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I recently discovered that a radiator in my co-op had a leaky valve, which caused my new laminated floors to swell. They're currently saturated with water. The property manager informed me that he has to review the proprietary lease to see who is responsible. Could I be held responsible for paying for all repairs?
Your property manager is right to consult the proprietary lease, which should have language outlining who is liable for handling maintenance issues like this one, according to our experts.
"Many proprietary leases provide that the shareholder is responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of plumbing, gas, and heating fixtures, which are specifically defined as including exposed steam and water pipes, appliances, and equipment to which they are attached," says Jeffrey Reich, partner at the law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "This type of language can be used to hold a shareholder responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of radiators and their various components, and for damage resulting from the failure of this equipment."
One potential exception would be if you could prove that the radiator leaked because the building was negligent in installing or repairing the valve, or if the board was aware of the leak.
In that case, "they or the building's master insurer might be responsible and take care of the repair," says Jeffrey Schneider of the insurance company Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor.) "But if this is a more typical situation of an old pipe or valve just eventually giving way, they would not be responsible. You would then file under your own insurance policy and let your insurer see if an eventual recovery against the building is possible. Often in older buildings, no one is deemed at fault for these situations, which is one reason you should carry apartment insurance."
The latter scenario seems more likely to apply here, given that aging steam radiators are everywhere in New York. If it's time to replace your radiator entirely, you may need to get your board's approval to do so. And in any case, you should definitely hire a plumber so you can protect yourself from future leaks.
It may also be wise to bring in an exterminator.
"Wet wood can result in small fungus beetles and book lice," says Gil Bloom of Standard Pest Management. "To avoid this issue, we recommend the use of a quality dehumidifier. We actually rent them out as an integrated pest management control measure after leaks, floods and fires."
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