The modern day condominium involves a unique combination of real property rights between the condominium association and individual unit owners. The property interests are separate but related and can lead to some interesting questions regarding the rights and responsibilities of the parties that own each particular interest.
For example, whose responsibility is it to find and fix a problem of water intrusion into an individually owned condominium unit? If the source of the water is within an owner’s unit, that unit owner may be responsible. If the source of the water is within a neighboring unit, the neighbor may be responsible. If the source of the water is a common pipe or roof, the condominium association may be responsible. Who is responsible when the source is undetermined? In Grandrimo v. Parkcrest Harbour Island Condominium Association, Inc., a Florida federal court determined it was not the responsibility of the condominium association.
In Grandrimo, a unit owner suffered property damage from several instances of water intrusion in her unit. In some of the instances she was able to identify the source of the water, but in others she was not. After one of the later incidents, her individual property insurer stood by ready to pay to repair the damage. She asked the insurer to hold off until the condominium association found the source of the water because she feared that the condition would reoccur. When the association did not find the source, she sued the association and the insurance companies, alleging several theories of negligence liability. The condominium association sought, and the court granted, summary judgment on each of these theories.
- Insurance: The unit owner alleged that the condominium association had failed to properly procure insurance to cover losses caused by common elements. The condominium association countered that under statute and the condominium bylaws, it was only required to purchase insurance covering damage to the common elements, not to individual units. The court granted summary judgment to the association on grounds that it had procured adequate insurance.
- Inspect and Maintain: The unit owner alleged the condominium association breached its duty to inspect and maintain common elements to protect her unit. The association countered with the declaration of condominium which stated that the association was not liable for damage to individual units caused by other units or rainwater. Since the plaintiff could not identify the source of the water intrusion into her unit, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the association on this theory.
- Expert: The unit owner also alleged that the association failed to obtain an expert to analyze the air quality when she complained about mold from the water intrusion. The court granted summary judgment for the association when it found that the declaration of condominium expressly stated that the association had no such duty to perform invasive testing and could not be held liable for the unit owner’s failure to do so.
- Adjoining Landowner: The unit owner also claimed that the association was an adjoining landowner and owed her a duty to not interfere with the use and enjoyment of her property. The court granted summary judgment for the association because there was an absence of facts to support the allegation that the water intrusion was the fault of the association.
The resolution of this case relies heavily on the declaration of condominium and condominium bylaws, which vary greatly with each condominium. The outcome could have been radically different as well, if the unit owner had conclusively determined the cause of the water intrusion into her unit.
1 Grandrimo v. Parkcrest Harbour Island Condo. Ass’n,, 8:10-CV-964, 2011 WL 3841592 (M.D. Fla. July 27, 2011) report and recommendation adopted, 8:10-CV-964, 2011 WL 3841635 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 30, 2011).