Water damage and related liability has always been — and always will be — a big issue for co-op buildings and their shareholders. Few other issues are as complicated and potentially volatile as the challenge of tracing the leak, repairing it, and then sorting out the financial and legal ramifications of the problem.
The issue has taken on even more importance with all that has been written and discussed in recent years about mold. It does not take much water or moisture to start a mold contamination, and even if there is no mold, water can be very destructive to plaster and to furnishings — not to mention the upset it causes to the occupants of a building. As a co-op attorney, I frequently receive calls from co-op boards, property managers, and shareholders concerning the property damage and health issues associated with water penetration. They need guidance and direction on how to manage the situation to bring about a resolution.
Get to the Root of the Problem
Since water “travels,” behind walls and between flues, the damage it causes can be extensive and may show up in unusual places. Leaks from roofs can seep into apartments several floors below. There may be water damage from the building owner having work done on the roof or from a shareholder or tenant doing renovation work on the roof. Rooftop greenhouses are notorious for leaks if they are not properly maintained.
Most boards do not know what to do when there is a major water problem. Calls may be placed to the managing agent, but the problem may remain unresolved for a long period of time — with frustration growing exponentially as time wears on. If the problem remains unresolved, eventually everyone runs to an attorney, and this often causes the respective parties to clam up, rather than working together towards a resolution.
That said however, having an attorney in the picture should not automatically mean that litigation is the final outcome. Attorneys who are knowledgeable in the area may be very helpful in guiding the parties to a more amicable resolution of the problem.