Q&A: Contractor Liability

Q. I am looking for information regarding service contractors (i.e.: cable, TV, phone) needing to set up a prior appointment to access equipment that is installed on owners’ terraces. Does the unit owner have to be at home to let the workers through their apartment to the terrace to do the job, or can a super or other building staff member open up the apartment and be there while the worker does his/her thing? What are the liability issues raised by having outside contractors traipsing through private homes? Whose responsibility is it if some personal property happens to be damaged or stolen during the course of cable/satellite/telecom work on a terrace? 

                             —Access Me

A. “First, assuming that the question involves equipment that is considered part of the common elements of the association, most association documents contain language which allows the association the right of access in and through units for the purpose of doing work on the equipment,” says Norman L. Zlotnick, a partner with the law firm of Biel, Zlotnick & Stiles, P.A., in Northfield, New Jersey. “In every condominium or cooperative community, the unit owner does give up some property rights the owner would otherwise have in a stand-alone private residence. 

“Nevertheless, being given that right, the association must act reasonably, in a way that will protect the unit owner’s privacy and property. Generally, that means that the association should request the right of entry in advance at the convenience of the owner, so as to allow the owner the ability to be present. However, the association documents may allow entry under other defined circumstances. Thus, there is no legal requirement that the owner be present. Under such a circumstance, the reasonable course for the association to take would be to require that a staff member be present throughout the entire time a worker is present. As long as the association adheres to its own requirements, the association would not be liable for damage or theft occurring while the worker was there. The primary liability would be on the employer of the worker.”

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