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Condo Homeowner-to-Homeowner Responsibilities: Who’s Responsible For Water Damage?

Scared man addressing water leak in condo

Water damage is one of the most insidious perils a condo owner may face. Beyond the damage it does, the potential for mold, bacterial infestation, and potentially having to replace flooring, furniture, and belongings, you may also have to repair and repaint walls and ceilings.

What a headache!

What’s more, if you share walls with other homeowners, or if the leak came from their unit, who’s responsible? Does the HOA have any obligation? Whose insurance does it fall under?

When one condo unit leaks water or causes other damage (like fire) to a unit above or below, it is a homeowner-to-homeowner issue because it’s inside the walls.


What HOA Insurance Does and Doesn’t Cover

Homeowners in single-family-dwelling communities are responsible for everything, including the roof, walls, foundation, and exteriors. Generally, homeowner’s insurance covers water damage and other perils inside your home. The HOA might be responsible for drainage issues around the dwelling.

Since water drainage is typically part of the common area, it would fall under the HOA’s jurisdiction.

In a planned development or apartment-style building, the HOA has responsibility for the roof and exterior, so it may fall to them to fix it if the leak comes from one of those areas, and they absolutely should be involved in the repair.

It’s vital to know what parts of your condo unit are the HOA’s responsibility and which are yours. For example, windows may or may not be the condo owner’s responsibility. If the leak is coming from the window, it’s up to you to repair it and hopefully stop the water damage from affecting the unit below.

In another scenario, let’s suppose that water leaks through the foundations because of poor drainage from a common area. Technically, this is an HOA problem. However, if you had installed hardwood flooring without HOA approval, they would probably not cover its replacement. The final decision would likely hinge on recommendations from their legal counsel, so don’t take this as gospel, as it’s a bit of a grey area.

Unless the association’s governing documents indicate otherwise, the HOA is responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of common area plumbing, while owners are responsible for any services under their exclusive use. These include plumbing, appliances, water and drain lines serving their unit, tubs, showers, faucets, etc.


What About When the Leak Comes from Your Neighbor’s Unit?

Say your neighbor upstairs lets the bathtub overflow, and it leaks into your ceiling. Your ceiling caves in, and it’s a huge mess. You need to start a claim with your insurance company, but the neighbor is at fault. Much like a car accident, your insurance will deal with their insurance to get the claim paid.

In the case of a slow leak over time, where minor damage was noted and not addressed until it went to an extreme, your insurance may not cover it at all. In this instance, it might be considered negligence or failure to maintain your unit. It’s essential to address any issues immediately, as the underlying cause might be bigger than it appears on the surface.

Your insurance adjustor is often a good resource, especially if you can’t determine where the leak originated. It could have originated from another unit entirely, making the scenario more complex.

We came across an anecdote from a condo owner who “inherited” undisclosed plumbing issues from the previous owner. A leak from her bathroom caused damage and sagging to the ceiling in the unit below, which would fall under her insurance to fix. However, the problem surprised her as she’d only owned the unit for a couple of weeks. The ceiling damage had obviously occurred over time and could not have been negligent in the matter.

The long and short of it is that since she owned the unit and the leaky plumbing was part of it, she can claim it on her homeowner’s insurance, and hopefully, they will pay (see comment above regarding a slow leak over time). There’s also the question of liability for a known issue undisclosed by the seller, whom she would need to go after in small claims court should she wish to pursue the matter.


What Types of Water Damage Does Condo Insurance Cover?

The HOA master policy covers damage to your unit only if it results from an incident in one of the common areas or parts of the dwelling under their control. These could include common-use swimming pools, hot tubs, roofs, outer walls, foundations, hallways, stairways, and drainage structures. In any case, it’s essential to understand what is and is not your responsibility so you can ensure your condo insurance covers you for the right things.

Damage from burst pipes, dishwasher leaks, HVAC systems, and washing machines are covered under most condo insurance policies, but there may be limitations based on the cause of the leak or damage.

If a broken pipe, leak, or other issue in your home affects an adjoining unit, it is a homeowner-to-homeowner issue. There may be situations in which plumbing under the purview of your HOA is the cause, and if that’s the case, your insurance adjustor can help you get to the bottom of it.

To reduce the risk of damage and avoid conflict with your neighbors, schedule regular maintenance calls with your plumber to ensure everything works as it should. Monitor your water bill for any sudden spikes, as this may indicate a leak. Even the tiniest drips can turn into big puddles pretty quickly. It might not be covered if you knew about it and didn’t address the problem.

Remember that flooding is an entirely different issue requiring separate coverage. Speak to your insurance agent about adding flood coverage if you feel it could become an issue.

Water damage is no joke. Whether it’s coming from your unit, your neighbor’s, or a common area, knowing your rights and understanding your coverage will help you prevent the mess from becoming worse than it ought to be.

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