G.H. from Fairfield County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Our 80-unit mid-rise condo was built in 2008. It is fully owner occupied and the reserve fund is 70% funded. The building is designated a 55+ community by local zoning regulations. It is a highly desirable, very well built (steel, 9 inch concrete floors and steel wall studs).
For the last two years, over a dozen leaks have occurred in the ceilings above the toilets causing drywall damage in the unit below. It has been determined that in each instance the underlying cause was a defect in how the pipes were connected in the space between the units making this issue the responsibility of the Condo owners association, which has paid just under $1,000 for each repair to date. Three different professional plumbing companies who have done the repair work have told members of the Board of Directors that since the pipes in every unit where a leak has occurred so far were cut short where the toilet connects to the main building sewer line, there is a strong likelihood that all of the toilets will require repair at some point in the future.
Does the Board have a fiduciary responsibility to build extra funds for plumbing repairs into the Reserve Fund to cover these repairs since it is a recognized systemic problem? Should the repairs be done several at a time over a certain number of years to obtain a savings on repairs by using the same plumbing/dry wall repair companies who could do this work based on when they have a slow scheduling time period (the repairs take two people 3 hours)? Is making repairs on an as needed basis a fair way to address this problem in the best interests of current and future owners?
Mister Condo replies:
G.H., congratulations on having a properly funded Reserve at your condo. At least running out of money for future known expenses shouldn’t be an issue for your community. However, dealing with your current toilet leak flooding issues is a completely different challenge. My first blush is to suggest you speak with a community association attorney to see if, in fact, your association can bring suit against the developer for what sounds like a construction defect issue. The challenge may be that the failure is so far along into the life of the condos. From what you are telling me, only some of the toilet lines have failed. There is a very strong possibility that many of them will not and that is where the challenge in seeking a construction defect suit may arise. Still, if your association has an attorney, it is certainly worth pursuing as your association will need to foot the bill for the repair on its own if no remedy is sought.
You seem generally happy with your Board’s performance overall; it is just this specific issue where you are questioning their handling of the repairs and the finances to fund the repairs. I think it is fair to say that the Board is in the best position to make the call on this. You can certainly suggest they set aside additional funds for the project. You can even suggest they hire an engineer to get a professional opinion as the extent of the repairs that will be needed. However, if all they do is respond to the damage and make the repair, they are certainly doing their duty. The good news is that not all of the units are failing at the same time. Without an engineering report to back their decisions, I don’t really see what else they can do. If they simply plan to replace plumbing that hasn’t failed (and may not) they could be accused of wasting association resources by literally flushing it down the drain!
That being said, I think you are well within your rights to ask if these items have been considered. Keep in mind that these Board members are volunteers from within your community who are likely doing the best they can. With everything going so well for your community from what you have told me, I would think it best to work with them to get these repairs taken care of in timely fashion and politely suggest they consult with an attorney and an engineer so that they have all of the facts available to them to make the best decisions possible. All the best!