Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Help Me Howard: Gutter Flooding
If you own a condo and pay association fees, you deserve, but probably don't expect, that everything will run smoothly when problems arise. One woman facing a flood of trouble in her unit says the condo's clogged gutters are to blame. When they refused to pay for the damage, she turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Minda Phinney: "I saved up quite a bit of money."
By the time Minda was 23 she did what many people can't accomplish in a lifetime; she bought her own home.
Minda Phinney: "It was fun buying my first place, moving in, getting to decorate, getting to meet my new neighbors."
But a summer rainstorm washed all the fun out of her condo when the water came pouring in.
Minda Phinney: "These gutters are clogged, and once they are full, all the water comes in right through the sliding glass door, and it comes into my bedroom door."
Her carpet was soaked.
Minda Phinney: "I spent six hours sucking up water."
But her hard work didn't work out. Within a few days it smelled horrible, and a carpet company that came out told her why.
Minda Phinney: "And they said that was a sign of mold. You always hear about what happens and how people get sick when they have mold growing in their house, and I didn't want to risk it."
That meant the carpet had to be torn out, so this middle school teacher dug in.
Minda Phinney: "I did it myself, I moved the furniture, and I cut it all out."
Minda Phinney: "It wasn't fun. I did not enjoy it. I cut myself several times."
Now she's living on nothing but concrete.
Minda Phinney: "It's dirty and nasty, and before I had really nice carpet, I never wore my shoes in here, and I kept it very clean."
Minda then asked her homeowner's insurance to replace the carpet.
Minda Phinney: "They are saying the condo is responsible. If they had taken proper care of the gutters this wouldn't have happened."
Minda then went to see the condo association's property manager, and he apparently missed the manners class in management school.
Minda Phinney: "And the property manager was very nasty to me. He was yelling at me. It was just very uncalled for, very unprofessional, and I hope that I never have to deal with them again."
Each month the association promptly collects her $331 in association fees. Of course, now that it's time to pay for a mistake, she says, they are turning their back on her.
Minda Phinney: "It's their fault, and they don't want to take responsibility because it's money. They don't want to pay money out of pocket. They are good at taking money, they just don't want to give it out."
But is the condo association responsible for the $3,000 it will cost to replace the carpet and reimburse Minda for removing it. Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "The association has a duty to maintain the common elements like the pool, the lights, the gutters. If the association was negligent, in other words, they didn't clean the gutters, and that lead to the water damage in Minda's condo, then the association or their insurance company is responsible."
According to the residents, the gutters had not been cleaned in eight years.
The condo's property manager told us they had the gutters cleared after Minda's unit was flooded. Minda then got a letter from the condo's attorney advising the association will not pay because the damage was an "act of God." The attorney also warned Minda, if she chooses to sue, she will be responsible for the association's court costs and attorney's fees.
Howard says, not so fast.
Howard Finkelstein: "I have read the lawyer's letter and, to be polite, it was misleading. Under Florida Law, Minda would only have to pay if she lost. If she won, and I think she stands a very good chance, then the association has to pay her legal fees."
Minda's learned a hard lesson but is nowhere near done fighting.
Minda Phinney: "Let the condo association see I'm not giving up. I may be young, this may be my first time, I may not know much about the association, but I'm not going to give up because I feel like I'm right."
So what do you do when your association refuses to pay for something?
First of all, the condo lawyer will tell you to only communicate with them. You can ignore the lawyer. Instead send a letter of demand with your claim to your board and give them a deadline to respond.
If they still refuse to pay, then take them to court. And another option, contact the state's condo ombudsman.
"Gutter" problem you can't seem to unclog? Want to make things flow smoothly? Contact us. We'll flood you in a good way, with a rain of legal information. With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, Seven News.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Office of the Condominium Ombudsman
Fort Lauderdale: 954-202-3234