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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Ask the HOA Expert: Common Wall Water Problems

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 13 May 2014 18:13

Question: We had a water pipe break in a common wall which flooded two units. The HOA has no policy about common wall water problems and both owners are looking to the HOA to repair to both the plumbing and the unit damage. What do you advise?

Answer: If the leak came from a common water supply line, the HOA should fix the plumbing. If the leak came from a supply line serving only a particular unit, that unit owner is responsible for fixing the leak. The plumber should be instructed to determine which it is when performing the repair.

However, even if the leak came from a common water line, it doesn't mean the HOA should fix the resulting damage to units unless the HOA was negligent in responding to the plumbing repair in a timely manner. If there was no negligence, the resulting unit damage should be paid for by the affected unit owners or their insurance. The same principle would apply to a leaking roof or errant sprinkler head that did unit damage.

And the HOA is under no obligation to reimburse unit owner insurance deductibles. Some repairs and costs should be shouldered by the HOA and some should be borne by the owners, including the deductible. Most governing documents require owners to insure their unit and personal property for this very reason.

To protect the HOA's insurability, the board should enact an Areas of Insurance & Maintenance Policy which clearly defines by building and grounds component who is responsible, owner or HOA. Since HOA insurance is very broad and will pay almost any claim submitted, this policy will determine which claims qualify.

An Areas of Responsibility Policy will put both unit owners and their insurance companies on notice of how it works at your HOA so most disputes can be settled before they start. The Areas of Responsibility Policy cannot shuffle responsibility for maintenance or insurance where the HOA clearly is obligated. It simply should describe the dividing line.

A sample Areas of Responsibility Policy is available to Gold Subscribers of in the Policy Samples section.

Question: Our board shies away from distributing draft meeting minutes but offers "Highlights" of the meeting to fill the gap. Is this acceptable?

Answer: Approving meeting minutes can only happen at a formal meeting. Many boards meet quarterly and the Annual Meeting minutes would be approved a year later. The board should either publish meeting highlights or draft minutes which carry the notice "Subject to revision upon formal approval at the next board/annual meeting".

This information should be distributed within one to two weeks. To wait longer will result in some board or manager actions to already have passed. Sometimes this is no big deal but sometimes it is if the action is new policy or events which all members should be given fair warning of. Distributing the draft minutes or newsletter by email would be free and quick to get the word out.

Question: We're getting worn out with self managing our homeowner association. Does a board need a vote of the members to hire a management company?

Answer: Normally the board has authority to hire professional management unless the cost must be approved by the members. Some governing documents limit the amount the board may raise homeowner fees each year. The cost of professional management might exceed that threshold. If there is no such restrictions, the board can make the decision.

Question: Is the insulation under the roof considered a common element or an individual homeowner expense? We have a contractor that advises adding insulation under the roof to help prevent ice dams. Would this be an HOA or unit owner expense?

Answer: Roof maintenance is typically an HOA expense in common wall communities and mitigating ice dams would typically be an HOA responsibility. If ice dam maintenance is common and expensive, finding a way to reduce the cost and potential interior damage makes sense and the HOA should pay for it.

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Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson owns Regenesis, a management consulting company that specializes in condominium and homeowner associations. He is a nationally recognized expert on HOA management issues.

Regenesis publishes The Regenesis Report, a monthly newsletter for HOA boards, developers and managers. To subscribe, go to He can be contacted by email at

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