Q&A: Leak Costs

Q I live on the top floor of a co-op. Over the past three years water seeping through our parapet wall did considerable damage to one room in my apartment. Repairs were finally made. The walls and ceiling took two days to plaster and the painting took another day. Who is responsible for the cost of the plastering and the painting?

—Finally Dry in Manhattan

A “The answer will lie in the letter writer’s proprietary lease,” says Andrew B. Freedland, Esq. of Rosen & Livingston in Manhattan. “Typically, proprietary leases provide that a tenant shareholder shall keep the ‘interior’ of the apartment in good repair and shall do all of the painting and decorating required for the apartment. Thus, the cooperative is responsible for the plaster walls and beyond, and the tenant shareholder is responsible for the painted surface inward. In such a scenario the cooperative would be responsible for the plaster and the letter writer would be responsible for the painting. Furthermore, most leases specifically provide that the cooperative is not liable for decorative elements. Paint is considered decorative. Moreover, if the leak caused damage to other furnishings in the apartment the tenant shareholder would be responsible for those as well.

“Many cooperatives have voluntarily adopted the policy that if damage is caused as a result of a building system the cooperative will pay for painting. Based on the question, this particular cooperative probably does not have such a policy, but, the letter writer may request that the board repaint the damaged area at the cooperative’s expense as a gesture of goodwill because the damage to the apartment was a result of a building system failure (in this case of the exterior façade). The letter writer should also note that he may be able to recover all or a portion of the cost under his homeowner’s policy, less any deductible.”

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