R.L. from Hartford County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
My husband and I live in a two-unit Victorian condo. The attic and the 2nd and 3rd floors belong to another owner and are considered Unit 2. We own the 1st floor and the ground floor and it is considered Unit 1. Our heating system has been upgraded to gas and is well maintained. Unit 2’s heating system is about 40 years old and has never had any regular maintenance. Both systems use forced hot water. Our neighbor has a very old oil burner which has broken down. He is willing to pay for the repair, but the repair cannot be done without his heating company entering his unit to flush the pipes. The system uses forced hot water.
One year ago our neighbor moved out. He left his heat on. But now his oil burner does not function. Winter is coming and we live in the Northeast. It is not uncommon for the pipes to freeze in our neighborhood. Surely, his pipes which are on two floors above us will freeze without any heat and the flood will ruin his unit and ours. He is willing to pay for the repair but he is not willing to let the company enter his unit to drain the pipes. So the company will not do the work and the Unit owner is not willing to be present to open the doors and is not willing to let anyone enter his unit in his absence. What rights do we have? It is getting quite cold!! Are there no town agencies responsible for averting a disaster?
Mister Condo replies:
R.L., obviously as I answer this question in June, your situation has already played out. Since I answer 5 questions per week on a first come / first served basis, I apologize for the length of time it took to get back to you. I hope you got through this potential nightmare unharmed. Your story is one of common sense lacking in the unit owner above you. The refusal to not allow repair workers into his unit to handle the repair is an act of willful negligence. While there are no laws that I know of that require unit owners to keep their heat on and in good working order, there are legal remedies available to you should you incur a loss once the damage is done. I realize that it would make far more sense to force the prevention of such damage but that’s not how the system works. In fact, your best bet against financial loss is a great homeowner’s insurance policy. Be sure your policy has provisions for housing you away from your home if such damage occurs. You might also want to review your condominium’s governance documents to see if they address the issue. In a typical condo, right of egress is often granted when a common utility is housed in a particular unit. However, according to your statement, each unit owner owns its own heating system. As such, the association would have no right to enter the unit to maintain the system. Small condos often face the same dilemmas as larger condos when it comes to governing common sense – you just can’t force people to behave as responsible adults. However, if there lack of proper behavior causes you financial harm, there are often remedies like lawsuits that can make you whole, after the fact. All the best!