Broken pipes, damaged roofs and fires – should you turn to home insurance or your apartment association?[Sandra Smirnova | 24.11.2021 :]
While homeowners tend to be clear on where to receive quick assistance in the event of critical accidents, the question of responsibility is oftentimes more vague in an apartment building – when does an accident constitute a home insurance event and when can the apartment association be deemed liable?
According to Statistics Estonia, 57.8% of the population of Estonia live in apartment buildings as of 2020. According to Sandra Smirnova, Asset Insurance Product Manager at Seesam, homeowners generally know where to turn in the event of an accident, whereas for apartment owners, the question of responsibility is often unclear. “If the damage affects the common ownership of the building, all owners must be jointly and severally liable,” says Smirnova.
“In the case of apartments, the Apartment Ownership and Apartment Associations Act determines the area of responsibility by distinguishing apartment ownership and common ownership. An apartment ownership is a physical share of an apartment building in terms of the interior of the home and any related insurance contracts are usually concluded by the owner of the specific apartment. A common ownership includes parts of an apartment building that are shared by the residents – e.g. load-bearing structures, roofs, inserted ceilings, staircases, basements, heating, water and sewerage systems, etc.”She highlights some of the most common cases of concern for homeowners due to lack of clarity and gives advice on the best ways to handle such situations.
Water damage ruins interior in several apartments
According Seesam’s representative, insurance statistics show that in Seesam in 2020, damage caused by leaking pipes and water seeping through structures accounted for almost half of the number of damages and insurance indemnities paid under property damage insurance and liability insurance taken out by apartment associations, with the size of damages varying widely – smaller damages were around a few hundred euros and the largest damages amounted to 15,000 euros. In the event of a leaking pipe, the damage can be significant, for example, if a rising main bursts on a higher floor of a tower block, the water can flood several apartments on the lower floors, damaging the interior of the apartments as well as any property therein.
“When it comes to water damage, the number one priority is to get to the root of the problem quickly. First, contact the representative of the apartment association and turn off the water in the rising main. In addition, most apartment associations have dedicated emergency contacts for such cases in order to help eliminate the source of the damage as quickly as possible. It's also a good idea to let your insurer know as soon as possible – they will be able to advise you on how to proceed. If, in addition to home insurance, you have the option to use the Home Assistance service, they can help you prevent a claim event and limit damage in the event of an accident,” says the representative. According to Smirnova, apartment owners tend to consider leaking pipes in particular to be a matter covered by home insurance, but damage usually pertains to rising mains and common pipes jointly owned by all the residents of the building, which is why it is always wise to report water damage to the representative of your apartment association.
Roof ripped off by storm winds
An example of an accident with dire consequences in Seesam took place last spring when a storm ripped off the roof of an apartment building in full and caused 30,000 euros worth of damage. “The apartment association in this particular case was small, as there were only eight apartments in the building. Had they not had real estate property insurance, members of the apartment association would have had to pay out of pocket for the repairs, and for this claim event, the amount would have been 3750 euros per apartment ownership,” says the expert. Since storm gusts are, as a rule, accompanied by heavy rainfall, additional moisture damage may further increase the claim amount.
In the case of damage caused by storm winds, the insurer recommends that you report the problem to the apartment association at the earliest opportunity, as it is likely to affect other residents.
Fire started from electrical cabinet
One less frequent but tragic type of accident in apartment associations concerns fires, which often start from an electrical cabinet or due to a failing outdated electrical system. In the event of such an accident, the first thing to do is to make sure that everyone is safe and, if there is substantial risk, promptly contact the Rescue Board. If it later turns out that the fire has caused irreparable damage to the apartment ownership, Smirnova recommends contacting home insurance. From there, the insurance company will soon contact the apartment association itself.
“At this point, it is definitely worth checking whether the apartment association has taken out property damage insurance or liability insurance. In the event of property damage insurance, any damage to the common parts of the apartment building is covered. However, if the association has concluded a liability insurance contract, the insurance will also compensate for damage to the apartment association,” adds the expert.
She adds further that if you are unsure whether your apartment association is insured or don’t know who to call, it is a good idea to start with your home insurance provider for further guidance. “To avoid unexpected expenses, apartment owners should insure their personal apartments and enter into a joint insurance contract for the entire apartment building. This will minimise the risk of unexpected additional expenses,” says Smirnova.