When a water pipe bursts in your condo, does the association pay to fix it or do you? Our community living expert, Richard Thompson, tackles the question.

Ask the HOA Expert

Question: We had a water pipe break in a common wall which flooded two units. The HOA has no policy about common wall water problems and both owners are looking to the HOA to repair both the plumbing and the unit damage. What do you advise?

Answer: If the leak came from a common water supply line, the HOA should fix the plumbing. If the leak came from a supply line serving only a particular unit, that unit owner is responsible for fixing the leak.

The plumber should be instructed to determine which it is when performing the repair.

However, even if the leak came from a common water line, it doesn’t mean the HOA should fix the resulting damage to units unless the HOA was negligent in responding to the plumbing repair in a timely manner.

If there was no negligence, the resulting unit damage should be paid for by the affected unit owners or their insurance. The same principle would apply to a leaking roof or errant sprinkler head that did unit damage.

The HOA is under no obligation to reimburse unit owner insurance deductibles. Some repairs and costs should be shouldered by the HOA and some should be borne by the owners, including the deductible. Most governing documents require owners to insure their unit and personal property for this very reason.

To protect the HOA’s insurability, the board should enact an Areas of Insurance & Maintenance Policy which clearly defines by building and grounds component who is responsible, owner or HOA. Since HOA insurance is very broad and will pay almost any claim submitted, this policy will determine which claims qualify.

An Areas of Responsibility Policy will put both unit owners and their insurance companies on notice as to how it works at your HOA so most disputes can be settled before they start. The Areas of Responsibility Policy cannot shuffle responsibility for maintenance or insurance where the HOA clearly is obligated. It simply should describe the dividing line.

Question: Is the insulation under the roof considered a common element or an individual homeowner expense? We have a contractor that advises adding insulation under the roof to help prevent ice dams. Would this be an HOA or unit owner expense?

Answer: Roof maintenance is typically an HOA expense in common wall communities and mitigating ice dams would typically be an HOA responsibility. If ice dam maintenance is common and expensive, finding a way to reduce the cost and potential interior damage makes sense and the HOA should pay for it.

Question: We live in a condominium. Several of our members have requested approval to paint their front doors a different color then the other units. Should the board grant their requests?

Answer: Common wall communities derive value from consistent design and look. Glaring variations detract from market appeal and value. But, as time passes, so do consumer tastes. That all-the-rage chocolate brown paint color of the 70s is now a sales detriment.

Rather than have the board or Architectural Design Committee play political football with exterior colors, why not hire a color consultant to update the HOA color schemes and offer some compatible choices?

Most paint supply companies offer this service free of charge in anticipation of selling their product. The consultant will provide options while maintaining a unified curb appeal.

Have the consultant put together color boards with a number of trim and body color options which the members can vote on. That makes them part of a democratic process on what could be a highly volatile subject.

Punt this issue to the professionals and members.