Put That In Your Pipe Who Is Responsible for Maintenance Damages?

The only thing more aggravating than having a pipe burst in your co-op in the middle of the night may be the question of "Who is responsible for the repair?" The proprietary lease generally governs who is responsible, and different leases will have different language. It seems easy, right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case.     

Generally, whether a shareholder is liable is dependent on the location of the leaking pipe. This is not always clear-cut, however—and the answer as to whether the shareholder is responsible is sometimes ambiguous. Any ambiguities in the proprietary lease are construed against the corporation, which drafted the lease.

Shareholder or Building Board?

Generally, proprietary leases provide the shareholder is responsible for repair of pipes within the interior four corners of the walls, ceiling or floors of the apartment. The corporation is liable for within the walls, if the issue in question is part of a building-wide system or within the common area. Conflicts may arise where the pipes are attached to fixtures inside the unit or if the shareholder made an installation of some kind inside the walls. Since a co-op involves a landlord/tenant-like relationship, the statutory warranty of habitability also applies. This warranty of habitability cannot be waived by means of the proprietary lease; nor can the Multiple Dwelling Law. If there are three or more residential units in the building, it is a multiple dwelling. For reference, Multiple Dwelling Law Section 78 provides that, "the owner of a multiple dwelling is responsible for keeping the dwelling in good repair."

Who is responsible for a repair? In Goode v. Bay Tower Apartments Corp., a water pipe burst that had been concealed in an apartment wall. The building's pipes were known to be in a deteriorated condition. The building had a history of not attending to routine maintenance. The tenant alleged another pipe burst in her last apartment. So did other pipes in the building. The landlord made repairs after the fact and did not perform routine maintenance. The court found that the co-op had actual notice of the deteriorated condition of the building pipes and constructive notice of the apartment’s deteriorated plumbing. Negligence was found under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. Latin for ('the thing speaks for itself'), this gives rise to a permissible inference of negligence, which must be rebutted. There is a presumption of prima facie negligence from the circumstances.

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2 Comments

  • Trousdell is an distressing case. It was known throughout the community that the plumbing and electricity is in a deteriortated condition. Once her pipes burst she called her insurance company and cleaned the apartment. I do not understand why the coop went after her to begin with. Not only did they drag her through court to fight about the whether the leak was from the stem or the hot water valve when the board knew very well the condition of the plumbing, they then had to go after her to throw her out of her home of 15 years. (She used her maintenance payment to pay her attorney) The coop attorney had unlimited funds since his money came from the board who just continued to write him checks. She never had a chance because of the judicial system. The coop has unlimited fund and the shareholder, no how meritoreous the cause of action simply can't sustain a viable lawsuit. I think all shareholders should be wary about about becoming the target of a viscious board being counceled by an attorey who is interested in nothing more than billable hours. Seems to me that the only person who benefited was the lawyer. Everyone else, including the shareholders who had to pay his bill lost. Not a great commentary on the judicial system.
  • My building had to go into the walls and floor to fix a problem below me. They fixed the pipes and the ceiling of the guy under me, but want me (and/or my family) to pay for filling the wall and floor up with cement, and for gluing pieces of tile back, also buying a slice of marble broken. I'm also expected to pay for a new sink (as the old one didn't fit anymore) and the installation of that, without my being issued an estimate for the work or a bill. What's up with that? My insurance company has a $500 deductible, so I am supposed to eat the loss even though this happened due to negligence. One by one, lead pipes are giving way. Now I learn, mold in the bathroom spreading over into the living room is my expense. Am I required to fix this BEFORE the violation issued about the roof (cause of the moisture) is attended to? I bought a new sink myself. Isn't that good enough of a loss to me for being a good neighbor and letting plumbers go through my wall and floor? Shouldn't a sink pulled out be put back, even if it isn't the same sink and fits better?