M.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I bought a condo that has 3 skylights. I found out after I’d lived in the condo for over a year that the skylights were installed by a previous owner without permission of the board and that I would be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the skylights. I’m fine with that. However, yesterday the association powerwashed the roof of the condo and may have damaged the skylights (I found water and dirt on the floor beneath one of the skylights). If they did damage the skylights am I still responsible to pay for repairs?
Mister Condo replies:
M.H., you have just described the perfect scenario for the gray area between black and white. The previous unit owner violated the association’s rules and installed skylights. The Board of the association decides not to force the removal of the unapproved skylights but tasks you with the cleaning and maintenance duties of the skylights. Then, the association performs the cleaning and maintenance of the skylights which you had agreed to handle and may have damaged the skylights which they had already told you to clean and maintain. And since you didn’t mention that any of this is in writing, I assume much of this is a verbal agreement between you and the Board. Well, that is the perfect set of ingredients for a lawsuit, M.H.!
As you know I am not an attorney. You may well wish to seek legal opinion on this issue because it is quite convoluted and I am not 100% sure on how to advise you. In a perfect world the following would have happened: The previous unit owner would have sought permission to install the skylights. The Board would have reviewed the request and either granted or denied the request. Additionally, the cleaning and maintenance would have been included as part of the approval process. Since that didn’t happen, all sorts of question now hang in the balance.
If verbal agreements are set aside, the Board would have been well within their right to ask you to remove the skylights (at your cost) and restore the roof to working condition as if the skylights never existed. If they did that, none of this would have happened. Since they didn’t, I would argue that they gave you approval to have the skylights and asked that you maintain them, which you agreed to. They then took it upon themselves to power wash your skylights and created damage. In my opinion, they own the damage as they had no business power washing your skylights in the first place.
Now comes the interesting part of proving that they caused the damage. What if the previously unapproved skylights were installed improperly? Was the contractor licensed and insured? Can you prove that it was the power washing that caused the skylight failure? Can an insurance claim be made against the damage? If so, who’s insurance, yours or the association’s? And on and on it goes…
If it were me, M.H., and I wanted to keep my skylights, I would get in touch with a licensed and insured skylight installation professional and have the skylights looked at and flashed and sealed properly. I am not an expert in skylights but I have some in my unit that have never leaked in the 12 years I’ve lived here. I don’t know how they would stand up to power washing but they withstand monsoon like wind-driven rain. I would go through the proper channels of documenting the skylights with the association. That is, I would explain in writing, that the skylights were installed before you purchased the unit and that you would like written permission from the Board to keep the skylights. Understand that the Board is under no obligation to allow this. Depending on your local state law the Board may have quite a long time to require the removal of unauthorized additions like skylights so ask nicely. Be sure to request in writing the care and maintenance requirements as well. With all of this documentation you should be in a much better position moving forward. And, hopefully, next time they won’t power wash your skylights to the point that they leak. Good luck!