My neighbour caused leak damage to my home. Is he liable?
It is important to take action to protect your home, although it will no doubt cause tension
‘The paint is lifting from the wall and the skirting board is beginning to bulge.’ Photograph: iStock
A small damp area that I noticed in my apartment hallway a year ago, shortly after I moved in, has grown into a 6ft long, ugly area along the skirting board. The paint is lifting from the wall and the skirting board is beginning to bulge. The management company has had ongoing problems with my neighbour, and the previous owners tell me they had endless hassle with him – mainly noise, but also a similar leak.
He was apologetic when I told him about the leak (which I had investigated by a plumber) and later said the problem was caused by broken grouting, which he would have fixed as soon as possible.
I’m wondering if he is liable for the repairs I need to get done to fix the damage in my apartment, which may include lifting floorboards. The management company has been sympathetic but not very helpful. What rights do I have in this situation, regarding both neighbour and management company?
Your situation is not uncommon in modern-day apartment living. Engaging with our neighbours on issues like this can be challenging, and you appear to have been very reasonable in your approach to getting the issue resolved. However, it is important that you know your rights should this approach not resolve the matter. You have asked about your rights as they relate to two distinct parties: your neighbour and the management company.
By management company, I assume you are referring to the Owners’ Management Company (OMC). As a property owner in an apartment block, it is normal to be a member of the OMC. This gives you a say in how the common areas owned by the OMC are maintained and managed.
When you purchased your property, the legal documents you received should have set out the services the OMC has to provide, such as the maintenance of the common areas and placing block insurance. In the majority of instances the OMC will engage a professional managing agent to operate the block on behalf of the owners. This managing agent should hold a D Licence as prescribed by the Irish property services regulator. Where there is a doubt about the source of a leak, the OMC through the managing agent would engage the services of a plumbing contractor to investigate and to establish the exact cause of the leak.
However, based on your email, it appears that your neighbour has indicated that the leak is their responsibility. All owners within an apartment complex are bound by the covenants and conditions contained within their Indenture Lease, which forms part of a property’s title and is signed by owners when purchasing. One of the standard conditions is that each owner is required to keep their property in a good and tenantable state of repair. This includes effecting appropriate repairs when necessary.
In addition, house rules are also provided for under section 23 of the Multi-Unit Development (MUD) Act, which makes the rules binding on all owners. Your next step should be to raise your concerns in this regard with your OMC or the managing agent. They can then confirm if there have been any breaches of the covenants or house rules.
It would be the job of the OMC or managing agent in such a case to put the owner on formal notice of their lease obligations and to note to them that the lease is legally enforceable. The OMC may then have to initiate legal action against the owner in the event that the leak is not repaired.
Alternatively, the lease may entitle the OMC to set a deadline for completion of work within the apartment. If the work is not done, and there is ongoing damage being caused to other properties, then under the lease the OMC will likely have the right to enter the property, carry out the necessary repair work and bill back the costs to the owner of the apartment where the leak is coming from.
If that fails the OMC can take further legal steps to force the owner to comply with the lease covenants. The MUD Act makes specific provisions for addressing disputes within OMCs, and sections 24 and 25 deal with who can take a case under the legislation and for what. The Circuit Court will hear any cases taken under the Act, but there is the option for mediation as an alternative to legal action.
While it is not desirable to have to fall back on these legal obligations to get the situation resolved, as it will no doubt cause tension between you and your neighbour, it is important that you act to protect your home. It is also important that you engage again with the OMC and managing agent, particularly if there has been a history of issues in the past. An experienced licensed managing agent will have dealt with this type of issue previously and will be able to assist you in resolving matters swiftly and as amicably as possible in the circumstances.
Enda Mc Guane is a chartered property manager and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie