An undetected pipe leak.
Forgotten running faucets that spill over onto the floor and beyond.
These types of incidents can be inconvenient and expensive for anyone, but they pose a heightened threat to any of the persons living in the approximately 1.5 million residential condominium units in Florida.
By its nature, condominium ownership requires cooperation and some forfeited freedom of its residents by putting neighbors in close proximity to each other with shared common elements. As summarized by Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal,
[c]ondominium unit owners comprise a little democratic sub society of necessity more restrictive as it pertains to use of condominium property than may be existent outside the condominium organization.”
Hidden Harbour Estates, Inc. v. Norman, 309 So.2d at 181–82. This close proximity of living creates an expanded zone of risk, with the action (or inaction) of one person potentially affecting multiple neighbors.
As a result, unit owners are charged with being more diligent in the use of their units. For example, some condominiums pass rules regarding the frequency of cleaning out dryer vents to reduce the risk of a fire. In a single family residential home, neglecting to change a dryer vent can be done at one’s own risk; in a condominium where a fire can quickly cause widespread destruction to an entire building, that risk is unknowingly being assumed by all of the unit owners – not just the resident who opts to run the dryer for a fifth time instead of folding laundry.
But regardless of the language in governing documents that require owners to maintain their units, or take certain actions and refrain from others, accidents happen. When damage results, who is responsible? More often than not, the answer to the question “who is responsible for fixing this?” is, frustratingly for owners and associations, “it depends.” And it depends on a number of factors.