Neighbor suspected of having washer
Q: Our condominium documents prohibit clothes washers. We have laundry rooms located on each floor. My neighbor, along with her husband and the two children living in her unit, has never been seen using the laundry room. I see when she returns from the store that she has large containers of detergent. She is friends with board members, and they never inspect her unit to enforce our rules. I know that she has a washer in her unit. If a leak occurs damaging my condominium unit, would I have recourse against the association? It appears that the board members are turning a blind eye to this violation. What are my options to prevent this possible damage?
A: Stop being a busybody. Do not create a problem where there is no problem. I have often seen an owner or a director think of a problem and then try to make changes to prevent a nonexisting problem.
In most situations, if a water leak occurs, the water will seek a lower level. Thus it would flow to units below and not necessarily into your unit. If, however, you do experience water damage, you would need to prove negligence by the other unit or by the board. This is very hard to do, as you would need to convince a judge of negligence.
Each unit owner is responsible for loss or damage to his personal property, and this means that any damage would be your responsibility. You should have insurance that should cover most of your losses for water damage.
If you feel the board is negligent, then send a signed letter with your complaint. Be aware that you will be making a complaint with no real evidence. Your observations are not evidence of a violation.
Water heater leaks into other units
Q: A water heater has leaked into other units. The water heater is located in the center of the unit in a closet. The water traveled down plumbing inside the condominium walls to other units, causing mold and drywall damage to units below. The association has asked the offending unit owner to turn off the water and replace the water heater. The other unit owner is understandably upset and is threatening to sue the association to repair his wet drywall and clean the unit. Can the association turn off the water in the offending unit? Is the association responsible for the repairs to the other unit? Can the association replace the water tank and bill the owner?
A: Here is the way it works. Each unit owner is responsible for his own repairs, and the condominium would be responsible only for the replacement of the unfinished drywall. Each owner should have property and casualty insurance. However, it may exclude mold.
The upstairs owner is totally responsible for the replacement or repair of the water heater. Those units below would be responsible for damage to their units. The condominium would be responsible to replace unfinished drywall.
In 2004, the state changed the statutes for condominiums, requiring each unit owner to provide insurance coverage to cover events like the one outlined in your question. In recent years, this was slightly modified, but owners should have insurance coverage. Each owner would have a reason to file a claim for the repairs to his or her unit.
While I do not believe the association can just cut off the water to this unit as a fix to stop the leak, it could do so to make repairs. In addition, if the owner will not fix the water heater and stop the leak to the other units, the board could enter the unit and allow a plumber to make the repairs. Then the board could add the charges to the unit account.
Before the board acts to make the repairs, I suggest that the board seek guidance from the association attorney. In addition, I would also suggest that the attorney send a demand letter. My guess is that if the owner does not make the necessary repairs, he could be sued for the additional damage.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., No. 201, Winter Haven, FL 33884-4115. Please include your name and city.