Condominium living can be an attractive form of real property ownership. Coupled with owning your own personal unit, you may have access to a pool, fitness center, tennis court, clubhouse, and other amenities which you personally do not have to maintain. The social camaraderie and secure environment are added perks. But all these benefits come with a potentially problematic aspect of condominium living…. SHARING. Someone’s floor is someone else’s ceiling; someone’s bedroom wall is someone else’s living room wall; someone’s desired use of the pool, fitness center, tennis court or other amenities may be hindered by someone else’s use of those shared amenities. With such a close, shared environment, inevitably someone will have difficulty playing well with others and will violate the playground rules.
Most condominium owner grievances fall into two categories: (i) nuisance, or (ii) property damage. Nuisance generally involves one owner’s annoying or offensive behavior, such as excessive noise or aesthetic issues. Property damage may involve damage to another owner’s unit or to common areas, and may result from one owner’s failure to maintain, or negligent use of, their particular unit, or actively causing damage to another unit or shared amenity. Whatever the nature of the grievance, the following suggestions might help with successfully resolving it.
Review the Condominium Documents. Customary condominium documents (“Condo Docs”) include the Declaration, Association Bylaws and Association Rules and Regulations. Most Condo Docs have provisions which define nuisance, unit and common area maintenance responsibilities, repair obligations, and grievance procedures. The first step in resolving a grievance with another unit owner is to carefully review all Condo Docs to understand the rights, duties and responsibilities of the egregious unit owner, the aggrieved unit owner and the Association which attach to the specific wrong involved. Whatever the nature of the grievance, following any notice and grievance resolution procedures proscribed by the Condo Docs is critical to obtaining a successful remedy. Association officers and directors owe fiduciary duties to unit owners, which might involve personal culpability for failing to properly respond to a grievance.
Notify Your Insurance Carrier. If the particular wrong has resulted in structural damage to your unit (such as a plumbing issue with an upstairs unit damaging a lower unit), it may be advisable to file a claim with your insurance carrier. Obviously, the party responsible for the damage will have the ultimate culpability and other insurance claims may be involved. However, you do not want to violate any notice requirements under your specific homeowner’s policy. Ultimate responsibility will depend not only on applicable Florida law, but also the Condo Docs. This is why I recommend reviewing Condo Docs as the first step. For instance, though damage flowing from an upper unit plumbing issue may seem to be the responsibility of the upper unit owner, if the damage was caused by defects with the main plumbing lines installed by the developer to service the upper unit, as opposed to fixtures installed by such unit owner, it is possible the Condo Docs and/or Florida law impose the liability for providing a remedy upon the Association, and not the upper unit owner.
Speak with the Other Unit Owner. It is amazing the problems which are resolved through simple conversation.
Contact an Attorney. Unless an attorney is needed to assist with taking the first recommended step, this should be the route chosen when all other recommended actions have failed. Most Condo Docs include provisions which award costs and attorney fees should you prevail in any litigation pursued to remedy your grievance.
Though many of the discussion points listed above apply to other homeowner association arrangements, the primary focus involved condominium ownership and condominium associations. If you need assistance with understanding your rights, or responsibilities, under condominium or other homeowners’ association documents, or with resolving owner disputes, at Bob Bible Law, we have the knowledge and over 30 years experience to help you navigate these issues.