Rainwater and plumbing leaks: which damages are borne by the apartment association and which by the apartment owner?

[Dagmar Gilden | 11.12]

Generally the apartment owner is liable for anything that happens in the apartment and the possible damages. However, in real life, not all situations are black and white – how should you act when the activity damaging the apartment comes from outside the apartment? Which damages are to be borne by the apartment owner and which by the association?

According Dagmar Gilden, Home Insurance Product Manager at Seesam Insurance, when moving into an apartment building, you should consider that although everyone has their own apartment, there are several parts of the building which do not belong to the apartment directly, but the maintenance of which is the joint liability of all inhabitants – house walls, exterior doors, staircases, the roof, the plumbing, electrical systems. A storm may break the roof or damage wiring or a broken water pipe behind the staircase wall or vandals trying to break in through the exterior door may also cause huge damages.

"Usually, the so-called physical share or the interior finishing of an apartment, the utility systems servicing it (e.g. water pipes, electrical wiring), non-load-bearing partition walls and sanitary equipment are insured with home insurance. Any damage to the parts of the house under joint ownership which are not protected by home insurance must be covered from the joint funds," the expert says. 

If the association has no insurance contract

What happens if the damage could be indemnified under association insurance but the apartment association has not entered into an insurance contract? According to Gilden, these are always the most complicated cases, as apartment ownerships are confident that unexpected accidents won't happen to them until the first event. "Although the possibility of insuring associations is used more often every year, many people rely on monthly repair fund payments when it comes to liquidating damage. Large damages may put the association in a difficult situation," he says. To avoid such situations and ensure that the inhabitants have a sense of security, all apartment ownerships should consider insuring themselves. Depending on the size of the deductible and the sums insured, the average cost of association insurance is 156 euros per month. 

If damage spreads from apartment to staircase or vice versa

How should I act when I have a water leak in my apartment but the jointly used staircase or walls get damaged? As a house is always a whole, such scenarios also come up. The insurance expert assures that once it is confirmed that the water leak started from pipes located in the apartment owner's area of responsibility, the damages are indeed borne by the owner. 

"For such events, the home insurance should also include liability insurance cover. If the apartment association has insurance, it is possible that the restoration or repair costs are indemnified by the association's insurance company, but it is not excluded that the insurance company files a recourse claim to the party who caused the damage, i.e. the apartment owner. If it becomes evident that the leak started from the joint pipes located behind the staircase wall, the damage caused to the staircase as well as the apartment owner shall be indemnified under the association insurance.

Associations are mainly affected by rainwater and plumbing damage

Many associations know from their own experience that any kind of repairs is a costly activity. Piping damages are definitely the most common of all damages notified to Seesam insurance, and these might turn out to be quite extensive: for example, a plumbing system under joint ownership blows up and the water manages to damage several apartments while flowing down. "This is a true story, due to which six apartments were damaged and it cost 15,000 euros to repair them," Gilden brought an example a large case of Seesam loss adjustment. According to the expert, leaks entering the house through the surroundings of ventilation chimneys are extremely problematic. To avoid such leaks, the expert recommends turning special attention to sealants, which tend to wear out after a few years.

As many damages can be avoided by preventive measures, Seesam's representative urges apartment associations to keep track of the building's technical order and the state of façades, balcony panels, roofs and plumbing. "Apartment associations that are thinking of insurance for the first time should first and foremost insure themselves against common events such as storms, plumbing leakage, fire and vandalism," the insurer recommended. "If the building has equipment that needs insurance protection against electrical voltage fluctuation, extended real estate insurance should definitely be chosen. The former also includes damage caused by water emergencies, rainwater flowing through constructions, trees fallen on the building or other sudden and unexpected events."

In addition to property insurance, an apartment association can also insure against any risks related to the association's liability. An association's liability may be caused by activity or inactivity. For example, all members of an association are liable for an event where an icicle falling from the eaves of the building breaks a car roof or where a person falls in front of the house due to insufficient anti-slip control or breaks a leg on a dark staircase.

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Insurance is provided by Compensa Vienna Insurance Group, ADB Estonian Branch, which operates under the Seesam trademark in Estonia. Before concluding policies, please read the terms and conditions at www.seesam.ee and consult an expert if needed.
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