You discover a water leak in your condo and aren’t sure who to call. The short answer is, it depends on the circumstances. In scenario one, you’ve isolated the source and scope of the leak to your unit. In scenario two, water has seeped from your unit into the Association’s common areas; or, in scenario three, water is coming from or has seeped into an adjoining unit. As a condo owner, it is your responsibility to understand your Association’s policies and responsibilities for repairing leaks and related damage.
Scenario One. You are responsible for calling a plumber and making repairs.
Scenario Two or Three: You should immediately notify your Association’s property manager. Even if the Homeowners Association bears some degree of responsibility for fixing the leak or repairing the damage, you should act quickly to mitigate damage and sort out the cost later, and the Association’s property manager can help with all these tasks.
While condo owners have individual insurance policies, owners also collectively pay for the Association’s master insurance policy. In many cases, the Association’s documents outline damages and repairs the master policy will cover. The insurance company for the owner and, in many cases, the Association’s carrier should be notified so they can work together to determine the extent of coverage each carrier will tender.
These are the most important steps you should take to identify the source, notify correctly, and control and prevent further damage to your home and property.
- Locate the Source. To the extent possible, determine where the water is coming from, such as walls, in plumbing lines of sinks, toilets, washers, angle stops, or hot water heaters if the unit has one. If you’re unable to readily locate the source, determine the most likely culprit. Is it near a window? A ceiling leak could be from the roof or an upper unit.
- When to Notify the Association’s Property Manager. Most Associations are not responsible for an owner’s internal plumbing issues, but it may be responsible for other, related damages caused by a leak. The Association’s responsibility list will reflect items that are the HOA’s versus an owner’s responsibility and can address this once the location and extent of a leak are determined. The Association’s manager should meet with you and inspect the damaged areas affected by water intrusion. A sink, toilet, or water heater leak are likely an internal issue, but if you’re not sure, contact your Association’s property manager for help.
- Who Calls the Expert? Again, if the leak and damage are isolated to your unit, you are responsible for repairs. If the leak appears to be from a common area water line, call the Association’s property manager and provide as many details as possible about the nature and location of the leak. Provide contact information for you and/or your tenant, as well as identify other affected other units. If the leak appears to be from an area or system for which the Association is responsible, the HOA’s manager will coordinate repairs. Your Association’s manager can help in coordinating the appropriate expert responders.
- Call a Remediation Company. Even though the leak may not have been repaired yet, these specialists will remove damaged contents and begin the drying out process. If multiple units are affected, the remediation company should keep separate reports so that all costs per individual unit are not combined. This will make it easier for insurance companies should a claim be filed.
- Notify Your Insurance Company. CC&Rs and water intrusion policies (if they have one) vary from Association to Association. As a unit owner, you may need to open an insurance claim and the Association may do the same. The unit owner(s) and the Association’s property manager will meet with the insurance adjusters and inspect the damaged areas. Insurance companies for unit owners and the Association will apportion responsibilities for repair. Repairs can begin after responsibility is ascertained.
- When Multiple Units or the Association’s Common Areas are Involved. In these cases, notify the Association’s property manager for guidance. If your unit is involved, you can expect the following events to occur, as illustrated below.
- Document with Photos or Video. If you need to remove any personal belongings right away, make sure you document them with pictures or video.
- Consult a Mold Specialist. If you suspect you may have a mold problem, use caution if beginning mold removal on your own. We suggest calling an expert, because disturbing mold increases the likelihood it will spread throughout your home and create a health hazard for you, your family, and repair technicians. A certified mold specialist will also be able to ensure mold has been removed before any remodeling begins. If the problem is a result of a common area or multiple unit leak, notify your Association’s property manager before taking any action.
- Removal of Damaged Personal Items.
- Furniture that is saturated should be discarded.
- Dispose of saturated carpet. For easier removal, cut it into manageable sections with a box cutter or knife. Roll up the sections, leaving the carpet pad, and then cut the pad into strips and dispose of them too. Carpet is held down by wooden tack strips — thin strips of wood lined with hundreds of upside-down nails. These can be removed with a chisel and a hammer.
- Millwork and Sheetrock. Any millwork, such as baseboards, should be removed and discarded. Remove wet Sheetrock and any wet insulation behind it.
- Cabinetry. If water has seeped under cabinets, these may need to be removed depending on how much water they’ve been exposed to. Holes can be drilled or cut in the toe kick — the bottom-most part of the cabinet that sits on the floor and is slightly recessed from the rest of the cabinet. Drilling holes will allow air to flow under the cabinet to allow more air for drying. These holes are pretty easily patched later.
- Flooring. Tile or hardwood floors may look and feel dry on the surface, but this doesn’t mean they’re completely dry. A layer of roofing felt placed between the subfloor (plywood) and the hardwood flooring or tile creates an effective moisture barrier. However, it captures the water on the floors. Machines are used to suction water through the floors without having to remove them. If this effort is unsuccessful, the hardwood flooring or tile may need to be removed.
The extent of the damage, as well as the ultimate cost of repair, largely depends upon the speed with which the problem is initially addressed and corrected. If you have any doubt about how to proceed in any step of the process, as your Association’s agent, their property manager can help provide answers and guidance. If the Association bears responsibility, the manager will help coordinate remediation and repairs, relieving you of much of the burden.