Do I have to pay half the cost to repair my upstairs neighbour’s joists?

Property clinic: If the joists are considered communal areas, insurance may cover them

The joists between apartments are sometimes considered part of the building fabric in insurance policies

The joists between apartments are sometimes considered part of the building fabric in insurance policies

 

I live in a small development of just eight apartments. We manage the owner management committee (OMC) ourselves. We have two directors, and both live in the building; all but two of the units are owner occupied. The other two are rented out.

There are two floors – each has a private entrance, and there are no lifts or internal communal areas to maintain. We have a communal garden which is well maintained.

The apartment upstairs to ours has recently been sold. The owner lives there and is a builder by trade. He is doing a huge amount of work: knocking down internal walls, re-configuring the property, he has moved his kitchen from the back to the front of the housedirectly outside our door we now have ugly waste-disposal pipes – and he has also knocked out a much bigger window, which takes away from the overall integrity of the 1880s building.

Now he informs me that the joists on my ceiling and his floor are rotten and that I should pay half to repair them. Is this my responsibility? Should I pay? The OMC recently repaired the roof and insulated, what is effectively “his” ceiling, as he is on the top floor. At the time, I asked if our ceiling could also be insulated but was told that this was an issue for each apartment owner.

So, who exactly owns the internal ceiling/floor in an apartment block and who owns the walls, roof and “main” ceiling?

Your experience is not uncommon in smaller Owner Management Companies (OMC), however it is a complex issue that touches on a couple of different areas.

Firstly, it raises the responsibilities of an OMC, and secondly the responsibilities of individual apartment owners and the impact of various building regulations.

In relation to the OMC, its operation is covered by the Multi-Unit Developments Act which was introduced in 2011. In simple terms the OMC is usually responsible for the shared common areas of the apartment block including corridors, external walls and roofs. There can be some variations on this arrangement so you need to ask your solicitor to review your title documents which will outline in detail the services that the OMC is to provide. They will review the long leasehold title of the apartment which determines the responsibilities of the OMC (the lessor) and apartment owner (the lessee).

In the event that the joists are considered part of the building’s common areas, OMC services include having appropriate insurance in place on the block of apartments. In this instance, it may be worthwhile to explore the block policy in detail and to establish if the joists in question are considered part of the building fabric by the policy and if so, does the policy cover the required works? This may come down to the cause of the damage to the joists and the OMC may need to appoint an engineer and/or loss adjustor to explore this in more detail.

On the second issue, individual apartment owners are usually responsible for everything inside the four walls of the apartment including insurance and maintenance.

However, from the sounds of your query it appears that your neighbour may have carried out works on parts of the building which are the responsibility of the OMC. If this is the case, then the OMC needs to take action to ensure that your neighbour complies with the terms of his long leasehold title and with the OMC house rules.

It’s understandable that given the size of the block the OMC is self-managed; however, it is important that the directors have some knowledge regarding responsibility for the different parts of the building fabric. If this is not the case, then they need to retain the services of an experienced building surveyor to guide them in making sure that any works carried out in the building comply with applicable building regulations and the obligations imposed by the long leasehold title document.

Additionally, alterations as described may have an impact on the overall Block Insurance policy and the insurers need to be updated on material changes to the building.

Lastly, given the age of the building, it may be listed on the local planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS), buildings on this list are legally protected and all changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Enda McGuane is a chartered property manager and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, www.scsi.ie

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