While we all love to believe that bad things do not happen to good people, sometimes circumstances occur that make us throw up our hands and wonder what we have done to offend the gods and bring such pain down on our heads. Sometimes this occurs through the gods’ agents they call “neighbors” or “Association Boards”. If you have been fortunate to have avoided being put out of your condominium unit due to a flood caused by an upstairs neighbor’s overflowing bathtub or a water pipe in a wall bursting, count your blessings.
Loss of Use; Who pays for expenses when you are displaced?
If you have been one of the unfortunate to have been affected by water damage, mold intrusion, or a tree falling through your roof, you have likely had to stay at a hotel or a family member or friend’s home for a few days. When an Association’s contractors are remediating a flood or repairing some other unfortunate circumstance that has affected your unit, these out-of-unit stays can last weeks or even months. Who pays for these housing costs and all of the attendant extras that come with living out of a suitcase, depends on a number of factors and how you go about handling the matter.
Who should I contact first?
The first thing you should do when such circumstances present themselves is to contact the insurance agent for your individual unit owner’s insurance policy. The most common result of such positive action on your part is that this insurance policy will cover some amount of your housing and your meals while your unit is being repaired. Insurance companies will usually send a claims adjuster out to your unit to inspect the damage and then arrange for payment of a certain length of a stay at a hotel, motel, or long-term stay residence.
The most important element in keeping your insurance company happy with this arrangement is to be able to regularly show that the Association is making steady progress with the repairs so that the insurance company can see an end to its expenditures in the reasonably foreseeable future. Problems arise when Associations and/or its contractors delay in making repairs or problems arise that slow down the repairs.
At the same time that you are tendering a claim to your individual insurance provider, an Association should be tendering a claim to its master insurance policy provider to repair and/or remediate the underlying problems that are causing you to be put out of your unit, presuming that the problem emanates from and/or affects common elements or limited common elements of the condominium that your governing documents indicate are the Association’s responsibility to repair.
What if my association is unwilling to tender a claim?
Problems occur when there is an unwillingness by an Association Board to tender an insurance claim to its insurer or a dispute arises regarding whether the individual unit owner or the Association is responsible for paying the cost of the repairs. Additionally, many Associations have been updating their Declarations to shift the cost of repairs, and the payment of the master policy premiums, to unit owners who cause the underlying damage. Delving into the Association’s governing documents is necessary to guide the involved parties through the required process for making these determinations. Sometimes, it is helpful to obtain guidance from an attorney on these questions so that you understand the convoluted language that is often utilized to define and describe these issues in your governing documents.
For all concerned, knowing who is required to do what, and when it must be done, can save everyone time and money in the long run. Approaching lawyers to “fix the problem” after the Board and the unit owner(s) involved in the matter have already decided, correctly or incorrectly, who is “at fault” is most often much more expensive than proactively working together to find a solution before the problem has grown larger or much time has passed, thereby heightening the inconvenience to the affected unit owner(s).
When will I get back to normalcy?
As we all have experienced, coming home after a pleasant vacation usually brings with it a sense of relief from just being back in our familiar space and doing things according to our normal routines. When you have been forced out of your home due to an inability to carry on your normal daily activities, because you don’t have access to your kitchen or your bathroom, getting back into your home, and your normal routines, is all you can think about. Obtaining this “relief” as quickly as possible is the biggest factor in keeping the stress of the “temporary” displacement as low as possible.
Good communication with your community association manager, the Board, the contractors involved, and/or the insurance companies will help keep the stress of the situation under control.
My hope for all of you is that you have been blessed and are just returning from yet another vacation and reading this after unpacking your bags. If you have been forced to deal with the prospect of taking an “unplanned vacation,” keep the words of this article in mind to keep your “vacation” as short as possible.
By Michael D. Brandt