It can sometimes be difficult to determine when damage to a property is the homeowner’s responsibility or the HOA’s responsibility. One of the issues that often receives attention when it comes to this is HOA water damage, particularly during times of heavy rainfall.
Understanding Who Bears Responsibility for HOA Water Damage
Both the HOA and the homeowner have separate responsibilities regarding property maintenance. In condominiums, the unit owner is usually responsible for the maintenance and repairs of interiors, while the condo association is in charge of the exterior and common elements. But, what about water damage, wherein water typically starts leaking from the outside and makes its way inside?
This matter is even more perplexing at times because insurance companies normally don’t cover water damage. As a result, it is the HOA or the owner who will shoulder the financial responsibility.
Time is of the essence with water damage, as the situation could quickly worsen while the HOA and owner argue over who should bear the cost of repairs. Mold will form and begin to influence the health of those living in the community.
With this in mind, which party must carry the financial burden of HOA water damage? Is it the homeowners association or the unit owner? Beyond that, what remedies must be done when water damage occurs?
1. Refer to Your Governing Documents
Your association’s governing documents should shed some light on water damage and the burden of responsibility. With any luck, your documents will contain comprehensive information on this matter, giving an answer straight away. In that case, you will know which party is responsible for the type of water damage in question.
For example, if the water damage was the result of the association’s negligence, then the HOA or COA must definitely be held accountable. This usually happens when an association fails to perform its plumbing obligations.
Generally, you will find most governing documents place the responsibility of exterior damage on the HOA and interior damage on the homeowner. Some associations, though, are not lucky enough to have detailed documents.
2. Identify the Cause
In situations where it is difficult to determine who is responsible, one must look for the cause of the water damage. Identifying where and how the water damage began could help you come to a decision on who should pay for the repairs.
For example, if the water damage was due to an overflowing toilet inside the owner’s unit, then that should be the responsibility of the owner. In condominiums where neighbors share walls, a neighbor may be responsible if the water damage or leak originated from their unit.
There are times, of course, when you will have trouble tracing the origin of the water damage. In that case, you will need the help of a professional maintenance company. A company with a background in plumbing should be able to tell where the water damage came from. From there, you can decide on who is to blame.
3. Report the Problem at the Soonest
Water damage can worsen in a short period of time. As such, it is imperative that you report the issue to your association the moment you notice it.
Doing this accomplishes two things. First, it lets the owner know how they should respond to the situation. If the association advises the owner not to take action just yet, it is so that the HOA can determine how the leak started. This will allow the HOA to identify who is responsible for repairs.
Second, reporting water damage immediately will give you the opportunity to resolve it as quickly as possible. This will prevent water from leaking even further and causing more damage to the property.
Communication, though, does not only happen between the owner and the HOA. In condominiums, if a neighbor’s unit is involved, the conversation will need to include the neighbor as well. Communication is key in problem-solving.
4. File a Claim
Once you identify the cause of the problem and who is responsible, you can now file an insurance claim. If talks point to the owner as the responsible party, then the owner should file a claim with their insurance company. Similarly, if the condo association is the responsible party, then the HOA should file a claim with the association’s insurance company.
In case the insurance policy does not cover water damage, the liable party will need to pay for the cost of repairs out-of-pocket. This is why it is important to obtain proper insurance coverage, for both the homeowner and the association.
If the water damage involves a neighbor and transpired between two units, there is a chance the claim will be rejected. When that happens, the two neighbors should come to an agreement themselves. Legal action may follow if one or both parties refuse to cooperate.
Filing insurance claims can be a long and tiring process. It requires a thorough understanding of the policy at hand as well as proper documentation. For HOA and COA boards, life would be much easier with the help of an HOA management company.
It is often hard to determine who should bear the responsibility of paying for the cost of water damage. Situations can vary significantly, and a line of reasoning for one case may not necessarily work for another. There is also the risk of inconsistency if the HOA or COA board makes different decisions for similar situations.
A good way to combat confusion and prevent disputes between parties is to amend your governing documents. Your association’s governing documents should include detailed explanations of every imaginable situation. The more comprehensive your documents are on this issue, the fewer the arguments between owners and the HOA board.
Moreover, a thorough insurance policy will help both the association and its residents. Thus, HOAs must obtain a comprehensive policy and encourage members to get their own homeowners insurance with coverage for water damage.