ground under many of the decks has shifted causing them to pull away from the building. Currently, one of the decks is supported by 2 feet of wood blocks because there is that much space between the piling and the support beam. Who is responsible for the repairs which at this point seem to include damage to the unit, the deck and the ground? Thank you.
Mister Condo replies:
E.L., sounds like you have a slow moving landslide at your condo. That lovely sloping hillside has turned into a potential liability. My immediate concern for you and your fellow homeowners is safety. Decks carry their own set of risks and decks that are not properly secured can be quite hazardous. I am not an attorney and my advice right out of the gate is that you and your neighbors should seek legal representation if you need it. There are several possible causes and remedies. I would consult with a building engineer as soon as possible to determine the severity of the damage and possible remedies. My guess is that supports of some sort will be needed to secure the decks. A retaining wall will also likely be needed to prevent future movement of the Earth. If the association has insurance that will cover the damage and repairs, the Board could make a claim. Also, it is possible that there is some type of claim to be made against the developer as a construction defect. An attorney’s guidance will most definitely be needed for that. If there is no insurance to cover the loss, the association may find itself on the hook for paying for the repairs. That may include a substantial Special Assessment to raise the cash needed to do so. There is one other possible scenario that involves the individual homeowners responsible for the repairs caused by shifting Earth. If the decks are individually owned versus association-owned, the individual homeowners may be able to seek remedy through their own insurance, their own lawsuit against the developer, or out of their own pockets. As I mentioned early on in this reply, this is a situation that may, indeed, require the services of an attorney as there may be questions of interpreting documents as well as liability to get this whole matter solved. Good luck!