Top 7 water leak locations for condos

April 30, 2013

Recently, a water leak was discovered in a high rise condominium which caused a costly amount of damage to a unit that was recently remodeled.  Here are some of the areas to constantly check to make sure any water leak your unit has can be addressed quickly.

1. Hot water heater/tank-Hot water heaters are a constant source of water leaks.  Tanks can rupture, fittings can be poorly installed and with three lines going in to and out of the tank, this is one of the biggest sources of water leaks in a condominium.  Because hot water heaters can hold upwards of 50 gallons the damage that can be caused is significant. If your hot water heater is ten years old or older, consider having it checked by a plumber.

2. Ice maker lines-Because ice maker lines are typically out of sight, out of mind, noticing a leak rarely occurs until another problem occurs such as a buckled baseboard.  Pull out the refrigerator or shine a flashlight behind the refrigerator to make sure your not collecting water.

3. Sinks-Service lines to sinks can be a source of leaks, typically around fittings.  As pipes get older they can sometimes develop stress cracks which can develop pin holes where water can leak out.

4. Tubs/Showers-Drains over time will develop cracks or were improperly installed to begin causing water to spill out of the drain and move elsewhere.  Caulking around fixtures can become old and deteriorate allowing water to get behind fixtures.  Check drains periodically and address any old and deteriorating caulk around faucets.

5. Latent defects-latent defects have to do with original building construction and usually are related to the plumbing that services the entire building.  During the real estate boom, buildings were being constructed at a record rate, especially in coastal Florida.  With the speed these buildings were coming out of the ground, something was bound to be missed.  These service line problems usually manifested within the first five years of a buildings existence but could sometimes take longer.  To identify a water service line problem, be aware of the water pressure on higher floors.  If for some reason you find you have water pressure one day and none the next, contact your manager to have it checked out.

6.  Units adjacent to you and above you-These leaks will sometimes manifest at the baseboard instead of on the ceiling.  Check the baseboards around the perimeter of your unit and around the water service areas (consider that the unit directly above you has the same floor plan as you).  Units above and over also can produce leaks causing water intrusion to your unit.

7. A/C condensation lines-Your air conditioner is really a big dehumidifier.  As air cycles through the unit, it’s dried out but the water has to go somewhere.   That somewhere is the condensation line.  These condensation lines become plugged with mold, mildew, whatnot and cause this water to back up and overflow into your unit.  Pour a capful or two of bleach down the condensate line to get rid of mildew and mold each month.

Some of the tell tale signs of water leaks are of course water or wet spots on your floor.  But also cool, damp areas along walls. Run your hands along walls to detect a cool spot, usually 12 inches above the floor.  Other signs of water leaks are discoloration on a wall, crown molding and/or baseboards pulling away from walls and caulk joints developing cracks.

Being vigilant about water leaks can save you and your neighbors a very costly repair of flooring, walls, cabinets and baseboards.


Delinquencies Part 2

April 25, 2013

We discussed last week the collection abilities of the association against delinquent owners. While most Boards would love to have the ability to collect all of the delinquent assessments through a court order, the reality is that most associations, be it condominium or HOAs, will have to pick and choose which owners to go after.

This can become an unpleasant ordeal as there are some that would be undone by the collection of unpaid assessments and fees.  However, you can do a little sleuthing to determine who would be able to withstand a collection action.  With regard to bank foreclosures, it is best to seek out the advice of a real estate or financial attorney.  There have been recent rulings in the State of Florida that have made collecting unpaid assessments from bank owned foreclosures that are not exactly straight forward.

Things to consider when picking a homeowner to proceed with would be; a) has the owner made any attempt to pay their association fees, b) Does the owner live a flashy life-vacations, boats, new cars, c) Does the owner violate other parts of the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions or Restrictions?  These are all considerations to make when choosing what homeowner to pursue collection action against.  Do you really want to be the association that goes after the single mother working two jobs to support her family?  Because we all know that action results in news crews and inflammatory stories, right or wrong.

The tendency in most communities is when the word gets out the association collected unpaid assessments through garnishment of wages or accounts, the delinquency rate among those that are able to pay assessments will begin to decrease.  Once the association Board of Directors begins to put some teeth behind their collection efforts, word will spread.

In addition, as a member of the Board of Directors (you should consult an attorney) but there is no obligation to pursue collection action against all owners simultaneously as the courts realize that there are limits to what funds an association can apply towards these activities.

Delinquent Owners and their impact on the association

April 17, 2013

One of the things that can undo an association is its delinquencies.  During the mortgage crisis, delinquencies were the cause of significant “cutting back” in association expenditures because the money was simply not there.  Unfortunately now if a bank has foreclosed on a property, those past assessments that went unpaid are also, most likely, gone.  If your association has a high delinquency rate you may have noticed that some services have been cut such as pool maintenance being performed twice per week instead of three times or the common area grass is not as green as it’s been in the past.

Collection of past due assessments costs money.  It’s not as easy as bombarding a homeowner with endless collection letters requesting payment.  To have any teeth to the association’s collection process, a number of things have to happen.  First, reminder letters then collection letters should be sent.  Then the filing of liens by the association against the property.  This requires an attorney’s blessing and the costs of filing and recording with the county Clerk of the Court.  At this point, the association can pursue a few different options. One option is the foreclosing of the property, eviction of the owner and the association assuming their rights to the property.  But by assuming the rights to the property, the association also assumes payment of the mortgage.  A second option is the pursuit of a Final Summary Judgement which will allow the association’s attorney to pursue collection actions such as garnishment of wages or checking accounts.  This will possibly get the association some of the money its owed but not all of it.

A question that is asked routinely is “Why can’t we just publish the names of the delinquent homeowners?”  Because this can lead to legal action against the Board of Directors and association by the delinquent owner in the event the financial circumstances have changed in the time the names are published.  Check out this blog post by Donna DiMaggio Berger of Katzman, Garfinkel and Berger, an HOA attorney.

However, as an owner you are entitled to know how many owners are delinquent and what the total amount is outstanding. This information can provide owners with a clearer understanding of the financial picture of the association.


Why doesn’t the HOA cut the grass….

April 11, 2013

or paint the house or perform all the other myriad of maintenance items that are causing a home to look bad.

While in a perfect world it would be nice if every home in the neighborhood had a properly maintained lawn, fresh paint on the exterior every few years and a nice fence, the reality is things happen.  Financial hardships occur or medical hardships.  You just never know what has happened to your neighbor. Recently, it’s been the mortgage crisis that has hit people the most.

While an association manager I heard more than once, “Why doesn’t the association just go cut the grass and bill the homeowner.  Isn’t that what we pay for?”  The simple answer is it would be considered trespassing.  While no one wants to be the one living next to this eyesore, the reality of association living is that it could potentially cost the association thousands of dollars in legal fees just to make someone cut their grass.  The process goes something like this-manager writes a letter informing a homeowner the lawn needs maintaining, homeowner does nothing, manager sends second letter stating the lawn needs maintaining, homeowner does nothing,manager send a final notice and still the homeowner does nothing.  The Board of Directors at this point must make a decision whether or not to pursue action against the homeowner.

Should the Board of Directors decide to pursue legal action against the homeowner for not maintaining his lawn the process is to contact the associations attorney.  The attorney sends a letter stating that the homeowner must maintain his lawn or face legal action.  Still nothing.  This continues for a while until the Board of Directors decides that they want definite action. The matter is brought before a judge and he issues a Final Summary Judgement for the homeowner to properly maintain his lawn.  This may or may not get someone’s attention finally but the reality is the association just spent a bunch of money, a portion of which was yours, to maybe get a lawn cut, a few thousand dollars in legal fees.   The question to ask was it all worth it in the end.

Paving Part 2

April 4, 2013

If the time has come to replace asphalt parking lots, usually after 15 years or so, research companies in your area and obtain three to five competitive bids for the project.  Petroleum and cement products are commodities and can fluctuate in price so once the decision has been made to repave it’s important to proceed in a timely manner.  Once you’ve received your bids check each one closely to make sure each company is providing the same services.  Ask questions like is removal and disposal of old asphalt included, how long for the project to be completed, parking space striping, warranty, etc.

As a Board member, it is your responsibility to communicate clearly to the owners what is expected of them.  If you have several short term or long term renters, make sure the management company or rental company knows and has relayed to their tenants that the project will be starting on “x” day.  Most paving projects have to be completed in phases to accommodate parking for residents.

In residential communities, this is the time to possibly contract with a civil engineer to inspect curb inlets and stormwater drainage. If you notice as you drive through your community, depressions around curb inlets (where the water flows off the street into a box) you could have a failing underdrain.  This is a problem that will not resolve on its own and has to be repaired by a utility contractor.  The civil engineer will have contacts for companies that are knowledgeable about drainage repairs.

In addition to drainage repairs, check your concrete curbs to ensure they are in good order. Broken curbs are a source of liability if left unattended.  Your paving contractor can possibly repair these areas or contract it to a concrete vendor for repair.

Notify everyone remotely connected with ownership or occupancy about the project.  Contractors working for homeowners are to be included as well.  If you notice that a vehicle is park on the street or in the parking lot that hasn’t moved in some time find out who it belongs to and get it removed.  Most communities, residential or condominium, will have rules in place for parking and the removal of vehicles as well.

As a homeowner, your responsibility is to be patient.  This is a capital improvement project that should be done to maintain the aesthetic integrity of your community.  Everyone will be inconvenienced at some point so plan accordingly.  Once completed you won’t have to be inconvenienced again for some time.

The process for repaving an area is pretty straightforward.  The top coat of asphalt is milled off and removed.  A tack coat is applied to the subsurface (hardpan) after holes have been filled and areas leveled out of the subsurface, and the asphalt topcoat is then put in place, packed and rolled out.  Once the area has been paved and is dry, parking lot striping is then applied.  Once the asphalt has cured (three to six months) you can begin your preventative maintenance program of sealcoating routinely.

While we live here in this Florida paradise, the things that make it great, the sun, the warm weather and occasional rain, takes its toll on buildings and parking lots.  Routine maintenance of buildings and paved areas is essential to keeping your community looking great.