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  1. #1
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    Mar 2010
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    Default Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    My question involves a condominium located in the State of: Illinois

    If anyone has any comments or suggestions, I'd really appreciate hearing them.

    I am owner of a 2nd floor condo, purchased last August. There are no floors above me.

    Tonight I received an email and a phone call from the association president's wife, telling me that there is a pretty substantial leak in one of the bathrooms of the condo directly below mine. She said she thinks that the leak is directly above one of my bathrooms. She wants to come over ASAP to try to pinpoint the source of the leak, and has asked me to use the other bathroom until then. I'm happy to comply - she says she will try to come over on Monday.

    There are no leaks apparent in the bathroom in my unit. I have checked around the shower, around the toilet, and under the sink, and have not found any issue. Furthermore, this is the first I have heard of this situation. She says the damage looks pretty severe in the lower unit's bathroom, and that they have been using buckets to catch drippings. I don't know how long this has been going on before they decided to inform me.

    I do not have homeowner's insurance, nor do I have a copy of the condo association's bylaws. I have been asking them for a copy of the bylaws since I moved in (I have an email from August where the association president said he'd have his wife drop the bylaws off...I followed up with a phone call a few weeks later, and never received them).

    If the plumbing in my unit is found to be the cause of the lower unit's leak, who is responsible for paying for the plumbing repairs? What about other repairs caused by water damage?

    Also, should I be documenting things as this situation unravels? Should I try to have all contact with the condo president or his wife by email, so I have a written account of what is going on?

  2. #2
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    I owned multi-story rentals, and condos, and found it is common for leaks to emanate from just below the bath-tub where the drain is, and one year, I had a few of them repaired. Because bathrooms are often located one over the other, that is the most likely source. There could also be leaks from pipes inside the walls, I had some of those repaired too, and the plumber had to listen through the walls as well, though these are more rare.

    In the condos I owned and lived in, pipes inside walls are considered common area, as the condo owner only owns the area up to the outer wall of the unit. If this is also the case for you, then the HOA would be responsible for the repairs and damages to the lower unit.

    My mom in law had a similar episode 2 years ago, a leak from the unit above damaged her bathroom. The association repaired the leak, and the then replaced half the tiles in her bathroom, and the ceiling after it caved in. The owner upstairs was not responsible. At first, the owner upstairs panicked thinking he's in for a huge expense.

  3. #3
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    Mar 2010
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Thank you for the reply, SChinFChin. It was reassuring .

    I have now received a copy of the condo association's bylaws. This are excerpts from the definitions section, verbatim:

    Unit: Each unit shall consist of the space enclosed and as shown on the Plat; provided, however, that no structural components of the buildings and no pipes, wires, conduits, ducts, flues, shafts, or public utility lines situated within a unit and forming part of any system serving one or more other units or the common elements shall be deemed to be a part of said unit.

    Common elements: All of the property, including the building shown on the plat, except the units, and shall include, but shall not be limited to, the land, foundations, roofs, pipes, ducts electrical wiring and conduits (except pipes, ducts, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning equipment and conduits serving only a particular unit), public utility lines, ceilings, and perimeter walls of units, structural components of the buildings, landscaping, and all other portions of the property except the individual units.

    Limited common elements: All pipes, ducts, electrical writing, heating and air conditioning equipment and conduits serving exclusively a single unit as inseparable appurtance thereto.

    Does this mean that if my bathroom and the bathroom directly below me are connected using the same system of pipes, that those pipes are common elements? Does that mean the association would have to cover all repairs? If the condo association tells me I am responsible for the repair costs, how do I go about verifying that pipes are common and do not serve my unit alone - does a written statement from a plumber suffice?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Looks like you're OK.

    Pipes, and thus plumbing are defined as part of the COMMON ELEMENTS, if the breakage or leak arises from any of these, then it is the responsibility of the HOA.

    There are plumbing elements that comes out of the walls into your unit, such as shower heads, faucets, toilets, that is YOUR responsibility. For instance I have leaks developing in the gasket on the bottom of the toilet, and leaks here have gone to the unit below. Here, it could be observed in your unit, and you'll have to repair.

  5. #5
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    Mar 2010
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Thanks again, SChinFChin . The association president's wife will be coming over tomorrow evening to try to pinpoint the source of the issue, and I'll update on how that goes. Hopefully it all goes smoothly.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Ugh, the association president's wife did come over tonight, but she did not have the correct key to enter the lower unit, so she will have to come back tomorrow evening. She kept insisting that it's the upper unit's responsibility to pay for a plumber and all repair services when there is a leak detected from a lower unit. I asked her if the water pipes between units are common elements or limited common elements (as defined by the association bylaws), and she did not know. Later she called me back and said that all the units are plumbed entirely separately, since there are individual water meters for all units (I have a hard time believing all the plumbing is entirely separate).

    Here is what the bylaws state about repairs, replacements, and maintenance:

    "Each Unit Owner shall furnish and be responsible for, at his own expense, all the maintenance, repairs, and replacements within his own Unit. Maintenance, repairs, and replacements of the Common Elements including roofs and outside walls shall be furnished by Unit Owners in accordance with the respective percentages of ownership as set forth in Exhibit B, until the election of the board (which has to have happened by now- this bylaw was last revised in 2005), and thereafter shall be furnished by the board as a part of the common expenses, subject to the rules and regulations of the Board, provided that at the direction of the Board, maintenance, repairs and replacements of the Limited Common Elements may be assessed in whole or in part to Unit Owners benefited thereby and further, at the discretion of the Board, it may direct such Unit Owners in the name and for the account of such Unit Owners to arrange for such maintenance, repairs, and replacements, to pay the cost thereof, and to procure and deliver the Board such lien wavers and contractor's and subcontractor's sword statements as may be required to protect the Property from all mechanics' or materialmen's lien claims that may arise therefrom."

    So what should I do? I was thinking of emailing the president of the association stating that the Unit Owner of the lower unit, or the Condo Association, should furnish a plumber to inspect the lower unit and verify where the leaking pipe is, and then if it is deemed to be a pipe that is a Limited Common Element (serving only my unit), then I will furnish a plumber to repair that. Also, that I do not intend to pay for any water damage caused on the ceiling of the lower unit due to the leakage, because they were negligent in not telling me about the problem sooner, if the problem is due to something in my Unit or a Limited Common Element serving my Unit.

    If anyone has any more advice, I'd really appreciate it.

  7. #7
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    Mar 2010
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Update:

    The association manager's wife did come over a few days ago. We ran the shower in my unit while she observed the lower unit - no leakage. We also filled up the bathtub in my bathroom and then let it drain - no leakage. So I am in the clear for now - she now thinks it might be an issue with gutter drainage or something. But I have agreed to not use that shower until the lower unit tenants return from out of town in about a week.

    The association manager's wife disclosed something to me that I wasn't expecting - that there were plumbing problems in my unit in the last few years, stemming from the master bathroom shower (the one that I am using now). I of course have a copy of the seller's disclosure from when I bought the property last August, and this is not disclosed! Apparently the previous owners had hired a plumber who couldn't figure out the issue, and he ended up replacing a bunch of parts, but the issue was never fully resolved.

    The association manager's wife was quite chatty, and also found out that the neither the property manager nor the association has the blueprints to this set of condos (maybe blueprints isn't the right term - I'm talking about documents that show how the plumbing, heating, ducts, etc. are installed in each unit, or at least in each model). Apparently the builders of these condos declared bankruptcy and disappeared (and these condos were build in 2001), and the previous management either didn't have this documents or did not give them to the current management. What a mess.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Quote Quoting Tiglet
    View Post
    Update:

    The association manager's wife did come over a few days ago. We ran the shower in my unit while she observed the lower unit - no leakage. We also filled up the bathtub in my bathroom and then let it drain - no leakage. So I am in the clear for now - she now thinks it might be an issue with gutter drainage or something. But I have agreed to not use that shower until the lower unit tenants return from out of town in about a week.

    The association manager's wife disclosed something to me that I wasn't expecting - that there were plumbing problems in my unit in the last few years, stemming from the master bathroom shower (the one that I am using now). I of course have a copy of the seller's disclosure from when I bought the property last August, and this is not disclosed! Apparently the previous owners had hired a plumber who couldn't figure out the issue, and he ended up replacing a bunch of parts, but the issue was never fully resolved.

    The association manager's wife was quite chatty, and also found out that the neither the property manager nor the association has the blueprints to this set of condos (maybe blueprints isn't the right term - I'm talking about documents that show how the plumbing, heating, ducts, etc. are installed in each unit, or at least in each model). Apparently the builders of these condos declared bankruptcy and disappeared (and these condos were build in 2001), and the previous management either didn't have this documents or did not give them to the current management. What a mess.
    In my area, NYC, blueprints are on file with the "Buildings Department", approved by them, and can be obtained for a fee.

    At this point, looks like you guys will be in a wait a see mode for a while, since you have no idea what causes the leak problem. I agree I also had seen leak problems relating to "roof issues", the water flows in, leaks out somewhere in the building, no one can figure out where it came from, and plumbers can never find a leak.

    I also had water leaking into a basement, and hired a number of water-proofing people looking at the foundation, and it turned out the water came three floors down from the roof. Took a number of years, and some unsuccessful waterproofing jobs on the foundation before it came to light. I'm not mad at these companies because you hire them to look at foundations, and they don't generally zero in on roofs.

    Good luck figuring it out. However, one thing I learned was to record when these leaks take place, and then check back on weather reports to determine if it followed rain storms. I could've figured a few of these problems out sooner if I known this earlier.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    6

    Default Re: Who's Responsible for a Water Leak into a Lower Unit

    Thanks for your reply, SChinFChin.

    Here's what's been going on:

    I emailed the association manager's wife last week asking if the tenants from the lower unit had returned from out of town so I could start using my shower again. She replied back that they came back in town but are out of town again, and no, I still can't use my shower. She also said she wanted to come back to my condo and run some more tests with my shower.

    She did come over again - we repeated the ritual of filling up the bathtub, then pulling the drain plug; filling up the sink; then pulling the drain plug, and flushing the toilet, all while she observed for any possible leakage from the lower unit's bathroom. She observed nothing, and left saying that she'd have to have the lower unit's owner call a plumber. She made it seem like she still felt like the problem had to be coming from my unit. A week later, and I am still exiled from my bathroom.

    I forgot to mention this in my last post, but the first night we ran the water tests, she let me enter the lower unit and look at the ceiling of the affected bathroom. The water damage looked very slight, nothing like the "the ceiling could cave in if you keep using that shower!" line she kept trying to pull on me. I had my camera with me and took this picture:



    And note, this is the end of the shower farthest away from the faucet, shower head, and drain. The lower unit and my unit's showers line up, so this spot is positioned directly below the end of my shower farthest away from the faucet, shower head, and drain.

    My parents were in town in the last few weeks, and my dad touched up the caulk around the edges of my shower. His guess as to what the problem was, if it was coming from my unit, was that the water that spilled on the floor when I was getting in and out of the shower, or if I left the shower curtain incompletely closed, might have seeped below through cracks in the caulk to the unit below.

    And then, a few days ago, the association manager's wife left a note on my door with a photocopy of two pages from the Bylaws, complete with highlighting of entire sections. The first section she highlighted states that the Association can sue owners who "default" on their obligations. The second section states that "Whenever the Board shall determine, in its, discretion, that any maintenance or repair of any Unit is necessary to protect the Common Elements or any other portion of the Building, the Board may cause a written notice of the necessity for such maintenance or repair to be served upon such Unit Owner..."

    The problem here, as defined by an earlier excerpt of the Bylaws I posted, is that my Unit does not include anything above my ceiling or below my floors! If the problem is with the pipes that run between units, those are Common Elements, or for regions of pipes serving only one unit, those are Limited Common Elements. The excerpts from the Bylaws that I posted before make it clear that all repairs to the Common Elements are at the Association's expense, and repairs to the Limited Common Elements are at the expense of Units that would be benefited by those repairs.

    Any advice on how to proceed from here?

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