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The Bedbug Blog
Two recent situations involving the need for restoration services within a condominium building highlighted the complexities of figuring out just who is responsible for when a problem affecting a single unit eventually affects the health and safety of other building occupants.
I speak here with the experience of a restoration professional, but also a condominium owner who has sat on two different owners’ boards. I know that condominium documents can be intimidating to anyone who is not an attorney, but often the language is clear enough that even us non-lawyer types can read them and interpret the intent. Think of them as a road map to congenial co-ownership and conflict resolution.
Both of the restoration scenarios presented here were made worse by the parties failing to understand their role in the process. In each situation, the condo board was within its rights to take action unilaterally to protect the interests of the other owners and failed to do so. That is a standard clause in most condo documents and it is something every owner and board member should know.
The first scenario involved a unit owner who experienced water damage from a leak in the building foundation. The unit owner failed to act to properly mitigate the water damage, claiming it was not his responsibility but that of the condo association to provide mitigation and cleaning services for the structural damages and his personal belongings. The condo association denied responsibility and urged the owner to correct the damage on his own.
A stalemate ensued and both parties failed to act. The unit owner, afraid to incur costs that would not be covered by his insurance, did nothing. The condo association failed to act as well, for much the same reason. A yearlong dispute involving lawyers, the condo board and the unit owner resulted in not only many wasted hours but subsequent damage and expenses that could have been avoided. Now the condo unit is full of mold and additional demolition and repairs are necessary. This small water event has now escalated to a cost of $60K.
Although the association was responsible for the water that infiltrated the foundation, the unit owner could have called his own insurance company and started the mitigation process. His insurance would have subrogated back to the association policy in the long run and the additional damage over time would have been avoided. The association should have taken responsibility, especially after the problem became a mold issue that could have impacted occupants of the adjoining units.
In the second scenario, tenants in a condo unit carried bedbugs into the building. Initially this was the unit owners’ problem and the board had no responsibility. Unfortunately, the tenants chose to live with the critters (for whatever reason) until they had multiplied to hundreds of thousands of bugs. Yes, hundreds of thousands. The pests have now migrated into many of the 12 units in the building and are causing problems for the other unit owners.
In this case the board failed to take responsibility when neighbors began to complain about the offending unit and unit owner. They had a clear responsibility to take action and protect the other owners by taking charge and allotting association dollars to solve the problem. Instead they took the head-in-the-sand approach, claiming it wasn’t their issue.
Their failure to heed the complaints of the other owners has created an expensive, time-consuming and complex problem to solve involving experts from PBI, pest control companies and of course lawyers. The association will lay out almost $30k to address the pest problem and the unit owner will be burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in reconstruction costs to restore the unit once the pests are eradicated.
When property damage or contamination occur in a condo building, it always best to read the documents and try to understand where the responsibility lies. Don’t take the board members’ word on this because they will always favor what is most financially beneficial to the association. A little time spent in understanding these documents may save you a great deal of time and money in the future.
Vaughn Rocco is Vice President, Specialty Services at PBI Restorations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.