I have a leak caused by an upstairs apartment but the owner won’t fix it
Property Clinic: Your property questions answered
‘You believe that the owner upstairs has not acted in a timely manner to resolve the leak’
I had minor water damage due to a leak from an upstairs apartment through a corner wall carrying shared pipes.
A contractor investigated the issue and offered to fix the leak for the apartment owner. The contractor was not used by the owner. I ran a dehumidifier and the area dried. Thinking the issue was sorted, I repaired my damaged area.
The leak has re-occurred over the past two months and I have more damage. I have contacted the owner through the management company a few times. How do I get the issue resolved if the owner will not repair the leak?
Leaks are an ongoing challenge for apartment developments and their owners’ management companies (OMCs). In this instance, the first task is to establish precisely where the leak is coming from and what is causing it.
With leaks of this sort – as well as communicating with the owner of the apartment where you think the leak is coming from – it is important to also contact the OMC or its managing agent as soon as you notice the leak. It is likely that the managing agent will have a lot of experience in dealing with such issues and will be able to assist you in resolving the problem.
If the leak is definitely coming from the apartment upstairs, then the obligation is on the owner of this apartment to identify the cause of the leak and then to undertake appropriate repairs. However, if the leak is from the shared pipes that you mention, the obligation to undertake the repair would fall to the OMC.
If there is any doubt about the source of the leak, it would be appropriate for your OMC to engage a plumbing contractor to investigate rather than have the leak continue. If it were to transpire that the leak was due to a failure of the owner upstairs (or any other owner) to maintain the property, then the relevant owner can be held liable for the cost of this call-out.
Assuming the leak is coming from the apartment upstairs, as per your email, then the obligation of the owner to do the appropriate repair is normally set out in the lease signed by the owner when he or she purchased their property. Leases in multi-unit developments typically require each owner to keep their property in a good and tenantable state of repair.
Escape of water is a standard risk covered by the block policy
You believe that the owner upstairs has not acted in a timely manner to resolve the leak. 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 unless the leak is 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.
Separately, as you say, the leak has now recurred and caused further damage to your property, you are entitled to seek recourse under the block insurance policy. Escape of water is a standard risk covered by the block policy. You should assess the cost of reinstating your property, and instruct the OMC or managing agent to report a possible claim to the block insurers. You should also check with them what the excess on the policy is. Note that the block insurance policy only relates to damage to the structure and fixtures and fittings of your property – you should in addition have your own contents insurance policy to cover any damage to contents in your apartment.
More broadly, your mail is a reminder to all apartment owners of the risk of leaks. Apartment owners should be vigilant for signs of leaks and should periodically check panels and seals around baths and showers. They should ask any tenants they have to do likewise. This is especially the case as apartments age. This is very much in owners’ own interests as leaks do occur in apartments and often the biggest cost arising is to the owner of the apartment in which the leak occurs.
Enda McDonnell, is a chartered property manager and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie