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Is condo association negligent when frozen pipes burst?

Posted on Mon, Feb 11, 2013 @ 06:55 AM
  
  
  
  
Is a condo association responsible for damages caused by owner negligence? Last January, while a unit owner was in Florida, her furnace malfunctioned, the pipes froze then burst, causing substantial damage. The Board felt it was the owner's problem and refused to submit a claim to our insurer. A month later when the unit owner returned from Florida, we were told our President was being sued for not filing a claim. We did submit a claim, and our insurer paid over $24,000, then dropped us at renewal time. Our new policy costs more than twice the old one, and our deductible went from $2,500 to $25,000 (we are virtually self-insured). We hear from many that our bylaws probably hurt us in this case, but here's an excerpt: "All maintenance and replacement of and repairs to common areas and facilities...and the painting and decorating of the exterior side of exterior doors, [etc.] shall be a Common Expense, except to the extent that, in the the reasonable determination of the Executive Board, the same [repairs] are necessitated by the negligence, misuse or neglect of a Unit Owner, in which event such expense shall be assessed to such Unit Owner." I don't see how one could reasonably argue that the furnace malfunction that caused the frozen pipes and extensive damage was NOT due to the neglect of the unit owner in this case.

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COMMENTS

Regardless of his right not to file, the President might have decided to be rational and file the claim. 
 
The rates might have gone up, but not double, unless you had one of those insurance companies that write great policies until you try to collect on a claim. Insurance companies can keep rates low but not paying claims.  
The resident could have been sued by the insurance company.  
I would check with other brokers. Personally, I don't like the sound of your story. Something's wrong.  

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 7:19 AM by Eggman


We thought buying a condo would be good & safe for our family; turns out they didn't build it very well, specifically substandard materials, bad craftmanship & major maintainence issues &/or lack-there-of. We fear for our familes health & well-being living here; is there anywhere that qaulity workmanship means anything any more? Is there anyone that has integrity & stands behind the people there are paid to represent? WHAT HAPPENED TO MADE IN AMERICA? SICK & TIRED OF BEING COLLATERAL DAMAGE FOR "professional" & personal ECONOMIC GAIN$

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 7:47 AM by ill and annoyed in illinois


The short answer to the question, "Is a condo association responsible for damages caused by owner negligence?", is NO. 
 
Based on the rhetoric used, it sounds like you are the party with the faulty furnace. However, the determination of negligence may have to be proved in court because no one was home when the event occurred. About the only solid basis for negligence could be if you turned off the furnace. 
 
My initial take would be that this was an accident but since the furnace malfunction was the root cause of all damages, the owner and their insurance have the responsibility to finance restoration of everything damaged in and out of the condo. 
 
Whomever is suing the President for not filing a claim should be prepared for a counter suit and based on what was presented, the President will win. Also, when you sue a HOA President, the HOA and their insurance will be paying costs to defend which means ultimately everyone's assessment could increase.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 8:11 AM by Ron - NC


to: Ill and annoyed in illinois - this is not a complaint blog. If you don't have helpful input abstain from comments.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 8:13 AM by Bill


with reading the story of why the pipes burst, it reads as the owner allowed this to happen. if the pipe/s were common pipe, the hoa probably would be on hook for the cost, (maybe) - if the pipe was within the unit some how - it should be home owner - maybe the home owner for some common sense should have had the home being watch by a responsible party - since this is not the responsible of the HOA board to watch homes when owners are away- unless owner and hoa board had some arrangement, what usually happens in home is owners cost within reason. This is why Home owners should be required to have insurance - some owners think that the HOA monthly Assessmemnt pays for everything unless it is stated in your CCR or bylaws - these owners need to take resonabilty for their part in the mess they created and not hold others for their problems - As you can see on Juidge Judy court - if it quacks like a duck, it is a duck unless you have a attorney who can take the black words on the white paper and turn it into a gray matter

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 8:45 AM by ji


Ron: I don't see what was wrong with "ill and Annoyed in Illinois's" piece. It wasn't a complaint. 
 
Ron, please explain.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 8:55 AM by Dead EYe Dick


Ron: sorry, I attributed the wrong piece to "ill and Annoyed." You are correct.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 8:57 AM by Dead Eye dick


Association would be responsible in most situations as they are common property of the buildings.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:01 AM by nan


Not being versed in Florida documents and law, the portion of the documents you need to look at is the section on insurance. 
Why do we have insurance? We have insurance for catastrophic events that happen. If the owner of the condo left Florida and did not properly set the heat and/or winterize the unit, they would be negligent. If the co-owner set the heat and the furnace failed, they would not be negligent, it most likely would be an insurable event. Negligence is not very easy to prove, but there are some ways in which they would be negligent and it could be proven. If they did not take steps to properly make sure the unit had sufficient heat, then they could be held negligent. 
There are many reasons why an association would be let go by an insurance company, and with such a high deductible it sounds like you may have been forced into the excess lines market. Of course, this is all guesses, because there is limited information. The Association may have already had 2 or more claims, making you a bad risk and forcing you to the excess lines market. 
The president alone motly likely should not and cannot make the decision about a filing a claim - that should be a decision of the board of directors. If the president made that decision without informing the rest of the board members and does not have that authority, that person may be able to be sued. Did he seek advice from the insurance agent, insurance company or legal counsel on filing a claim? That would have been the reasonable thing to do. If so, he or she most likely would be protected, as they followed the advice of a professional. If not, they could be in quite a bind. 
One CAN reasonably argue that it was not the fault of the co-owner. Furnaces fail and pipes burst. It would be (and most likely successfully) argued that is one of the (many) primary reasons to have insurance. 
The association needs to look at ways to minimize this from happening in the future. Co-owners should inform the association when they will be gone longer than a set time (2 weeks or more) and they would have their furnace set. If they can, I always urge people to shut off the water to their unit. I have seen furnaces fail that have stickers showing they had been inspected by a licensed furnace company just a month prior. It happens. No one is ever happy about it, but it happens. Everyone should also remember that no matter how hard you work to prevent it, it still could happen. However, when you take every reasonable effort at prevention, the organization is that much more protected.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:30 AM by Joe Schuirmann


Sounds like the Association needs a policy tom deal with unit owners who plan to be away from their units in the cold months.we had a similisr situation happen.The claim was submittedd under the master policy because the water damage from broken pipe underminerd a structural part of the building.We did require the unit owner to pay the deductible of the master policy.Our rates went up about 30 percent for the next three years.Now we require the unit owner to have the water company shut the water off to the unit at the main,we also require that the pipes be drained and the heat be left at 55 degreesif you are not going to occupy your unit in the winter months.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:34 AM by Ron


This is a no brainier, some one is asleep... Unit owners are responsible for what is inside there unit, PERIOD . like the other party said, something is not right about this. It does not make any SINCE..........................

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:34 AM by Donald Holdorf


I guess I am one of these in that I am responsible for my condominium and the pipes burst also. I didn't have the monies for insurance and then the condo fee went up to higher than my paycheck, a new waste water treatment plant and maxxed out my charge cards and being that I am solely responsible for damages well I have to do..... Well you know.  
 
The owners of the condo where I am living in my wife's place here in Dracut too walked away and pipes burst flooding my wifes place causing a fair amount of damage. So it looks as if the condo fee is going to go up to cover a loss to us and others in unit. The bank now owns the two units and is paying the condo fees. Being on a fixed income I can't make payments and can't sell for it if "under water" as they say. So in answer to your question the assaociation has to be governing authority and has to bite the bullet and own up to it. The object of the association is to protect itself and other keeping safety and well being. One of our board members quit over issues adding fuel to the mix. And they say economy is getting better.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:57 AM by Russell Graves


Russell Graves, 
 
Lot of things going on in your comment and I will try to address as a whole. 
 
HOAs are a non-profit corporation and as such should never own property where taxes are due as it could jeopardize their non-profit status and create IRS challenges. 
 
People walking away from a property due to financial circumstances is one thing if the property has land associated with the title. Walking away from a condo without shutting off the water and making an attempt to drain the pipes resulting in damage to the condo as well as to common area and other condos is criminal negligence. 
 
The mortgage company, should there be one, for the abandoned property hires a company to go out and ensure utilities are turned off and other things. Should damages occur to the property, common area, and/or other condos, the mortgage company is responsible. 
 
The HOA should be insured to repair damage to common areas wherein the responsible owner has abandoned the property responsible and there is no mortgage company involved but that is it.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 10:50 AM by Ron - NC


Our sickening situation is the association does not maintain the buildings & our management company doesn't either. Simple one 2+ months ago light burned out outside it has yet to be replaced. The management company insists on using a company because even to change a light bulb apparently it takes someone with electrical knowledge at $90 per hour... We have raw sewage leaks in the common areas & it took more than a year of complaints to finally have them remove the fecal covered carpets in our building they have yet to tell us why the pipes were crushed. According to experts our buildings were built with substandard cement causing all the buildings to have some pretty major structural issues. How can this be our problem in our unit if this impacts the entire structure(s)? We have TOXIC dust coming into our units & common areas because the cement is breaking down & blowing all over. This dust which coats our home from a 1/8 to more of dust daily can be full of silica & potentially asbestos & other toxic substances like asbestos. Because the cement industry is allowed to use all kinds of toxic stuff as fillers especially in current times using coal ash which contains a laundry list of toxins/poisons (mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium etc.) & in some instances could also be radioactive. Why is it the unit owner’s responsibility to bear the burden of the costs if the building is in such poor condition & wasn't built with quality products in the first place? How does anyone know until they purchase what's going to happen, like the many homes & condos impacted by radioactive materials in Florida & New Orleans? Our health is being impacted by the toxic concrete dust & the integrity of the structure(s) is in major jeopardy, this also impacts property values. The town can't help, neither can EPA, HD, Attorney General’s office, meanwhile we have to keep paying our assessments & they do nothing to make repairs or address these serious life-altering issues. 
The bricks on the outside are separating, the mortar is dust blowing in the wind, the foundation is separating& visibly breaking apart, the duct work is collapsing inside our units & our in the common areas, we can even feel floor developing valleys & getting more uneven in less than 4 years of living here. What will happen if buildings aren’t repaired? Or worse condemned? Does insurance cover these issues? Is the association responsible? Is the management company responsible?

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 10:55 AM by ill and annoyed in ILLinois


Insurance Costs. You can add a rider to your HO-6 (Condo Policy) that will take care of an Association deductible up to $50,000. Contact Hartford or Travelos or any major insurance company. The rider is dirt cheap. I have a $50,000 rider that costs about $13.00 per year.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 11:02 AM by Don


Annoyed in Illinois: your options: selling 2) writing, calling, communicating with all the co-owners 3) getting yourself and like minded co-owners on the board of adminisration. 4) communicating with the present board of administrators 
Not to hijack this thread so maybe put up another question or questions separately. 

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 11:10 AM by john mastro


To the original poster: on the face, it does not look like the original owner was negligent and that the president should have filed a claim immediately to cover damage to the common elements. The insurance company apparently found that the association was covered...they would have gone after the unit owner or unit owners insurance if they did not believe that the association was the liable party. 
It sounds like it was just an unfortunate accident. Your association should keep shopping for an insurance carrier and perhaps they can rehabiliate their insurability in a few years (3?), and get a lower rate and deductable.  
Maybe time to review maintenance and other steps to prevent a similar accident.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 11:15 AM by john mastro


Some additional info on this question: there were a number of claims over a two year period in this case, including a big ice damming claim the year before.  
 
Unit owner had neighbors checking on the unit in her absence, and they discovered the furnace malfunction, AFTER the pipes had frozen.  
 
Unit owner said her attorney filed a big, successful claim against his own condo association in the recent past - may well have had a bearing on how our insurer handled the claim.  
 
We are in the process of amending our bylaws, and intend to include "snowbird provisions" to help minimize future risk.  
 

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 11:16 AM by js


I find this very interesting in that I grew up in MN & as a teen we moved to Los Angeles., so I see both sides. 
Any one, any Board, any Condo HOA that is in the North winter type country should/must know how Freezing Weather affect Water in un-insulated un-heated pipes. 
Unless, maybe, a new Owner moves in from the South! 
 
Usually, a Burst occurred inside a normally livable Unit were the Water Pipes were not expected to Freeze, but should have been expected if conditions change. 
An exception is if the Water Pipes went into the Unit (completely un-insulated/heated inside) & then out to other Unit(s). 
Then it’s the Condos responsibility, being a common supply line, a very bad design for sure. 
 
How can the Board, especially the Management Co, be so short-sighted in not having experience/plans/by-laws/insurance covering such an event in such a climate. 
 
O we here too have Water Pipes leaking & sometimes small bursts when 60 years old. 
And beware when repiping, of cheap imported Copper Pipes, even the best “L” type. 
Five year old Copper repiping already has had 2 Pinhole leaks! 
Of course, here it is hardly ever the Apt Owners fault, really. 
But we have plenty of other problems that make up for this. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 3:25 PM by James


The owner of the unit where the pipes busted is responsible for the damages and then any needed repairs due to their negligence, not the Association. The owners with damages should file a claim again the owners insurance policy and not the association's. Most Bylaws have a clause about not being able to sue an individual board member. Hopefully the person attempting to sue the board member will be stuck with all of the legal fees. BTW- it also looks like if they had simply winterized the unit properly this could have been avoided.

posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 11:03 PM by Kathy


Check with the other brokers. See what they have to say about other owners and if they have had similar situations with their furnace. Red Deer has some drastic weather changes so it may be more common than you think.

posted @ Thursday, September 05, 2013 11:46 AM by Elisa Jed


It seems simple but there are a lot of other factors. But the simple answer is no, the condo association is not responsible for damages made by the owner. They need to fix and pay for the problems on their own if they own it. 

posted @ Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:32 AM by Ruth James


I had a similar situation, I live in condo and neighbors pipe froze and I have damage in my place and the say they are not responsible. My damages exceeds my coverage. This is the second time this has happened, maybe they didn't insulate the walls enough. Do you think I Have any chance to recoup my loss?

posted @ Wednesday, February 05, 2014 5:46 PM by pat


If asbestos is present, the entire condo will need to go under renovations. You should get an inspector in there as soon as possible if you have any doubts. As for the damage, the claim probably should have been filed when the problem was made aware to the board.  
 
Jen Kirk | http://www.brisbaneroof.com.au

posted @ Monday, April 07, 2014 6:14 PM by Jen Kirk


Yikes! That's rough when the pipes freeze like that. I'm glad that the HOA took care of it after we had someone look at it. http://www.waterman911.com

posted @ Tuesday, June 03, 2014 6:32 PM by Anita Mas


I think it depends on the reason for bursting. If the tenants left their room temperature too low, then they can be held responsible. Just make sure it gets repaired soon. The water damage could make it ten times worse if neglected. http://www.247restoration.com/restoration-services/water-damage-repair

posted @ Monday, June 23, 2014 10:36 AM by Bob Strong


You could perform maintenance on a furnace and not be negligent, and something like this could still happen. I guess one of the most difficult things about this case is that you can't really prove that what happened to the furnace was or wasn't because of the owner's neglect. I would say if she didn't perform regular maintenance on the furnace, then she might be responsible, but if she did, I don't think you could say it's her fault. Maybe the bylaws should specifically state whether or not furnaces are the responsibility of the homeowners.  
Claudia Rosenburg | http://www.summersandsmith.ca/

posted @ Tuesday, July 01, 2014 12:46 PM by Claudia Rosenburg


Despite whose fault it was originally, the pipes have now been left alone, damaged, for months. The question is less of why the original leak happened, and more about the ensuing damage. More frequent maintenance of the pipes would have solved the problem in this case. 
 
 
Jenn | http://www.macroindustries.ca/our-services/pipelines

posted @ Wednesday, July 02, 2014 12:33 PM by Jennifer Davies


Frozen pipes can be due to negligence. However, you must do your part. If you didn't run the water during freezing temps, then it could be on you. 
http://www.amyottesplumbing.ca/

posted @ Tuesday, July 29, 2014 5:22 PM by Elias Rufus


I would think that they would be responsible, at least to have insurance for it. While they are in there they will need to do an asbestos inspection, as someone else has already stated. I'd make sure that you get them to pay for the damages though, it seems that is verbatim states that they will. http://www.hutzel.net/asbestos.htm

posted @ Friday, August 01, 2014 2:45 PM by Tim Johnson


There's too much commercials disguised as comments on what used to be a very useful blog.  
 
I am blocking it from now on.

posted @ Saturday, August 02, 2014 12:12 AM by Sally Santiago.


I got really worried that our pipes were going to break last winter. They were making really weird sounds and were probably frozen. I am going to talk to the water treatment plant and see how we can avoid that. http://www.aquatronicsnewjersey.com/Water-Purification-Softening-Equipment-Middlesex-NJ.html

posted @ Tuesday, August 12, 2014 12:38 PM by Jim


My neighbors had a similar problem with their condo. They were able to pull the records of their insurance claim from the time to show the HOA. In the end, the board paid for the burst pipes and the resulting damage. Hopefully you have access to the claims you made. 
 
| http://www.acrummelplumbing.com.au

posted @ Thursday, August 14, 2014 11:44 AM by Jennifer Davies


Where was the problem? It doesn't make sense for the board to pay for a condition that was in her apartment alone. If it was a communal piece of machinery, like a furnace, then it's possible the damage could be traced to the HOA. 
 
| http://www.mrheating.com/hvac-repairs

posted @ Thursday, August 21, 2014 5:01 PM by Marcus Fillion


I've never heard of pipes freezing in Florida. That's crazy! I think if the condo association was negligent on frequent pipe inspections, then they should be responsible for paying for the burst pipe. http://www.2020ndt.com/

posted @ Wednesday, August 27, 2014 9:45 AM by Jim Tracy


I think that it could be both parties fault. There are things that the owner can do to prevent frozen pipes that no manager can regulate. Also making sure your furnace is in good working order can help to. http://www.eliteairinc.com/product-list.php?cat=6

posted @ Wednesday, August 27, 2014 4:40 PM by Brittany Matthews


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