By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
How would you feel if you were the unlucky homeowner in your condominium — the owner of a lower level unit, and the repeated site of sewage backup whenever the pipe gets clogged?
A Roy, Utah, homeowner in Rosewood Manor Condominium Association, Lorie Kerr, is that unlucky homeowner, and she’s extremely frustrated.
A she explains to Matt Gephardt of KUTV, her condo has been damaged twice by raw sewage in the past three years. The apparent cause of the sewage backups, according to the condo association, was a clog in the line caused by some foreign object flushed down the toilet from one of the upstairs neighbors.
It’s another hazard of multifamily living, one that is especially troublesome if you happen to own your apartment rather than rent it.
That’s because Kerr’s condo association is not willing to cover the high cost to clean up the homeowner’s unit, reportedly more than $7,000.
According to the report, following a sewage backup in 2015, Rosewood Manor’s insurance and Kerr’s personal insurance companies covered the cost of cleanup. But since a second sewage backup occurred a few months ago, the condo association has been unresponsive. And, as you can see from the video linked below, the homeowner has been living with an unfinished space for months.
Also according to the KUTV report, Kerr was not the individual who flushed an “inappropriate object” down the toilet. So why should she or her insurance company have to bear 100% of the cost to clean up and repair the damage to her home?
Get Gephardt: Clogged shared sewer pipe leaves lowest owner stuck with mess, bill
by Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair
Monday, September 24th 2018
ROY, UT — (KUTV) — If somebody else was responsible for damage to you home, who should have to pay for it? A Roy woman was stuck with the bill after she says her condo complex left her home flooded with raw sewage.
When the sewer line at the Rosewood Manor became clogged, it became a disgusting problem for Lorie Kerr, whose apartment sits at the lowest elevation.
Hundreds of gallons of her neighbors’ raw sewage flooded her place. Months later, the damage remains. She says her homeowner’s association is refusing to pay for the mess or even let her file a claim with its insurance company.
Richard W. Jones, a lawyer for the Rosewood Manor Condominium Association, writes in a letter to Get Gephardt that Kerr’s accusation that she’s not being allowed to file a claim is “unfounded.” Jones writes that Rosewood isn’t refusing to cover the damage, rather, he says that “insurance only comes into play after the … deductible is met.” That deductible for the HOA is $25,000.
Jones says Kerr should file a claim with her personal homeowner’s insurance.
Of course, this report raises more questions than it answers. Did Rosewood Manor file a claim with their insurance provider or not?
Was the claim officially denied, because the annual deductible of $25,000 has not been met for 2018? Or did the condo association opt not to file a claim in the first place, counting on Kerr’s personal insurance policy to cover the full cost of damages?
When a condo association files an insurance claim, the deductible becomes an expense of the condo association, therefore the cost is to be shared in common by all members of the association, just as the sewer line itself is shared by multiple owners of condominium units.
Depending on how it’s organized, the condo association might consist of a single multifamily building or dozens of buildings. Regardless of whether or not your condo unit is affected by a sewage back up (or any other damage involving common property), if you’re a member of the condo association affected, you are responsible to pay your share of the common expenses, including any deductible not covered by the association’s insurance.
If the damage to your unit can be traced to one particular unit owner (or tenants of the unit owner), then the condo association’s insurance company can attempt to reocver its costs from that unit owner’s insurance company, or from the unit owner directly.
If the condo association’s insurance company denies the claim, there’s still no reason why the condo association cannot pursue the unit owner responsible for the damage.
Whatever happened at Rosewood Manor, it’s unfair to the homeowner. Even if Kerr is reimbursed for by her insurance company for paying out-of-pocket expenses, her future premiums are likely to increase because of this second claim within three years.
One of the reasons why a condo association carries insurance is to cover loss from unexpected events such as a sewage backup. The unit owner’s insurance policy is meant to cover the cost of personal belongings and interior repairs.
But when the damage to an owner’s condo is caused by the association’s negligence or by a neighbor’s irresponsible behavior, that’s when the headaches begin. It’s common for the insurance companies of each party involved to deny their responsibility for paying the claim, in an to attempt to shift the burden to someone else’s insurance policy.
It’s yet another hidden cost of owning property in an association-governed community, especially in a multifamily community.
And, with this kind of stress, living at Rosewood Manor is certainly far from “carefree.”