Updated: Aug 12, 2022
One of the most common issues that come up in a homeowner's association are water leaks, and most common in a condominium. Sometimes the issue is a true emergency, sometimes the issue is urgent, and sometimes it's just standard maintenance. Who's responsible for repairs to the leak? Who's responsible for damages to your unit or the common elements? Do I need to file an insurance claim?
Review this guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of dealing with a water leak!
There are 3 main types of leaks that can occur:
1)Small Leak/Slow Leak/ Minimal Damage Stemming from Another Unit
2) Steady Stream/Gushing Water Stemming from Another Unit
3) Water Leaks from the Common Elements
Let's review item #1 - Small Leak/Slow Leak/ Minimal Damage Stemming from Another Unit
If you are dealing with this type of leak, don't panic. Th
is is NOT an emergency. Most likely you neighbor has a leak in their toilet, shower, appliance and doesn't know, or you may have a condensate leak from your HVAC unit, or some other small leak stemming from a window, or pipe. In any of these cases, take any and all precautions to mitigate damage.
If the leak is coming from above you (ceiling), or on the side of you, contact your neighbor, so that you can troubleshoot the source of the issue. Just because there is not water present in their unit does not mean that their unit isn't the cause of the leak. If the source is not obvious, then you will need to contact a plumber to do an investigation. Yes, this costs money. No, you do not get reimbursed from the association for this, unless the source is determined to be from a common element. It is highly recommended to use the plumber that services the building. They will not only know the layout of the building, but in the event the source is from a common element, they will know to send the bill to the association. If you use a plumber of your choosing, and they state the issue is common, they will need to provide a detailed report explaining how they came to this determination, and you are not guaranteed reimbursement.
If the leak is coming from elsewhere, like your window, you will need to contact someone to investigate. The association can make recommendations where applicable.
Let's review item #2 - Steady Stream/Gushing Water Stemming from Another Unit
Do NOT panic! Contact your neighbor immediately. This
is most likely going to be classified as an emergency. Don't know how to define an emergency? The guideline is imminent loss of life of property. Some examples: hot water heater floods 1 or more units, pipe burst flooding 1 or more units, gushing water that doesn't slow down to a drip quickly.
The procedure in dealing with an emergency is leak is
the same steps as above, however, if you can't get the leak to stop yourself, or the leak is coming from another unit and they are not home or non-responsive then you need to contact the management company. They will dispatch a plumber to troubleshoot and solve the issue. You may incur charges depending on the source of the issue and level of need for immediate repair.
Let's review item #3 - Water Leaks from the Common Elements
If you know the issue is coming from a common element, contact the management company, so they can send the appropriate provider to assess the situation. The more amenable you can be the easier it will be for the issue to be resolved quickly. You still need to take any and all steps to mitigate damages to your unit.
Once the source of the leak has been identified and repaired, there is the issue of damages and insurance. Before you start repairs make sure to thoroughly document anything that may be damaged from the leak. If you hire a remediation company, they will typically do this for you, and include and itemized estimate for repairs. Regardless of the source of the leak, you are responsible to repair your unit and replace your personal belongings regardless of what insurance coverage may be available. YES, this means that if your neighbor's toilet/shower/sink/pipe/etc. or the associations pipe/roof/etc. leaked into your home and caused damage, you are still responsible to repair your unit. Are there extenuating circumstances? Yes, of course. Your property manager can review those with you, as well as your insurance agent, and attorney, if necessary.
Is there insurance coverage? Maybe... The association is not required to carry coverage related to water insurance. If the association does have water coverage, it is only required to cover the unit as originally constructed. The coverage does extend to any betterments, improvements, or upgrades made by you, or any previous owner. What does this mean? If your unit originally had pressboard cabinets and Formica countertops, and now you have cherry cabinets and granite countertops, you are only going to get coverage for the lesser valued item, and most likely after depreciation. It is important to make sure that your homeowner's policy covers the gap in value between original construction and the upgrades. It is also important to understand w
hat the deductible is for your community and have the appropriate amount of coverage for the entire deductible. Assuming the association has water coverage, it will not kick in until the deductible has been met for what the association is responsible to cover. The insurance process can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on assessment of damages, covered loss review, and release and receipt of reimbursement checks. Do not let the insurance process delay your moving forward with repairing your home.
In summation, when there is a leak in your unit is important to try to identify the source as soon as possible and mitigate damages as best as you can. Contact the appropriate parties, which may include your neighbor, your property manager, and your insurance agent. Document any and all damages and move forward with repairs to your unit.