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Ask an Expert: Do I have to pay for my neighbor's water damage?

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Q. The super called me yesterday and told me that my bathroom needs to be renovated because it's leaking into the bathroom in the apt below mine and causing damage. It's true that my bathroom needs to be renovated. It's very old and has been regrouted and recaulked many times, but i need to rip out the tiles and install wonderboards behind them in order to stop the leaking. I plan to renovate my bathroom -- my question is about the damage in the bathroom in the apt below mine.

The owner there (in and out of the apt, rarely there for many years) claims that I should pay for the damage in his bathroom -- damage that has built up for well over the 2.5 years that i've lived/owned my apt. (When I bought my apartment, I had damage very similar to his in my own bathroom, which I had a contractor fix at my own cost because I was told it was very old water damage.)

If the damage in his bathroom started/happened well before I moved in/bought my apt, am I responsible for the damages in his bathroom? And how can he guarantee that his damages are only caused by my bathroom, when i have similar damages (they've continued) in my bathroom from the apt above mine? Couldn't his damages also be caused by the bathroom above my bathroom?

I know he plans to sell his studio, so he wants to renovate his bathroom, but I don't feel that I should pay for his renovations when the damage is much older than my tenure in the building. It honestly looks like 5-10+ years worth of damage that has never been fixed. Please let me know what you think. Thank you.

A.  According to our Expert Panel, you have every right to question your responsibility to pay for the damage downstairs.

First off, see what your proprietary lease may say about your responsibility here.  Even if you are responsible for damage caused to your neighbor since you have owned your apartment, "you should not be responsible for any damage prior," says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich

You also have every right to ask for substantiation from an engineer or other qualified professional that it was your bathroom--versus your upstairs neighbor's or a building plumbing line--that caused the damage, says Reich.

Property manager Thomas Usztoke agrees that you should confirm that "the building superintendent's conclusions as to cause were properly investigated rather than merely speculative."    That investigation should include "water dye test of the tub drain, tub overflow piping and testing the tub area walls, [and examination of the] floor level joints between the tub wall and floors for any signs of effervescence which may cause damage downstairs due to excessive water spash-out during use."

Financially speaking, says Usztoke, your neighbor's "recourse is through his/her own insurance company, not necessarily through your pockets."

 

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