F.J. from Tolland County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I have a condo that recently had a pipe burst. The condo company had it repaired as well as my drywall. Now they are suing me stating that their insurance denied the claim due to low heat in my unit. I gave the insurance company copies of my gas bill and have my heat set at 72 degrees. Can they make me pay for these damages? It was their pipe.
Mister Condo replies:
F.J., I am glad to hear that the damage caused by the burst pipe has been repaired. This past winter was severe and many condo unit owners suffered water damage from frozen pipes and ice dams. Mother Nature was not kind to us at all this year. I am not an attorney so I need to advise you to seek legal advice in this matter, especially if you have been notified of a lawsuit. You should not ignore the suit. You should file a response and seek legal representation if you need it. I am encouraging you to speak with a qualified attorney about this matter. I do, however, have some friendly advice for you:
In the litigious society in which we live, bringing a lawsuit is as simple as filling out a complaint, paying a filing fee at the local courthouse, and bringing suit against another party. Your Board has apparently filed suit against you for the damages caused by their pipe freezing and bursting. According to you, this is because their insurance company is not honoring their claim based upon the insurance company’s assertion that there was inadequate heat in your unit which caused the association pipe to burst. Your counterclaim is that you have copies of your gas bill indicating that you have had gas service on and you claim the heat inside your unit has been set at 72 degrees. Sounds like a classic case of “you said/they said” with no obvious way to determine if low heat caused the pipe to burst.
Unfortunately, this scenario has become all too typical. The association has insurance to protect itself and all unit owners from damage and destruction of the common elements. I am not sure why an association-owned pipe is running through your unit in such a manner as you are responsible for its care but yours is not the first such case I have heard about. Once the pipe burst, one of two things should have happened. Typically, if you have homeowner’s insurance (HO-6 here in Connecticut) you would have notified your insurance company of the damage that occurred in your unit. You would have also notified the association of the problem so that they could remedy the situation and notify their insurer who would determine if it was a covered loss. Since there insurer has determined that it is not a covered loss, the association is now asking you to pay. If you have insurance, this is where your insurer may challenge the association’s insurer as to who is actually responsible from an insured loss point of view. Of course, that leaves you in the middle holding the purse strings while the insurers battle it out.
You have a few options. You can file a countersuit against the association, claiming that the pipe is their responsibility and the damage resulting from the failed pipe is also their responsibility. You can do this through Small Claims court depending on the dollar amount in question. You can and should, answer the claim against you that the association has brought against you. If you do not answer the claim, the courts may file a summary judgment against you and you don’t want that. Finally, if the dollar amount in question is so small to not merit your time or effort, you could simply pay it to make it go away. Whatever you decide, I hope that you insist that the Board review its insurance provider to make sure that you or other residents are better protected if this happens again. There may be additional measures that can be taken to protect the pipe or keep the area around the pipe warm enough to prevent this from happening again. Good luck!