Q: My sister-in-law lives in a condo and pays $150 a month maintenance fee. Her roof is leaking and she has reported it to the Office. This has been on going for several months. What are her options?

I say she should stop paying her maintenance fee and place the money into escrow until the repair is made. She reported it in writing so she has a record of her complaint.

A: Whoa! The last thing your sister-in-law should do is stop paying her monthly assessments. If she does that, she will have late fees and other charges added to what she owes. She’ll also make her neighbors mad, which might make them less willing to help her out.

But she’s smart to have made her complaint in writing. She now has a written record of the complaint. The first thing she must determine is whether her association is responsible for roof leaks or whether she is. Some condominium associations place the responsibility for roof maintenance on each homeowner. But it just depends on the association and the documents.

If she knows that the roof is the association’s responsibility, her next letter to the association should indicate whether the leak has gotten worse and whether other problems are occurring. If the leak is causing other damage to the building or, worse, mold is starting to grow, the cost to make repairs to the building will grow exponentially.

The question she should be asking is why isn’t the management company being more responsive to the problem. The leak could pose legal risks to the association. If she determines that the association is in the process of hiring a company to make repairs, she might have to wait until bids come in and the work gets done. If the association has done nothing, she will have to do more to get the association’s attention to the problem.

She should be raising the alarm with everyone who sits on the condo board, and making a complete pest of herself (in the nicest way possible, of course) with the management company until she gets a date when someone will come out to inspect and repair the problem.

She should point out to the association that repairing the leak sooner rather than later will avoid additional expenses as the damage gets worse, including structural problems as water damages the roof and its other components and, worse, mold starts to grow increasing the costs in cleaning up the problem.

If no one takes action, she should consult with a real estate attorney who can advise her of her legal options, which might include suing the condominium association. That would be an unfortunate move, since it’s likely to damage her relationship with her neighbors and cause money to be spent in legal fees that could otherwise have been used to repair the problem.

Depending on how the condo declaration, rules and regulations of the building are written, the condo building is likely responsible for fixing the exterior of the condo building, and may even be responsible for repairing up to or including the drywall in her unit. Wherever their financial responsibility stops, your sister-in-law will have to pick up the tab.

Published: May 22, 2008