Q&A: Who Pays for Water Leak?

Q I own a cooperative apartment in Brooklyn and I’m hoping you could offer an opinion on a plumbing issue. In my bathroom I have  two water valves protruding from the wall that control the hot and cold water  flow to the sink and the tub. The problem is when I close the hot water value  it doesn’t close the water flow completely. I need to repair my faucet and can’t do it without stopping the water flow completely. I reviewed my proprietary  lease and it says “fixture maintenance is the responsibility of the lessee” but doesn’t elaborate on what is considered a fixture. It’s going to be a good amount of work to change the valve because the plumber has  to shut down the building’s water, remove my vanity and break into the wall to change the valve. Do you  think replacing the valve would be the responsibility of the cooperative or  would it be my responsibility and therefore at my cost?  

 —Wishy-Washy  

A “To determine whether the valve repair is your responsibility, you must (1)  review the sections of your proprietary lease and bylaws dealing with  maintenance and repair; (2) review the sections of your proprietary lease and  bylaws that define the "Unit;" (3) determine the definition of "fixture;" and  (4) determine the cause of the valve defect,” explains Leni Morrison Cummins, an attorney and member with the New York City law firm of Cozen O'Connor.

 “Most proprietary leases and bylaws define responsibility for maintenance and  repair in terms of what is included in the definition of the “Unit." Usually, any maintenance or repair within the “Unit” is the sole responsibility of the shareholder. A common way to define “Unit” is “the area measured horizontally from the outermost face of the exterior wall  bounding the unit to the inner most wall of the unit separating the unit from other units and the corridor.” This definition may be qualified by “including, but not limited to” followed by a string of "Unit" components (which commonly include "fixtures").  

 “If “fixture” is not defined in the bylaws or proprietary lease, you can look to outside  definitions. According to the 6th Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, a fixture is “a personal chattel substantially affixed to the land, but which may afterward be  lawfully removed therefrom by the party affixing it, or his representative,  without the consent of the owner of the freehold.” A mechanical valve that is tied into the building’s plumbing system and cannot be removed by a shareholder, will not be considered  a “fixture.” Therefore, the fact that the term “fixture” is included in the definition of “Unit” will not necessarily mean that it is your responsibility to fix the defective  valve.  

 “Therefore, you should ask your plumber or professional to identify the source of  the defect in order to determine if the source is within the definition of  "Unit." If the source is the plumbing that is behind the walls, and not the  faucet or value inside of the four walls of the “Unit,” then, based on the definition of “Unit” above, it is the cooperative’s responsibility to repair the valve defect. If however, the source of the leak  is the actual faucet or valve within the four walls of the “Unit,” then, based on the definition of "Unit" above, it is likely your responsibility  to make the repairs.  

 “If the repairs are ultimately your responsibility, make sure you follow the  detailed protocol outlined in your bylaws and proprietary lease for repairs or  alterations to ensure that your professional and the scope of work are approved  by the cooperative board.”      

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Comments

  • IF YOUR PIPING IS BEHIND THE WALL OF YOUR APT.,IT IS THE RESPOSIBILITY OF CO OP MGT TO REPAIR THIS AS TO THE SPECS OF THEIR BUILDING SPECS. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY THING THAT IS OUTSIDE THE WALL. SAME GOES FOR CEILING WATER LEAKS.