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.