I oftentimes hear folks express their frustration with home ownership. They dream about owning a condominium where they will have little maintenance responsibility and a condominium association looking after the community. When you have a responsible Board of Directors, a professional association manager, and the association providing insurance covering the exterior of the building, what could possibly go wrong? This question will make most condominium owners chuckle, because they’ve probably dealt with situations where common sense seems to be tossed aside. This can be the case when units sustain water damage.
One of the most prevalent issues condominium owners experience involves water intrusion. Sometimes poor maintenance of common element balconies or walkways can cause pooling, and in other instances flooding is caused by drainage issues. Should the failure of the association’s common elements cause damage to the interior, a unit owner should be compensated by the association’s insurance company. I am hopeful that most readers understand that the association will not insure the interior of the unit or its contents unless it can be proven that a common element failed. It is imperative that condominium owners purchase interior insurance which will also offer full replacement coverage for their personal property; otherwise, depreciation will be considered and there will be significant costs to replace damaged property.
Condominium owners sustaining water intrusion from above sometimes face a difficult situation, and one which may lead to litigation. For example, an owner’s unit is located on the first floor. The owner arrives home to discover her ceiling has collapsed and water is intruding, causing damage. What should she do? Who should she contact? Contacting the association’s emergency maintenance service should come first, especially if it is an active leak. Then, the homeowner’s insurance company should be contacted and a demand should be made that a specialist be dispatched immediately to evaluate the cause of the leak. This is crucial for liability and causation purposes.
At first blush, one might think liability rests with someone upstairs or with the condominium association. However, unless negligence can be proven, there may not be a legally liable party. This situation can result in significant out-of-pocket losses for the first floor owner, as most homeowners’ insurance policies have caps on damages, particularly as it relates to personal property and mold. To avoid delays identifying causation, increasing out-of-pocket costs, and litigation expenses, condominium owners should be have their own comprehensive unit owners insurance and have a plan for water intrusion.