Q&A: Neighbor’s Leaky Radiator

Q. Recently I had a leak from a faulty radiator coming from the co-op unit above me that damaged a part of my ceiling – roughly a 30” x 40” area. The superintendent fixed the leaky radiator, and some time later scraped the water-damaged part of the ceiling. The building agent told me, by way of the super, that she wasn’t going to allow the super to further scrape, since it is all dry now, spackle and sand. She wants me to call my insurance company.

This is the third time in 28 years that this has happened in the same spot. The two other times, someone came to scrape, spackle and sand. I was told then by the managing agent that this is all the co-op is required to do. Now I’m told to call my insurance company. The agent told the super to not do anything more.

I looked at my proprietary lease and house rules. All it says is that I’m required to maintain my apartment; nothing about repairs by the co-op for damages incurred by radiators inside the walls (which is the co-op’s responsibility to maintain). I thought I read somewhere that at another time the co-op is responsible to repair damages caused by pipes, etc., located in the walls of the building. That the co-op is responsible to repair the damaged walls and floor, but not paint them.

I emailed the agent and board members asking them to show me where it is written that they are not responsible to repair damages in a shareholder’s apartment that was caused by a faulty radiator in the walls, for which they are responsible to maintain.

Where can I find this information like on on a boilerplate proprietary lease? I don’t expect the managing agent to get back to me. According to the proprietary lease, the board is not supposed to respond to my request. In the meantime, where and how can I get answers? Who is responsible for repairing my damaged ceiling?

                                       —Seeking Redress

A. “The inquirer’s question requires a careful review of his or her proprietary lease,” says Mindy Stern, a partner at the New York City law firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas LLP.  “Every proprietary lease typically contains clauses describing the co-op’s and shareholder’s respective responsibilities for maintenance, repair and replacement of equipment such as radiators, and stating whether the co-op’s duty to repair apartment interiors after leaks are fixed extends to painting and other cosmetic work inside the units. 

“Lease provisions regarding this allocation of responsibility vary significantly, so without being able to review the inquirer’s lease I cannot answer his or her specific questions.  But I encourage the inquirer to review the table of contents to the lease looking for clauses titled something like ‘Damage to Apartment or Building,’ ‘Lessor’s Repairs,’ and ‘Lessee’s Repairs’ to point the inquirer in the right direction.  

“It is unclear from the inquirer’s description if the lease in this case requires shareholders to maintain radiators, and to maintain individual general liability and property damage insurance to cover what the building’s insurance does not. That said, I recommend that the inquirer confer with his or her own insurance broker before filing any insurance claim.  The claim would likely be subject to a deductible, and if the deductible is higher than the cost of repainting the unit, it may not be worthwhile to file it. In addition, the inquirer may not wish to file a claim for a relatively modest amount that may trigger an increase in annual premiums. I also suggest that the inquirer speak with the neighbor whose leaking radiator is causing these issues. If the neighbor has insurance, the neighbor could either file a claim with the neighbor’s carrier, or personally reimburse the inquirer if the neighbor’s deductible also is greater than the repair costs incurred by the inquirer.”  

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