Condo Media - April 2018 - 51

DON'T MAKE
ASSUMPTIONS OF FAULT
In this very common scenario, the condominium association made a critical mistake that led to the failure to promptly fix
the leaking pipe(s), and properly analyze
who was responsible for the repair of the
offending plumbing and the correction
of damage to other units and common
areas that may have resulted from the
plumbing failure. The association failed
to promptly engage a professional
(plumber or other appropriate expert) to
investigate the situation and determine
which plumbing components had failed,
and why. A professional would have also
analyzed the scope of work necessary for
a permanent repair and, if appropriate,
taken steps to at least prevent further
water leakage while the situation was
investigated further. The worst thing a
board can do is assume that the leak is a
unit owner's fault based on impressions
and beliefs that have no expert support.
Once the source of the leak is identified,
the board can then determine what steps
to take next.
REVIEW AND DETERMINE
RESPONSIBILITY
Once the board, with the assistance of its
professional, has isolated the problem
pipe(s) or other components of the
plumbing system, it should review the
condominium documents to determine
whose responsibility it is to repair the
deficient infrastructure and/or who is responsible to the association and any unit
owners to pay damages related to the water leak. If the condominium documents
are, as they often are, confusing or ambiguous with regard to these issues, the
board may decide to consult legal counsel
to assist in evaluating the situation. In any
event, the initial review should determine
where the problem is located (i.e., is it
located within a unit or solely within the
common areas; or does its lie partially in a
unit and partially in the common areas?)
by examining the definitions of the
common areas and facilities and of the
boundaries of individual units as detailed
in the master deed. For instance, if the
unit boundaries include the upper sur-

face of the floor joists and the plane of the
lower surface of the ceiling joists, and the
problem pipe runs beneath the subfloor
of the upstairs unit and above the ceiling
of the downstairs unit, then that pipe is in
common area. Similarly, if the offending
pipe is located solely within a unit, then it
could be part of the individual unit.
But the association's review of the
condominium documents should not
stop at an examination of the definitions included in the master deed and
determining where the offending pipe
is located. The association then needs
to determine who (a unit owner or the
association) is responsible to repair
and maintain the pipe/plumbing component. The fact that a pipe is located
in a unit or in the common areas does
not necessarily identify who is responsible to repair or replace the defective
pipe. For example, the condominium
documents may provide that a pipe that
serves a unit exclusively-even a pipe
or other component of the plumbing
system located in the common areas
of the condominium-is that owner's
responsibility to repair and maintain.
The documents could also provide that a
pipe located solely within the boundaries of a unit, but which serves an area of
the condominium other than the unit in
which is it contained, is common area
and thus the responsibility of the association to repair at common expense.
A single pipe can also change from
common area to unit when it passes the
boundary of the unit. The nuances in
the condominium documents require
a fresh and careful review every time
there is a pipe burst or leak.
If the board determines that the problem pipe is a common facility and that
the association is responsible for repairing the pipe, then the board should go
ahead and perform the repairs. If the
report of the unit owner whose ceiling is
dripping water was the first notice that
the association had of the condition, it is
likely that the board was not negligent,
and it is therefore also likely that the association does not have any responsibility to correct damage to units that may
have been caused by the leaking pipe.

However, if the board was to unreasonably delay investigating and repairing the
common pipe, they could be responsible
for damage to units that results from the
water leak. If, however, the leaking pipe
is actually a unit owner's responsibility,
the association can demand that the unit
owner promptly repair the piping at his
or her own expense. If the unit owner
refuses to perform or unreasonably delays the repairs, then most condominium
documents give the association the right
to enter a unit, to make necessary repairs
(usually with 15 days' notice), and to
charge the costs associated therewith to
the unit owner.
The Condominium Act (MGL Chapter
183A) also gives a board, or its agents, a
right to access each unit for the purpose
of making emergency repairs within a
unit. An unaddressed plumbing leak will
almost certainly qualify as an emergency
that would warrant such access. If the
condominium documents do not have
the provision allowing entry to a unit
for emergency repairs, the board should
consider an amendment. The association
needs a clear and specific mechanism to
make repairs when a unit owner fails to
perform its duties.
Ultimately, if the board does not take
the necessary first step of hiring a professional to inspect the plumbing leak and
it ultimately turns out that the burst or
leaking pipe is part of a common plumbing system, the board could be found negligent for failing to address the situation
when it first learned about the problem.
By that point, the damages will likely
have grown, and may even include mold
growth. Any cost savings from skipping
the early inspection will be more than
erased if the board misses its opportunity
to get in early and stop the leaking.
n JOHN SHAFFER,
ESQ., IS A PARTNER
AND HALEY BYRON,
ESQ., IS AN ASSOCIATE
WITH THE LAW FIRM
MARCUS, ERRICO,
EMMER & BROOKS PC.

April 2018

51



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Condo Media - April 2018

Contents
Condo Media - April 2018 - BB1
Condo Media - April 2018 - BB2
Condo Media - April 2018 - Cover1
Condo Media - April 2018 - Cover2
Condo Media - April 2018 - Contents
Condo Media - April 2018 - 2
Condo Media - April 2018 - 3
Condo Media - April 2018 - 4
Condo Media - April 2018 - 5
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