I.I. from New York City writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I think that my NYC condo is not following it’s By Laws with respect to plumbing repairs. The building was built in 1932 and most of the plumbing is original. When a unit owner renovates and a plumbing leak happens in the riser (Common area) even if the riser is behind a wall and possibly on a different floor in another unit, the condo holds the renovator responsible for the plumbing repair and damages. My insurance company reviewed the bylaws which state that unless the unit owner was negligent and caused the leak, the building must pay for the repair. In addition, the building would have to prove that owner did something to cause the leak. In our case, the building has turned it around to say since we were renovating, the vibrations must have caused the riser to come apart. The riser was behind a wall that was not being worked on. What can we do to get the condo to follow their bylaws?
Mister Condo replies:
I.I., in a perfect world, all of the plumbing that is outdated would be replaced so that vibrations don’t create leaks. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, we need to come up with ways to keep our older buildings with their outdated plumbing systems intact. Your association has created a “you break you fix” rule which may seem fair but, in reality be anything but. If I were you, I would speak with an attorney to see if a lawsuit against the association is in order. This is kind of a “he said / she said” situation where the solution may need to be settled in court or arbitration. It is unrealistic for the association Board to think that unit owners of a building this old are not going to want to renovate. It is also unrealistic for a unit owner to expect that working on pipes that connect to such an old plumbing system are not going to cause damage or stress on the system. The real question is if it is ethically allowable to pass along damage claims on association-owned common elements such as the plumbing system to individual unit owners who are burdened with an outdated plumbing system. At the end of the day, the real problem is cost to update the outdated plumbing system. I am sure it would be a multi-million-dollar project to replace the plumbing and it is very likely that unit owners would not want to adsorb that cost in the form of higher common fees, Special Assessment, or an HOA loan to cover the cost of the project. I strongly suggest that concerned unit owner petition the Board and that everyone works together to find some common ground and an acceptable solution. Until then, the rule of the association stands unless a unit owner challenges it and wins. Good luck!