Who is Responsible for Inside Maintenance?

By Edward Taylor
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Our townhome community asks owners to be responsible for the maintenance of items inside the units, such as heating and cooling systems, dryer vents, and plumbing. Since proper maintenance of these systems impacts the health and safety of other owners, how can the board be sure everyone is keeping up?

Whether the community is a condominium, homeowners association, or cooperative, the owner or shareholder will always be responsible for certain maintenance items within the home. In some instances, the board can exercise control over such responsibilities, but there are many areas where the ability to influence owner behavior is limited.

In the case of a central fire/smoke/sprinkler system wired throughout a building, the board may have the obligation in its governing documents to maintain the system even though some detectors are located within a unit. An annual inspection, which may be required by local ordinance, should be conducted to make sure these systems are operating properly.

Other systems, such as dryer vents, may be of mixed responsibility. The conduit may originate within the unit but may enter common area on its way to a roof or other exterior vent. In this case, the board could adopt the position that cleaning of the conduit is a common expense, and it could hire a contractor to perform the work.

When appliances are located within the unit and are the clear responsibility of the owner, ensuring a safe environment is more daunting. A board can, nonetheless, identify potential problems and conduct a campaign to urge responsible behavior among residents. The need for an annual inspection of hot water heaters, for example, can be advertised on a bulletin board, in a community newsletter or website, and by periodic email blasts and robo-calls. A board also can designate a “safety month” in which residents are encouraged to address a list of safety issues in their homes.

Boards also should invite their insurance broker or representative to the annual meeting or other community event to explain the steps owners could take to protect themselves, the building, and their neighbors.

A final option is to amend the bylaws to require owners to perform certain maintenance functions in their units on a regular basis. However, obtaining sufficient support for such an amendment may be difficult, as may be enforcement of the rule if it is adopted.

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Edward Taylor

Edward Taylor is an attorney with Taylor, Eldridge & Endres in Smithtown, N.Y., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).