One of the most important things to understand as a member of a condo or HOA is how responsibility for maintaining and repairing various building systems is divided between individual unit owners and the association at large.
When it comes to most buildings systems like HVAC or security, the responsibility for maintenance and repair falls to the association itself. But for other systems, it’s not so clear-cut. Especially for elements like pipes and radiators that are part of a community-wide system, but which terminate in private homes. For these elements, responsibility for repair and maintenance generally depend on the type of ownership and the community’s governing documents, and can vary significantly from one HOA to another.
These variations can be in the language of the documents or in the policies adopted by boards regarding repairs, says Karim G. Kaspar, an attorney who represents more than a dozen New Jersey condos as a senior counsel with the Roseland-based law firm of Lowenstein Sandler. “That’s why it’s vital to clarify who is liable for repairs, upkeep and maintenance for all building systems before something happens and you’re left footing the bill for the damage,” he says. “When you look at the big picture, generally speaking the common elements are defined in the master deed and that controls who has responsibility for those repairs.”
Up to the Association
Looking at the governing documents is the easiest way to know what the association is responsible for, but the general rule of thumb follows the inside/outside the wall model.
“The big pipes for plumbing, and the main electrical panels that are in the walls or in a common area that control the power to the building are usually the association’s responsibility,” Kaspar continues. “If there is a swimming pool or other amenities, those would be the association’s responsibility as well when it came to their wiring and plumbing.”