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Condo owners: question of responsibility...


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16 replies to this topic

#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Trace Downing

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Posted December 20 2002 - 06:20 AM

Ok, here's my story.

About 2 months ago a water leak was discovered by the 4 residences underneath me. I live on the 5th floor (top) unit. It was discovered that there was a leak on my shower lead, and tub and overflow drain in the wall. I hired the plumber on the spot and he cleared his schedule to get me in as fast as possible. The pipes were fixed 3 days later. Later on, they kept complaining that leaks were still coming down. He came out again, and found that I had a leak in my valves, but also the 4th floor unit had a streaming leak in his valves as well. I paid for all work done to my pipes (even though they were inside the walls). These pipes were 36 years old, with dry rotting gaskets around the drains. The whole building needs this work done.

Now...these 4 other units had water damage to their bathroom walls. The HOA is saying that I am responsible for the repair to their walls, even though the Declarations say that they have to prove neglegence (which there was none, since I got it fixed asap). They say that this is that way it's done on 99% of associations. My Ins. Adjuster, and lawyer both say that this is highly irregular, and that's what you have a home owner's policy for. One unit on the 1st floor has $1500 worth of damage. I would have to assume that she let this go for quite some time before any of this was brought to my attention, and even if I have to pay, I still don't think she deserves a new bathroom for it.

So, is each home owner responsible for the damage to their own units, as my attorney says, or am I? How does your HOA deal with wear and tear damage to other units, where something like this could not be prevented?

Sorry to be so wordy.

#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Mathew Shelby

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Posted December 20 2002 - 06:43 AM

I live in a condo as well. Every homeowner is responsible for their own units. This is what homeowner's insurance is for. The damage you are talking about could not be prevented and certainly you were expedient in trying to get the situation resolved. I would write a letter to the condo association threatening to sue. I know everyone will say that people in the US are "sue-crazy" or something like that, but condo associations are an entirely different breed and sometimes it takes threatening to get anything done.

#3 of 17 OFFLINE   Mark C Sherman

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Posted December 20 2002 - 07:19 AM

The way I see it is, Unless some one tells you that there is something wrong How are you ever going to know that your bathroom is leaking?
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#4 of 17 OFFLINE   Shayne Lebrun

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Posted December 20 2002 - 07:22 AM

*nod* They would have to prove that they told you, and that you ignored them.

#5 of 17 OFFLINE   Trace Downing

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Posted December 20 2002 - 07:32 AM

This is a recent flip. The place used to be apartments up until 2 years ago. The HOA has just hired a new managing company called ACCU, which my lawyer tells me is like the McDonalds of management companies. Posted Image

Our property manager is advising me, and everyone else that I am responsible for their repairs, because she says that they have hundreds of associations and the majority do it this way. I'm getting different messages from everyone here. When I confronted her with the "proof of neglegence" clause in the Declarations, she said...get this..."I'll have to read your declarations."Posted Image The HOA President (an officious little prick), is advising my neighbors not to deposit my insurance checks (given under the good neighbor policy...up to $500 towards their deductibles, because he's sure that I need to cover everything, but he obviously hasn't read these declarations either.

Now, they are building a dossier on the expenses of repair, to present to me with a bill. The HOA is now working with the other owners against me.

Everybody (including you) is telling me one thing, and this manager is telling me another. I read these declarations, and there's nothing that puts me as responsible. I don't see how they can justify it, aside from the idea that "It's always been done this way".

I don't really think that I should threaten to sue. If they insist on me paying, then I think they'll have to take me to court, and prove to a judge that "It's always been done this way" are stronger than the black words on this declaration.

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason L.

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Posted December 20 2002 - 03:13 PM

Here is my condo lawsuit story:

PERSON A lives in the unit above mine and rents it from OWNER B.

One day, PERSON A flushes the toilet, goes into the living room and takes a nap. Unbeknownst to her [allegedly], the toilet overflows and comes through my bedroom ceiling [I am not home at the time]. My ceiling and carpeting are ruined and need to be replaced.

I call the HOA. The HOA sends out a plumber who says there is nothing wrong with the pipes and that it is an issue between myself and OWNER B.

OWNER B sends out her own plumber to find out if something is wrong with the toilet so that this doesn't happen again. OWNER B thinks that PERSON A clogged the toilet and that is why it overflowed.

This is how I have always been led to believe that this is the standard HOA policy:

1. Any pipes that are behind any walls - the HOA is responsible for.

2. Once the pipe comes out of the wall it is the homeowner's responsibility.

I'm not sure why your HOA is getting involved in this. They should just butt out at this point.

I call OWNER B to see how she will remedy the situation. To my shock OWNER B offers nothing except the following, "Gee, that's real bad what happened! My tenant, PERSON A, is real stupid!"

I bite my tongue, say nothing, and end the call. I fix the damage myself, and sue OWNER B in small claims court because she is the owner of the unit [and toilet] and is also responsible for the actions of PERSON A.

Since it takes almost a year for OWNER B to get served with my lawsuit, by the time we get to court she is very unprepared and can't remember the details of what happened, and cannot remember what plumber she called to look at the toilet. She has a lawyer, but he is useless in this situation.

OWNER B says that she isn't responsible - PERSON A is. The judge reschedules the court date and adds PERSON A as a defendant to the lawsuit.

We meet in court for the second time. At this point I am not really in the picture. OWNER B says PERSON A was negligent. PERSON A says the toilet was faulty and not her fault. Since OWNER B couldn't prove PERSON A was negligent [she had no proof], the judge awarded me damages from OWNER B.

After 30 [or 60] days, I hadn't received my money from OWNER B. I wrote her a certified letter stating that if I didn't receive my money I would have the sheriff confiscate her property to sell in order to pay for the judgement. I also told her that I would slap a lien on her house as well.

After that, I received a check for the full amount.

MORALS OF THE STORY:

1. If you are going to sue someone, don't get into a huff and tell them you are going to sue them. If you do tell them, that allows them to gather documentation from Day 1 - Since I didn't tell her I was going to sue her it caught her completely off guard when she received the summons almost a year later and she was really unprepared when she was in court.

2. The management company really shouldn't care if you or the HOA pays for it. After all, it isn't their money. If you cause enough of a problem, the HOA will probably bite the bullet and cough up the money.

3. Again, if the leak happened behind the wall the HOA should pay for it. If it didn't, it is probably either a grey area or you are screwed.

4. I wouldn't give them a dime and just wait for them to take you to court. The HOA might not want to go through the hassle. The burden of proof would be on the HOA's part. You might get lucky.

Hope this helps.

#7 of 17 Guest_Eric Kahn_*

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Posted December 21 2002 - 01:28 PM

Find a good lawyer in the real estate rental field and consult him/her.
if the management co is pushing for you to pay, they are probably hoping that you will not have the funds to support the court case and that you will pay because it is cheaper in the long run for you
be prepare for multiple appeals by this management co, they sound like real scum already

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Francois Caron

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Posted December 21 2002 - 05:52 PM

"It's always been done this way" is not a valid argument. What's valid is what's written in the declaration. That's the document that will be recognized as official in court.

As for ownership of the pipes, the point of ownership (and rssponsibility) is usually located where the pipes arrive inside your unit. In our case, it's the utility ducts since all our units are lofts.

Another possibility is to let the insurance companies settle the matter. They're more likely to arrive to some reasonable agreement than a bunch of pissed off owners. The companies will evaluate the chain of events and assign blame where it's most appropriate. Everyone gets reimbursed for the damages and only the people whose units are truly responsible for the mess will have that fact marked in their files. Depending on how many claims you've made in the past, this may not necessarily mean a rate increase.

#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Kirk Gunn

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Posted December 22 2002 - 12:30 AM

I wouldn't give them a dime and just wait for them to take you to court. The HOA might not want to go through the hassle. The burden of proof would be on the HOA's part.


Totally agree - and I'm an HOA president (single family dwellings, no condos).

But... start keeping a detailed journal to prepare for any legal action. Include dates/times and the full names of people contacted (even if it's just a conversation in the hallway). Make sure you retain copies of reciepts, etc. Make sure the reciept from the plumber indicates the work was done behind the walls. If it is not currently stated, ask the plumber to send you a summary to that effect, and inform him there may be a court case (so he remembers the incident). Make sure you keep all this until the Statute of Limitations runs out (even if you move).

If a court case does occur, your presentation of "detailed facts" vs. "it's always been done this way" could sway the judgement.

Good Luck !

#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Steve K.H.

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Posted December 22 2002 - 02:28 AM

Too often the persons chaired with responsibility on the boards are the least qualified.

Arbitrary sanctioning along with ignoring contract obligations and /or burden of proof can be responded to like this...

"Are you covered by Directors and Officers Liability Coverage?" Posted Image

Bluecruzer...
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#11 of 17 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted December 22 2002 - 02:38 AM

Quote:
Another possibility is to let the insurance companies settle the matter. They're more likely to arrive to some reasonable agreement than a bunch of pissed off owners.

Assuming that the people who suffered water damage make claims with their homeowner's insurers, those insurers will almost certainly turn around and demand reimbursement from Trace (and possibly the owner of the unit below him). The standard letter sent by insurers in this circumstance accuses the recipient of "negligence", even when there's been no investigation. That letter is then submitted to the recipient's insurer, and the insurers usually work it out between themselves.

Quote:
"It's always been done this way" is not a valid argument.

That's especially true in a building that was converted to condos only two years ago. Two years isn't enough time to establish a consistent prior practice for something like this.

M.
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#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Trace Downing

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Posted December 22 2002 - 03:08 AM

Oops, double post.

#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Trace Downing

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Posted December 22 2002 - 03:09 AM

Thanks for the input fellas.

Quote:
As for ownership of the pipes, the point of ownership (and rssponsibility) is usually located where the pipes arrive inside your unit.

We have a clause detailing "Limited common elements". These are elements that benefit a single unit, but are located in common areas, such as walls. These are like...

Decks and balconies.
Electrical wiring serving a single unit.
Pipes and drains that benefit a single unit.
Phone lines up to the point of the multiplexer (but is usually a Bell company property beyond my walls).
Parking spaces, storage lockers, etc.

So by this, my shower pipe, tub drain and overflow, water valves are my property, even though they are inside the walls. Thus I paid to have them repaired, and called my insurance to look at the damage to other units.

Now here's something nice that's happened.Posted Image I just recieved my statement from ACCU. They applied my HOA dues to the special assessment instead, and charged me a $25 late fee for not paying my HOA. To top it off, they are charging me $86.88 for something called "plumbing repairs on 10/24" for which they provided no copy of reciept, work order, or explanation to what work was done. This month (Dec) is the first I've recieved a bill from these people, and they are slapping a $25 late fee on it as well.

There was a common pipe on the opposite end of the building that was replaced (HOA's responsibility) about the same time my pipes were being repaired. The HOA is paying for the damage to the 4-5 units that the water pipes caused. As a result, they are raising everyone's HOA dues by $40 for future wall repairs that I believe is the unit owner's responsibility. Anybody got insight into this?

Does anyone else here believe that these folks are still in "Apartment mode", and don't actually realize that ownership has different responsibilities, and different rules apply? Or are these just really apartments that we pay mortgages on? ACCU does also manage rental properties, but I can't believe that they don't know about this.

I guess I'm just looking for a consensus about the issue. Has anyone come across this kind of common belief? Like I said, I'm getting conflicting opinions at home.

EDIT: more...

Quote:
...That letter is then submitted to the recipient's insurer, and the insurers usually work it out between themselves.

So by what Michael is saying, the insurance companies know what they're doing, and everyone else just needs to butt out, and let them do their job?

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Lee L

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Posted December 23 2002 - 03:00 AM

Call a lawyer and put him on retainer. You are getting ready to be screwed.
Revenge is like serving cold cuts-

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#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Trace Downing

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Posted December 23 2002 - 05:22 AM

Already have. I got an appointment with him on the 6th. He's a property liability specialist. My insurance company also has a legal dept. that gets activated as soon as simple little idle threats are made against me as well. I think I'm safe., although I would like to live in a building that has some social harmony to it.

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Francois Caron

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Posted December 23 2002 - 06:27 AM

Quote:
Does anyone else here believe that these folks are still in "Apartment mode", and don't actually realize that ownership has different responsibilities, and different rules apply? Or are these just really apartments that we pay mortgages on?


Oh man did I ever encounter that problem! I spent two years as president of our condo committee and I couldn't believe how many people in our building have this attitude that they still live in a rental subdivision! This is a COOPERATIVE you jackasses! The building belongs to ALL of us! Your responsibility extends to the WHOLE BUILDING! Not just your measly unit!

Trace, make sure you maintain that paper trail! That's your best defense!

#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted December 23 2002 - 07:20 AM

Quote:
So by what Michael is saying, the insurance companies know what they're doing, and everyone else just needs to butt out, and let them do their job?

Under normal circumstances, that would probably work. But you seem to have an unusual situation in your building, and in light of the latest development, I think you're doing the right thing by consulting a lawyer.

M.
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