Q&A: Radiator Discussion

Q We are having a debate among shareholders about whether a radiator within the apartment is classified as “standard building equipment.” We understand that we need to pay to replace a valve that leaks. But if that leaky valve causes water damage to the unit below, do we or the co-op have to pay to fix or? The answer lies in is defining what is “standard building equipment.” Have you previously defined that for a client before?

—Concerned Shareholder

A “It appears that this question involves two issues: (a) whether the cooperative is responsible for repairing radiators located within apartments; and (b) if so, is the cooperative also responsible for water damage caused by a leaky radiator valve,” says attorney John LaGumina of the Purchase, New York-based LaGumina Law Firm, PLLC.

“Under most proprietary leases, the cooperative is generally responsible for maintaining and repairing all pipes and other utility conduits located inside of the walls themselves. Additionally, most cooperatives also take responsibility for the repair or replacement of any radiators located inside apartments since they are usually considered to be standard building equipment. Accordingly, based on the standard proprietary lease provision, the cooperative would have the responsibility to maintain and repair the radiator.

“However, this responsibility does not automatically make the cooperative responsible for paying for repairs to apartment interiors and furnishings that may be damaged by a leaky radiator valve. In other words, the cooperative does not insure that radiators will not leak into other apartments. Instead, the cooperative has a duty to promptly repair a radiator when a problem, such as a leaky valve, is brought to their attention.

“If the cooperative fulfills this obligation and makes the prompt repair, its remaining responsibilities are governed by the fire or casualty loss provisions in the proprietary lease. These provisions generally state that when there is damage due to an unforeseeable casualty such as a fire, the cooperative is responsible for making repairs to any damaged walls, floors, and ceilings of an apartment but not to any damaged furniture, fixtures, furnishings, equipment, decorations and personal property located in an apartment. In practice this usually means that the cooperative only needs to restore the plaster or sheet rock and perhaps a coat of primer but not any wall coverings or decorations. The affected shareholder in the apartment below would need to look to his or her own contents insurance, if purchased, for any damaged furniture, fixtures, furnishings, equipment, decorations and personal property located in an apartment.

“The exception to this would be if the cooperative were somehow negligent in promptly fixing the radiator leak once it had been brought to the cooperative's attention. In that case, the cooperative's liability could extend to damaged furnishings and personal property within an apartment. Similarly, if the shareholder in the apartment with the radiator failed to promptly bring the leaky valve to the cooperative's attention, there is a possibility that such failure may be considered negligent.”

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