The line between the owner’s responsibility for damages, repairs, and improvements and the HOA’s responsibility is oftentimes extremely hazy and uncertain. Among these much-debated topics is the question of who is responsible for water damages to individual properties. In an area where heavy rainfall is common during the summer months, the issue becomes more pressing.
HOA repairs and homeowner repairs are usually differentiated based on whether the damage is to the exterior of the building or the interior. However, the governing documents are often vague and the issue of water damage is more complex. Water damage often starts on the exterior and works its way inward and it can be difficult to decide where to draw the line.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that insurance companies often refuse to pay for water damages leaving the bulk of the financial burden on either the HOA or the owner.
The answer to the complex question is often found within the governing documents themselves. The best documents will be thorough and meticulous about specifying exactly what is the HOA’s responsibility and what is the owner’s. If the issue is addressed, the governing documents will usually specify that any interior damage due to water is the responsibility of the homeowner. Alternatively, any water damage affecting the exterior of the home such as shingles or paint, is the responsibility of the HOA.
Many HOAs also have a deductible policy and an “at-fault” system that helps to determine who is responsible for the damage which can help to narrow down who should pay for the repairs. Cases may be handled very differently depending on how the damage occurred. For instance, an overflowing toilet or leaking pipe inside the until will usually be the responsibility of the owner. In addition, the fault may also lie with a neighboring unit if the damage originated outside of the owner’s home.
As part of the board of a homeowner’s association, one of the best things that you can proactively do to prevent heated disputes over the issue of water damage, is to review the governing documents. The more specific and detailed the section is, the less likely you will be to encounter an issue. If the owners understand responsibilities in this area, it will be easier for everyone down the road. It is also helpful to review insurance policies and to encourage residents to do the same.
Finally, communication is key in water damage cases. Because mold can grow quickly and damages can increase exponentially with time, it is important for both parties to meet the problem head on and without delay. An open communication between the HOA and the homeowner will help to prevent further negative impact on the property.
The answer to who is responsible for water damages is unique to each association. It is important to review the governing documents to see where your HOA stands. In addition, preparedness and prevention as well as communication within the community can go a long way in solving the problem.