A.L. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
We have a major mold problem from ice damming and the HOA BOD and The Management Company have settled a claim and processed payment for it without notifying unit owners. There has not yet been any repair or restoration to our unit months after the event. My own HO-6 insurance company only wants to pay for the master policy’s deductible, citing a statute that they’re the primary insurance “all in”, yet the HOA BOD and The Management Company refuse to give us or our mortgage bank the requested information to date. They have not informed us, since the way I found out was to ask the adjusters multiple times directly, yet they still won’t give further details besides the fact that it was “settled” and paid out already. What rights do we have? Since they are not promptly or abiding by bylaws and duties AT ALL! Where do we go for help? Did they possibly decide to just keep the money, misappropriate it, and not tell us at all? And hope that their negligence would be okay while we get sick from a lab reported extremely high levels of mold? (Of which the master policy adjuster and “independent adjuster” that was assigned by The Management Company had visually found when assessing months ago, and sadly our own HO-6 insurance company’s adjuster found no mold at all…)
Please help and advise. It is direly needed.
Mister Condo replies:
A.L., I am sorry for all of the problems you and your fellow unit owners are experiencing. Ice damming can cause a series of problems as you have seen first hand. There is the initial problem of melting ice, which often causes water intrusion. Water intrusion can lead to mold outbreaks. There is often confusion over which insurance covers which portion of the unit (the Association’s Master Policy versus the unit owners HO-6). You seem to have experienced all of these and the cherry on top is the lack of communication between the governance body (the Board), the Management Company, and the individual unit owners. It is completely possible that this will work out over time and that there are “behind the scenes” claims and activities that are not being conveyed to you properly. However, you are not powerless here and appear to be at your breaking point so let’s talk about what can be done.
When suspected wrongdoing happens at any condo or HOA, a lawsuit often ensues. An individual unit owner or group of unit owners who feel their rights as unit owners were violated by the association and that covenants held by the unit owners were broken by the Board generally brings the lawsuit. The association has a duty to properly insure all units within the association. Unit owners have a duty to insure the interiors of their units. It would appear that the association had insurance in place and that the unit owners did as well. The real question is how was the claim handled and which insurer should be covering the damage. You have a secondary, and perhaps more important issue, of where did the money go that was awarded as part of the settlement.
Since you seem to be getting nowhere with the Board and the Management company, I suggest you do two things. First, speak with other unit owners who are experiencing similar problems. Second, speak with an attorney who is knowledgeable in community association law and get a legal opinion. Sometimes the threat of legal action gets the Board to “open up” and tell a better story about what settlement was reached and how the money is being spent. Keep in mind that there are many times when insurance payments take time and arranging the work with contractors to handle the repairs takes time as bids are collected and reviewed. That may be the case here but if so, the Board needs to do a better job or keeping unit owners in the loop about how the repairs are progressing. If you keep unit owners uninformed, they get angry and assume the worst. That does not help the situation at all.
If, after speaking with an attorney, you think you have a case, by all means move forward with a lawsuit. You may find that the association upheld their end of the bargain and that your HO-6 carrier is wrong in their assumption of “all in” coverage. You may find that your association’s insurance coverage was inadequate for this type of damage, which doesn’t let the association off the hook for the repair; it just means insurance won’t be paying for it. You may find that the association needs to raise funds to make the repair and that those funds may come in the form of higher common fees or a special assessment. The bottom line is that you deserve to live in a non-damaged unit that is mold free. It is time to assert your rights, A.L.. Good luck!