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What Happens when the Hot Water Heater Bursts?

Posted in Assessment Collection, Hurricane/Disaster Issues, Operations

This is a question I am asked seemingly on a daily basis. It has some variations in format; perhaps involving a burst pipe, toilet/shower leak, or air-conditioner drip pan overflow but the theme is always the same. That is, something involving the unexpected flow of water happens within a unit which causes damage to other units, typically the unit(s) located directly below the water event, and to the common elements. Who is responsible to repair the damage? Who is responsible to pay for the repairs? Water intrusion events like these are usually considered casualties. A casualty is something that happens unexpectedly, through no fault of anybody. Hurricanes, tornadoes, strong storms and other Acts of God are easy examples of casualty events. A burst pipe within the ceiling, floor or wall is also, most often than not, a casualty because no one can accurately predict when a pipe will fail. Of course, this will change where, for example, a unit owner or the association is aware of an existing pipe leak and does nothing to fix it. Similarly, where a condominium association has a rule requiring owners to replace their hot water heaters at least once every 10 years, the 11 year-old hot water heater that bursts will probably not be a casualty event. The association has a statutory responsibility to insure the units, common elements and association property for casualty damage. Similarly, the unit owners must insure portions of their units against casualty damage. Keep in mind that the obligation to maintain something does not always translate into an equal responsibility to insure that same item. The Association and unit owners’ insurance responsibilities are described in Section 718.111 (11), Florida Statutes. The unit owners must provide insurance for all floor, wall, and ceiling coverings, electrical fixtures, appliances, water heaters, water filters, built-in cabinets and counter tops, and window treatments, including curtains, drapes, blinds, hardware, and similar window treatment components, or replacements of any of the foregoing which are located within the boundaries of a unit. The Association must provide casualty insurance for everything else.

When a casualty occurs, the association must file a claim with its insurance company for any damages to the common elements and other items that are the association’s insurance responsibilities pursuant to the Condominium Act. Likewise, a unit owner is responsible to file a claim with his/her homeowner’s insurance for damages to the unit and its contents. Neither party is liable to the other nor would either insurance company be liable to the other.

If there is casualty damage to the common elements and/or other items that the association must insure that exceeds the association’s deductible and the proceeds from the association’s insurance are sufficient to pay for such damages, the law requires the association to repair the damages to these items (i.e. fixes the broken pipe, leaking roof, etc.) and nothing further needs to be done. If the proceeds from insurance are not sufficient or if there are no insurance proceeds (either because there is no coverage or because the damages are below the deductible), the association must repair those items that it is responsible to insure and the cost to do so is a common expense shared by all of the unit owners. The declaration may actually provide a different process when there is a shortfall in insurance proceeds but an association cannot follow this different process unless a majority of the entire membership votes to “opt-out” of the law and into the different process described in the declaration.

The association is not responsible to pay for any casualty related damages to a unit owner’s personal furnishings or to the list of “excluded” items (listed above) unless the association was negligent and such negligence caused the damage. It is also possible that a unit owner may be negligent. If a unit owner’s negligence (or intentional act) causes damage to the common elements and/or other units, the association must still repair all of the common elements but the negligent unit owner (or his/her insurance) will be responsible to pay for the damages. Similarly, if a unit owner’s negligence causes damage to another unit, the other unit owner suffering the damage should file a claim with his/her individual insurance and such insurance may then go after the negligent owner for damages.  

There is a difference between normal, day to day maintenance and repairs verses those repairs made necessary due to a casualty. The declaration of condominium will often contain a separate section dealing with repairs after a casualty. In addition, the insurance responsibilities of the parties involved will often dictate who has to actually perform the repairs after a casualty.  

  • Jim Virostek

    I see that Florida Law now requires that Condo Associations now carry the responsibility to replace or repair “air conditioning equipment” following and caused by, a “casualty.” I would like to understand the logic.
    AC equipment has two major components. Number 1, the compressors, are each located on roof outside the condo building. The other major component,air handlers, are located within each condo unit, just like a washer/dryer and connected to the compressor with refrigerant pipes and electric wires.
    1. In the event of a “casualty” is the Association responsible for all components, including the air handler?
    2. If responsible for all components, is it for claims caused by casualty only or, all other types of air handler failer and, how does the association protect itself from owners rquesting that a new air handler be installed or repaired (at the association’s expense) every time an air handler or compresser malfunctions.

  • B. L. Henrickson

    Is it legal?
    Our Board has informed our association, ‘it’ has voted to eliminate our contract with our buildings service provider. However, a percentage of each owners maintenance fees are paid for this service each month to address small problems that may arise before they potentially manifest into a larger causality. Many owners are unhappy with our boards ‘decision’.
    Am I correct in stating, a ‘majority vote’ by the owners is needed by a ‘special meeting’, to make such a change that would ultimately affect the health and well being of the buildng and ALL concerned?
    blh

  • Mike Clausen

    I recently had a hot water heater pipe break from behind my wall soaking 9 other condo’s below me. I just recieved a letter from one of the insurance companies asking me to contact them. I have no insurance. How liable am I for damages?

  • Noelle

    Who is responsible for the additional $300+/3 months water fees in association with the water pipe leakage? Normal monthly water fees are ~$20/month for the tenant. The pipe leakage was caused by a tree root in the HOA responsibility area. The HOA had already fixed the pipe leakage. I am the condo unit owner. Please advise. Thanks.

  • don baker

    What is the new law concerning condo air-conditioners? Is there a new law?

  • NATALIE MARTIN

    I HAD MY TENANT TELL ME A FEW MONTHS BACK THAT SHE COULD HEAR A DROP BEHIND THE WALL. I WENT TO THE UNIT AND FOUND NO SIGN OF LEAK AND DROP WAS NOT HAPPENING AT THE MOMENT. THEN SHE WAS LEAVING IN JULY AND IN JUNE REALIZED THAT A CORNER OF MY CLOSET WAS ALL WET AND THEE WERE YELLOW SPOTS ON THE WALL.
    WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIT THERE WAS VISIBLE WATER DAMAGE. THE CONDO ASSOCIATION SAID IT WAS THE UNIT ABOVE ME FAULT. THAT UNIT ABOVE ME WENT INTO FORECLOSURE IN THE LAST MONTHS AND NOW THAT I HAVE CHANGED FLOORING,PAINTED, AND PUT NEW DRYWALL AND BASEBOARDS, MY CLOSET HAS ONCE AGAIN GOTTEN WET AND THE FLOOORING HAS LIFTED AND BEEN DAMAGED. THE WATER IS OBVIOUSLY COMING FROM THE WALLS AND MY TOILET AND SINK ARE NOT VISIBLY LEAKING. THE ASSOCIATION SAYS THEY ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE AND MONTHS AGO WHEN IT FIRST HAPPENED THEY SAID IT WAS THE UNIT ABOVE ME. NOW THAT THAT UNIT IS EMPTY THEY SAY IT IS PROBABLY MY UNIT.
    WHAT CAN I DO? AND HOW RESPONSIBLE ARE THEY AND WHO IS LIABLE FOR THE DAMAGES AND FIXING THE LEAK?

  • Leah

    I own a condo in FL. My renter called stating the toilet leaked into the bathroom and water is in the bedroom. We immediatly called the Assoc. plummer and within a couple of hours the leak was fixed. The renter went and got the carpets steam cleaned. The Neighbor called saying they had water damage. We offered to clean his carpets as well and he declined and wanted us to pay for new flooring, floor boards and a new vanity. We declined and offered to steam clean again. Now he is suing us for $1100 because he wants us to pay for the damage. What is your advice? Are we liable? We don’t have interior insurance on our condo and I believe he does not either.

  • Danielle Powell

    I live in a condominium in southwest Florida. I have been informed of a leak in the copper pipes that are buried underground for my air condition. The area of leak is not able to be repaire due to concrete and the neighbors air unit. I have to have new copper pipes run from unit outside, through attic, and to the handler inside. Is this a responsibility of the association, or myself (homeowner)???

  • Danielle Powell

    I live in a condominium in southwest Florida. I have been informed of a leak in the copper pipes that are buried underground for my air condition. The area of leak is not able to be repaire due to concrete and the neighbors air unit. I have to have new copper pipes run from unit outside, through attic, and to the handler inside. Is this a responsibility of the association, or myself (homeowner)???

  • Karen MacLaren

    Last August my water heater broke, and water leaked
    into the apt below, the unit owner’s condo insurance
    paid for repairs. Her tenant who was away when this happend just sent me letter
    asking me for over $3000 because she had to buy new clothes
    and, cleaning appliances, such as a new vaccume cleaner
    new bedding etc.
    Am I responsible for this?

  • Bob

    I am new to this blog and have a question:
    Are answers available to the 10 or so questions related to this article?
    If so, where?
    Thanks,
    Bob

  • Lourdes

    I own a condo in FL. My Association called stating the unit is leaking water down to the first floor unit. I asked the association if they cover the damage. They stated no. I asked if the unit owner has insurance. They stated if she has she will not go through ins. co because the insurance may go up. The tenants had turned the water off to prevent any further leaks. I contacted a plumber and within a couple of hours the leak was fixed. I contacted the unit owner to assess the damage. The unit owner, renter neligected to soak up the water from the carpets. We offered to clean his carpets and repair wall damage. They declined and wanted us to pay for new flooring. We declined and offered to steam clean. Now he is suing us because he wants us to pay for the new flooring. What is your advice? Are we liable? I’m incurring the cost of repairing wall damage. We don’t have interior insurance on our condo and neither do they.
    RESPONSE: My advise is to hire counsel – either to evaluate the claim or to defend you. Further advice – get insurance, its worthwhile.

  • Maria DiVasto

    Our condo complex was once an apartment complex before it was made into condos. There is one hot water heater for every four units. It is inside a upstairs closet in on of the units. There was a leak and some of the water damage the ceiling below in the unit that the heater is in. The condo association fix the leak in the pipe and patch the dry wall BUT did not fix the pop corn ceiling finish. Does the condo association have to fix the pop corn ceiling?
    The hot water heater is owned by the condo association and hot water is included in the monthly condo fees.

  • Joseph Randazzo

    I had damage to my first floor unit due to a clog in the ac drain from the unit above who do not live there , all the damage was covered by my insurance company . I filed a claim with the above unit owners insurance company for my $500.00 deductable and was denied . My condo is in Fla. How do I prove that it was negligance and who is responsible for the dedutable?

  • Arelis Payes

    I live in a Miami Condo on the third floor, back in December my neighbor below compalined of a leak in his bedroom ceiling, it took the association 3 weeks to send a plumber to check what was causing the leak in his apt, and of course, they immediately came up to my unit to check for leaks, they found no leaks but it was determined that the hot water pipe line burst, because when they turned off the water heater knob, the leak below me slowed down (my water heater is working in perfect condition) however, the water line pipes (both hot and cold) runs underneath my concrete floor. I received a letter from the association stating the following: “The Association does not provide hot water to any unit, the line within the unit is exclusive to that apartment’s exclusive use and therefore making the repairs your exclusive responsibility. We ask that you please get a plumber to fix this problem and if you have homeowners insurance you should file a claim”.
    Well, I did file a claim with my insurance company which of course they denied the claim, I’m covered from the floor upward, from the ceiling downward and from the walls inward, I’m also covered for “accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam” but I have none of that inside my unit. It has been now 2 months since the complaint and the water leak damage to the unit below has gotten worse. Please help! is the water line pipe repair(hot or cold) the responsibility of the home owner’s association or my own?. I have even called the General Attorneys Office which they mentioned to me to look into Florida Statute 718.111(11)which I did, and it sounds like the HOA should make the repairs to the water line and not me or my insurance, they also told me that if they still think I’m responsible for this issue to seek legal advice; yes, you guessed it, nothing has been done and the neighbor below is getting impatinet and calling me freequently asking me when am I going to fix the problem.
    Can you please help me advice me of what I should do next? I’m avoiding to have to put my case into the hand of an attorney and take it to court, since is very costly. Help me please!
    Thanking you in advance.
    Arelis Payes
    RESPONSE: The governing documents will allocate responsibility for the maintenance and repair of plumbing components. It is not unusual for individual unit owners to bear responsibility for plumbing lines that only serve the unit.
    Please consult with your insurance agent with regard to the scope of coverage afforded by your policy and with regard to liability coverage for repairs to other portions of the condominium property. Responsibility for casualty damages is often different than responsibility for maintenance and repairs.