Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Help Me Howard: Broken Pipe
Condo and homeowner associations can be a bear, but a few general rules apply when something breaks. For example, when a pipe breaks, if it's in your area, it's your problem -- the association's area, their problem. Right? Not always, as we find out in tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Tell me if Emily's situation describes yours: she lives in a condo or townhouse, regulated by an association and is constantly hit with those fees.
Emily Buchanan: "It's $300 a month, and we've been specially assessed the last two years."
Emily understands where the money is supposed to go: to maintain the place -- and to pay for unexpected problems, like the one that occurred a few days ago.
Emily Buchanan: "A pipe broke about 16 to 18 inches underneath the ground and it's visible from the top of the ground."
The pipe is outside Emily's house, behind a hedge, in what is called a "common area,” owned by the association.
And Howard says, when it comes to associations, broken pipes are covered.
Howard Finkelstein: "Generally, the association document provides the answer, but usually with condos anything outside your wall is the association’s problem. As for townhouses, if it's outside your house, in the common area, it's also the association’s responsibility."
As these pictures show, so much water filled the area, it even poured into Emily's house.
She assumed it was the association's pipe to repair. They told her it's not their problem and to call a plumber.
Emily Buchanan: "It cost me $250 to fix the pipe."
Convinced she was right, Emily complained to her association to get her money back. They again said, “No.”
Emily Buchanan: "I feel as though my association has taken advantage of me and is making me pay for something that is not my responsibility."
Well, Mr. Finkelstein, the pipe is outside her unit in the common area -- so who has to pay?
Howard Finkelstein: "I read the association documents, and there is an exception here that says because the pipe only serves Emily's townhouse, she has to pay to repair it. Then, legally, she can go after the person who broke the pipe."
Emily says common sense tells her who broke the pipe -- the only guys who go behind the shrubs.
Emily Buchanan: "The lawn maintenance people found It, and they cut the shrubs that are back behind there, and I feel that they are a part of it."
When we spoke to the association, they agreed the lawn people could well have broken it.
But they add it's impossible to prove -- which takes us back to the once young lawyer named Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "One thing about associations, you get the benefit of certain services, but you also give up certain rights and control where an association has the power to make decisions that you may see as very unfair."
Emily would agree with that and says so do a lot of people she talks to.
Emily Buchanan: "Everyone I've spoken with, you know, general repair people, have said that it's been outrageous."
Patrick Fraser: "It may be to Emily, but, unless the yard guys admit to breaking the pipe, she is stuck. The keys, of course, to almost every association dispute are the condo or homeowner documents. If you don't have a copy, get one -- by law, they have to give you a set when you move in -- if you lose them, they have to replace them and can charge you for the second set.
A condo commando got you ready to dis-associate from an association? Don't break away just yet -- contact us -- we'll assess it without charging a special assessment.
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