Party Walls in HOA – Who is Responsible For Repairs?

In a townhouse situation, owners share walls with other owners. These are called “party walls”. When there is a problem, often involving water damage or intrusion, sometimes involving a cause that is hard to diagnose, the owners get together to work out the problem. Of course, the situations I hear about often involve one owner trying to get the other involved, or the association, without success.

Here’s a question along those lines that I received recently:

“I  live in a townhouse, and I have a question regarding my legal rights on a party wall issue.  My neighbor & I have been gathering estimates to repair our party wall.  They have since coordinated with the HOA and remove the shingles making the work more pressing for my neighbor. Both the neighbor and the HOA chose to go with the contractor that I did not agree to use.  A week ago I sent them all an email with specific questions and noone responded.  Now I’m finding they have scheduled the repairs.  Can I put a stop to these repairs because a joint decision has not been made on the repairs.  I read a legal opinion saying that an owner can repair a party wall on their side unilaterally.”

In this case stopping the repairs, if other parties’ are moving forward, might be difficult. Sometimes an owner will throw a fit or confront the contractors and scare them off; sometimes a party will seek a court order – however, that can be really costly. Unless the concerned owner has a valid reason for the concern, stopping the work might cause more problems than the halt resolves, especially since the removal of shingles seems to have forced corresponding repairs.

If an owner does make repairs unilaterally and the other owner can show that they have good reason for refusing to cooperate or were not informed of the intent to repair, the owner not consulted might refuse to pay, leaving the owner who acts without reasonably involving the other neighbor to pay and then try to recover a share from the other neighbor.  So it’s best to work together.

If one owner absorbs the brunt of leak detection costs and repair because the other won’t get involved – he or she should be able to choose the contractors and get a judgment for costs for half the work from the other in a small claims action if the other owner refuses to pay.

The time to involve the association is when it is determined that the cause is related to some component such as a roof or gutters which is the association’s responsibility. Reporting the situation to the board might trigger an inspection by the Board’s contractor because the Association’s insurance coverage might be involved. Some Boards refuse, however, unless the owners can show some evidence that the problem is related to something that is the association’s responsibility or something that would trigger an insurance claim.

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Party Walls in HOA – Who is Responsible For Repairs?
  1. David Rothman
    September 9, 2011 | 5:00 pm

    In reference to the “Party Walls” issue I have a similar issue. Base moulding against the outside and common wall showed evidence of mold. My neighbor was receptive to have it inspected. The inspection was positive for 3 types of mold. Majority of the mold was on my side, however, the moisture content on my neighbors wall was elevated. They chose not to remediate. I hire a licensed contractor to remove and clean the areas. Upon completion I was informed that the moisture source was caused by deteriorated mortar and brick below grade from excessive watering with the irrigation system installed by the HOA. I notified the HOA and they did a mediocre repair, I believe not by a licensed foundation repair contractor. I then submitted a request for reimbursement of my damages. It was denied on the basis that I did not notify them before I did my interior repairs. I have photos and submitted written documentation from all contractors proving my costs. My questions is, does the HOA have a responsibility to maintain the common areas to a degree that it prevents damage to the homeowners interior? My contractor stated that it took several years for the deteriorated area to weaken to the point that water intrusion occurred.

    • Beth Grimm
      September 18, 2011 | 5:07 am

      It’s a little hard to tell because as you say, the problem was below grade and no one knew about it . To prove negligence one would have to have some warning and have ignored it. I think you are saying you fixed your area and the association fixed what it was responsible to fix (although you are dissatisfied with the repair). It does not really surprise me that the association denied your damages. It is hard to say the problem is the “fault” of the Association.

  2. Pat
    September 15, 2011 | 2:46 am

    Hi, Thanks for an informative article. I have a related question. Due to the orientation of my property there is water seepage across a party wall into my neighbors property. The HOA has asked me install a french drain on my property to alleviate this issue and all of the cost has been allocated to me. Is that something they can do ? I am looking for a lawyer to help, but your opinion would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Pat.

    • Beth Grimm
      September 18, 2011 | 4:34 am

      This is more of a “who is responsible” for the water seepage and “why” than sharing the cost of a party wall. If I were asked to determine the definitive answer to this question (or to give legal advice, which of course I do not do on the blog), I would have to review the association governing documents.