Call police, insurer and a lawyer


April 06, 2003

A reader owns a town house condominium.

The home has a gas fireplace, which had not been properly vented. As a result, heat from the fireplace melted a pipe in a laundry room above it and "melted the insulation off electrical wires and burned insulation and floor joists."

Water from the pipe damaged a bathroom on the floor below.

The reader's tale of woe continues. She writes:

"I called the condominium association to enlighten them of this potentially tragic situation. I was informed by management that no monies were available for repairs and ... that the president of the association had absconded with all the owners' monthly fees and no one knew where he had gone. I was told to call my homeowner's insurance."

The reader wants help and guidance.

Dear Reader:

You should immediately call a plumbing contractor, an electrician, your homeowner's insurance company, your lawyer and the police.

A plumbing contractor needs to figure out what's wrong with the gas fireplace and fix it. Meanwhile, don't use the fireplace - it's a potential hazard. The plumber also can repair or replace the melted PVC pipe. An electrician also should replace damaged electrical wiring to keep the home safe.

Your homeowner's insurance company may provide coverage to pay for some or all of the repairs to the PVC pipe, electrical wires, insulation and floor joists.

Your lawyer should review the condominium declaration to determine if the condo association is responsible for any of the repairs or replacements.

Generally, you are responsible for repairs to anything within your unit. The condo association's repair obligations are limited to "common elements."

The condominium declaration defines which areas are common elements and which are within the boundaries of a unit. If any damages occurred to common elements, the condominium's insurance policy may cover repair costs.

Your attorney also can advise you as to your potential legal rights against the builder and subcontractor who furnished and installed the defective gas fireplace.

Condominium management already should have notified the police of the embezzlement of condominium funds. This is a crime. The police may be able to track down the culprit and recover some of the money.

Condominium management also should find out if the association has any theft insurance or fidelity bond that may reimburse the losses.

Fire danger, water damage and embezzlement are serious matters. You and the association must pursue your rights quickly and aggressively.

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