Water damage in condo buildings

Date Published : May-23-2024

Written By : Kim Brown

The irony. Your condo building stretches 20 storeys high, but it took less than 20 minutes for your floor to be engulfed by water.  

When a pipe bursts in a condo building, it doesn’t take long for the water to fill up hallways, stairwells and individual units. The incident may end quickly, but the effects can be felt for weeks after the water has been cleaned up.

  

Table of contents

Water damage is unfortunately common in condo communities. Moreover, water damage can be very costly to repair. TD Insurance Home reported that 40% of claims are related to water damage. Between all of the pipes, toilets, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers, there are countless opportunities for water leaks to occur. Consequently, it is not all that surprising that water damage is a recurring issue for condo communities.  

  

What are the top causes of condo floods? 

Discounting natural disasters, condo floods are usually caused by appliances, plumbing issues or poor maintenance. John, owner of SELECT Restoration Services, sees the impact of these issues all of the time.

  

Plumbing issues

Leaking or burst pipes within condo units or in common areas can lead to significant water damage. This may occur due to aging pipes, corrosion, high water pressure, or poor installation.

Leaking pipes that are connected to steam boilers have also been known to cause issues for condos. These types of leaks would be detected through the boiler’s water meter which would show that the system is losing water.

  

Appliance malfunctions

Faulty appliances such as water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators can leak or overflow, causing water damage. Regular maintenance and inspections of these appliances are essential for preventing such incidents.

  

 HVAC system issues

Problems with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, including leaking pipes, clogged drains, or malfunctioning condensation lines, can result in water damage if not promptly addressed.

  

Poor maintenance

It is essential for management and owners to employ preventive measures, including regular inspections, maintenance, and prompt repairs, to minimize the risk of floods and mitigate potential damages.

John pointed out that older buildings are often more susceptible to leaks and floods. Although mature buildings have solid foundations, the aging infrastructure, lack of modern building standards, and deferred maintenance all contribute to a flood risk.

  

Where are leaks most likely to start?

Leaks are more likely to start in individual units, mainly because there are many plumbing parts and fixtures inside each condo. Water damage incidents often result from wear and tear, improper installation, or lack of maintenance. 

  

Who is responsible?

Like so many condo issues, there is no simple answer when it comes to attributing responsibility for damage caused by water. Some types of damage will be covered by the corporation or association, but at other times, the owner will be expected to pay. It all depends on how the flood started, how much damage was caused, and the condominium’s governing documents.

Generally speaking, the corporation or association is responsible for repairing damage to common elements. It is usually expected to pay for problems caused by leaks in roofs, or walls shared between two units.

Owners may be expected to repair damage that occurred within their units if the leak originated from inside of the unit. However, in cases where the leak started outside of a unit, the owner could be expected to cover all costs related to damage to their possessions, and any improvements or additions to the unit, while the condo’s insurance would pay for the cost of repairing the damage to the unit.  But again, it all depends on how the flood started, the extent of the damage, and the language in the governing documents.

  

Insurance

Insurance plays a big role in condo floods. Condo associations in Florida must maintain a master insurance coverage policy that protects all portions of the property as originally installed, or replaced with like-kind and quality materials, per the original plans. Likewise, corporations in Ontario are obligated to have insurance for the building, and each unit, against major perils like fire, water leaks, vandalism, and more. Similar requirements are in place for all provinces and states.

Condo owners are not always legally required to obtain insurance, but the condo’s governing documents, as well as lenders, may require owners to purchase insurance. Regardless of whether or not it is necessary, it is in every owner’s best interest to have insurance. Should they be impacted by water damage, even if it was not their fault, an uninsured condo owner could end up paying thousands of dollars to replace items and repair their condo.    

Note that if you live in Canada, most condo insurance policies do not include protection from damage caused by sewer backups or overland water. However, sewer backup and overland water coverage are often available as add-ons.

If water destroys common property then the condo’s master insurance policy should cover repair costs. That being said, some of the expenses can still be passed on to owners.

For example, if the water damage exceeds the condo’s insurance deductible, there may be a debate about whether the incident should be claimed on the master policy, or passed on to owners in the form of a special assessment. Claiming water damage loss on the insurance policy equates to higher premiums, or a higher water damage deductible. Either way, owners end up paying more money to cover the damage caused by the water.

  

How costly is a leak or flood?

Costs associated with water damage vary significantly depending on several factors, including:

  • the time it takes to stop the water
  • where the leak is located
  • the extent of the damage
  • the size of the unit or common area
  • how much insurance coverage is available

The cost of a flooded condo can be substantial, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, or more, if the damage occurred in multiple units and common areas.

One condo owner was devastated when she was told she would need to pay a $27,000 insurance bill after a supply line for her toilet came off. The flood caused damage to units below, and even though the owner and the corporation had insurance, the condo’s deductible had increased to $50,000.

  

What should you do when a leak is discovered?

  

Stop the leak

If a leak starts in a unit, the owner must contact an emergency plumber as soon as possible. Then they should call the condo manager or front desk.

If someone notices a leak coming from an unknown source, they should be instructed to call the condo manager or front desk. If it seems like a pipe might have burst, they may even contact the fire department. Firefighters can usually locate the water shut-off valve, and will likely arrive at the building more quickly than a plumber.

  

Document the damage

Once a professional has stopped the leak, document the water damage. This can help when submitting an insurance claim. 

   

Call your insurance provider

Report the incident and offer as many details about the source of the leak or flood, extent of damage, and steps that have been taken to reduce further damage.  

  

Call a water damage restoration company

Even though the initial damage has been done, additional damage can occur if water is left to sit. Water damage restoration professionals will remove all standing water from the floors, and then remove moisture from the affected areas. Water damage restoration may also involve drywall removal, carpet cleaning, wood floor repair, odor control, air duct cleaning and mold removal; it’s not a job that most of us can do ourselves.  

  

Find a place to stay

If the water has made a condo unit uninhabitable, the owner will need to find a place to live temporarily. Their insurance may cover the costs if they need to book a hotel room for a week.

  

What can condo communities do to minimize the risk of a flood?

While some water accidents are hard to prevent, owners and condo managers take some of the following steps to minimize the risk of a flood:

  • Develop and maintain comprehensive emergency preparedness plans that outline procedures for responding to flooding and water damage
  • Implement a schedule for regular inspections of the condo’s plumbing systems, including pipes, valves, and fittings, to identify and address any leaks or potential issues before they escalate 
  • Offer information to owners about how to properly care for appliances
  • Install stainless steel braided lines instead of rubber hoses on washing machines and large appliances
  • Consider water sensors or a water shut-off device if you are concerned about recurring leaks
  • Check to see if your personal insurance coverage is adequate to protect against water damage-related risks
  • Review and update the building’s insurance policies regularly to ensure they provide sufficient coverage for potential losses

  

Conclusion

Water damage can cost a condominium tens of thousands of dollars, and even with insurance, owners often end up paying some of the bill. As such, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep up with regular maintenance for plumbing, appliances and components. Moreover, leaks should be addressed as soon as they are discovered.

If a water accident does occur, figuring out who is responsible isn’t always a straightforward process. But instead of jumping to conclusions, boards and owners are encouraged to work together and use the governing documents to guide them. 

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