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Ask an Expert: Ripping open my kitchen to fix the neighbor's leak--fair or foul?

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Q. I am a co-op owner and I've had water leaking through my kitchen ceiling intermittently since I purchased the apartment last year. 

The super has patched the ceiling each time and has told me that he has tried to discover the source of the leak. The apartment above is sponsor-owned. I've been told by the sponsor that the cause of the leak is a crack in the waste pipe in the apartment above but--because  the repair may damage the aging pipes--that I must either have my kitchen pulled apart or have a custom-made built-in on the adjoining wall removed so that the whole waste line going up can be replaced. 

I have refused to have everything ripped out and I insist that the repair be made up above in the sponsor's apartment. Am I within my rights?

A.  Most likely not, say our experts.

"It is the board and not the shareholder who will decide if the repair is to be made from within the shareholder's apartment or the apartment above," says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich. In addition, depending on the terms of your proprietary lease, "shareholders can be made responsible to remove built-in furniture and other decorative elements to ready a portion of an apartment for a repair."

Property manager Thomas Usztoke says that plumbers don't avoid repairs out of worries over damaging aging pipe. Instead, he says, "a plumber will take out as much pipe as is bad until s/he finds solid pipe." In other words, it is likely the plumber can already tell from above that they will have to go a long way into your apartment.

General contractor Yoel Borgenicht observes that "oftentimes, the only way to replace and/or repair waste lines are from accessing them from the apartment below."

If you want the leak fixed, says Borgenicht, you should allow the work in your kitchen to proceed.

If you still seek more clarification and understanding of the situation, you are within your rights to request a meeting with the property manager and a plumbing supervisor, says Usztoke, to review the scope and procedure for the repair and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

"It shouldn't be so difficult, but for the inconvenience and expense to you" if your proprietary lease requires you to provide unobstructed access to the piped wall, he notes.


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