Condo living is a way of life for millions of Floridians. It is a unique compromise where you give up some freedom to live in a development that provides amenities and convenience.
With more than 1.5 million individual condo units in the state, it is inevitable that owners and occupants of condo complexes will have disagreements with associations, contractors, insurance companies, and others.
When you are dealing with a condo damage claim, understanding your rights is the first step toward a good outcome.
What Party is Responsible for Condo Damage?
The last thing that an owner of a condo unit wants to hear is that their condo damage will be repaired by “it depends.” However, the reality is the association and individual unit owners are responsible for damage to different portions of the condo complex.
The association is responsible for maintaining common areas and elements, which includes walkways, elevators, stairs, pools, gyms, and areas that are generally accessible to all unit owners.
In addition, the condo association is also responsible to maintain and repair the complex’s structural features including the roof, exterior walls, structural walls, windows, plumbing/electrical/ventilation systems, and much more.
A unit owner is only responsible for the interior of the unit which includes the drywall, flooring, ceiling, and all interior fixtures. Sometimes an individual unit will have an independent heating and cooling system that is also the owner’s responsibility.
However, the division of responsibility between the complex and unit owner becomes less clear when negligence or maintenance failures are factored in. For example, what happens if an individual unit is damaged because the condo association failed to maintain the complex’s common areas or elements? What if an individual unit owner negligently causes serious water damage to adjoining units?
In these situations, the party that ultimately pays the cost to repair may not be entirely clear. Factors such as insurance and proof of neglect will help determine where the source to make repairs. Considering that insurance companies tend to delay or refuse to pay, these complex situations often become unnecessarily complicated.
Another situation that often arises is a contractor causes damage to the property. Like anyone else, contractors make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes manifest in the form of immediate damage. Other times, a construction defect may take a long time to cause noticeable problems. When individual condo units sustain damage due to a contractor’s neglect, determining who pays can be complicated.
The contractor should be responsible; but what happens if the contractor is no longer in business or does not have sufficient insurance. When that occurs, the unit owner or the condo association may be looking to insurance and other sources to pay for necessary repairs.
Duties Owed by Condominium Associations
While some property damage claims are the sole responsibility of the unit owner, other claims may be the responsibility of the condo association. An association owes several important duties to the individual owners:
1. Maintenance and Repair: A condo association is responsible for maintaining the complex and making necessary repairs. When failure to maintain and repair causes damage to an individual unit, the association may be responsible. Some limited peril insurance policies do not provide coverage for damages caused by the association’s negligence.
2. Insurance: The association is required by law to purchase necessary insurance coverage for the condominium complex. This includes property insurance for the common areas/elements and liability insurance to protect against accidents, injuries, or negligence committed by the condo association. Failure to purchase necessary insurance coverage could leave the association directly exposed to a damage claim.
3. Fiduciary Duty: Condo associations are fiduciaries. This means they must act in the best interests of the owners/residents. The association should avoid conflicts of interest and make decisions that benefit the community as a whole. A board or association member who breaches a fiduciary duty may be sued directly. However, most cases against a condo association involve negligence-based claims.
Owner’s Insurance Policies
Condo unit owners typically purchase an “owners insurance policy.” This policy is meant to provide coverage for the limited portions of the unit that the owner is responsible for – the interior of the unit and main fixtures. An owner’s policy is not meant to protect the association for common areas/units or to be a backstop for a condo association that fails to properly insure the complex.
Many owner’s policies tend to have limited perils that are insured against and often expressly excluded against coverage for the neglect of the association or other parties including contractors. When purchasing an owner’s policy, you should take time to understand the insured perils, exclusions, and scope of coverage.
Evaluating Your Claim
When a condo unit or complex sustains damage, it is important to consider the source of responsibility and all potential parties and insurance companies. In some situations, the cause of the damage will be clear-cut, and source of responsibility and repair payment will be clear.
In other instances, the cause of the damage is complex and there could be several layers of insurance and payment sources. This may include looking to personal insurance, a co-resident’s insurance, the association, and its insurance, or even a third-party contractor.
If your condo unit has been damaged, contact Johns Law Group to schedule a no-obligation free consultation. We are available to discuss your claim and assist you to ensure the best outcome possible.