In Florida, water damage in a condo has and probably always will be a common issue. With the annual hurricane season and the year-round tropical climate that brings frequent showers, there is always a good chance that there might be some water damage somewhere in or on a residential property such as an apartment building, single family home or condo. A building with a community association must have a property insurance policy that covers any damages to common areas like lobbies, parking garages, parking lots, building exteriors, elevators and other shared spaces. This means any water damage that occurs to those areas should be covered by the insurance (Unless it was caused by storm surge, in which case it would be left up to hurricane and/or flood insurance, in most cases).
When it comes to water damage in a condo, however, it begins to become more complicated. Identifying who is truly responsible for the water damage inside of a condo can be, sometimes, like a game of ping pong between homeowner’s and community associations, individual condo owners, or homeowners and their insurance companies.
Subrogating the Claim
Although it is a common issue facing community associations across Florida, even association lawyers get confused with this sometimes. There are laws and amendments made all the time that continually change certain rules, shifting the responsibility, depending on where the damage really originated. The bottom line is this: it depends on the cause of the damage. Whether your association’s property insurance is notified of the water damage first or whether the condo owner’s or tenant’s insurance is notified first, the insurance company will proceed to subrogate the claim against all other policies in play. Water damage in a condo involves weighing the different policies against each other to see which party is responsible for paying for the damage, depending on how the damage occurred.
Rule of Thumb
As per Florida Statute 718.111(11)(f) the association is responsible for everything except the following, which is the unit owner’s responsibility:
All personal property within the unit or limited common elements; water heaters and filters, electrical fixtures, built-in cabinets, appliances, floors, walls, ceiling coverings, hardware, blinds, drapes, counter tops, and window treatments.
This specific item can be tricky, but here is the clarification. Drywall out is the association’s responsibility and drywall finish such as textures or paint is the responsibility of the unit owner. Bare floor up is the owner’s responsibility as well.
Unit to Unit
If, for example, there is a unit above another and the top unit’s toilet leaks through to the ceiling of the unit underneath it, there would be three insurances involved here. The unit owner who’s toilet is leaking would be responsible for the getting the toilet repaired. The unit owner underneath would be responsible for his or her personal property and even the drywall finishes, as stated above. The association in this case would be responsible for any damage to the drywall and the electrical wiring within walls and/or insulation.
Property Dry Outs After Water Damage to a Condo
The Florida statute doesn’t offer much clarity when it comes to water damage in a condo, specifically when it has leftover standing water. It is, however, in a community association’s interest to have this taken care of as soon as possible so that more damage isn’t inflicted on the property that can then affect another unit owner’s property and eventually, require the association to get involved anyway. Standing water also threatens the certain structural parts of the building with mold development and even deterioration. In some cases, it might make sense for the unit owner and the association to split the cost of a thorough, professional water dry out; in other cases, it might make more sense for the community association to take on the cost.
Lastly, negligence on a unit owner’s part absolves the association of any responsibility and requires the unit owner to handle costs of repairs. It’s important to clearly define negligence in any documents, bylaws, or rules and regulations given unit owners from the start, to avoid taking on unjustified costs or avoiding escalation into unnecessary legal battles.