Window Repair: Who's Responsible?
Question: Q: Most of the buildings in our condominium community have been plagued with leaks. Does the board have the authority to replace all the windows -- or to order individual owners to do so? If the board handles the replacement, will the cost be a common area expense, or should it be billed directly to owners, some of whom have more windows in their units than others?
Answer: A: The answer depends primarily on what the condominium documents provide. That sounds a lot more definitive than it is, because many association documents are silent, unclear or contradictory when it comes to explaining who is responsible for maintaining what in a condominium.
If the windows are defined as a common area, the attorneys we consulted agreed, absent any other limitations specified in the documents, the board has the authority to levy a special assessment on all owners to finance what is clearly an essential capital project.
Even if windows are the property and the responsibility of owners, boards can still mandate their replacement if they are causing leaks that are damaging common areas or other units. Although it makes sense for the board to manage a window-replacement project, both to control costs and to ensure quality, if owners are responsible for their own windows, the board may not be able to insist on that. However, the board can mandate requirements for the contractors owners use and the windows they install.
When it comes to allocating the costs of a window replacement project, the potential complexities multiply. Some communities have developed a split policy, depending on whether the replacement is voluntary or mandatory. If owners are replacing their windows voluntarily – because they want to upgrade, they are responsible for the cost of the windows and the installation. If the replacement is mandatory, the board treats the project as a common area expense shared by all owners. If some of the windows have to be replaced while others can be reused, only the owners receiving new windows are billed for that cost.
And if some owners have more windows, or more expensive windows, than others – complexities and potential headaches multiply. If the differences are dramatic – and maybe even if they aren’t – managers suggest that owners who have “more or better” should pay an upcharge.
Maintenance issues such as these are probably unavoidable, given the vagueness of many condominium documents, but boards will find it easier to handle them if they have a policy in place and they make sure owners understand it, before questions and potential conflicts arise.