Water damage caused by upstairs neighbor?

11 Replies

Hey all,

So I'm in a downstairs condo unit and my upstairs neighbor leaked into our unit, causing a good amount of water damage. We knew something wasn't right because we heard dripping late at night a couple weeks ago. After we turned the water off going into her unit for the night, the dripping eventually slowed and stopped. She had a plumber come investigate the next day and when he pulled her fridge out the water line going into her fridge was leaking (I was up there with them and saw it... no pics, unfortunately). 

The water got into our unit below and saturated the ceiling above our fridge (same layout/stacked kitchen) and the lower portion of the wall was also wet and seeped into the carpet of the living room and bedroom on the other side of the wall. I contacted insurance last weekend because she was slow to respond in terms of rectifying - she claims to have fallen sick/ill this entire past week... Anyway, my insurance company sent out a water remediation company to survey the water damage then do the demo - they ripped out pretty much the entire portion of drywall behind where the fridge usually sits as well as the ceiling area and cabinets that were above the fridge. They also had to remove baseboard and carpet padding in the corners of our master bedroom and living/dining area as those rooms are on the other side of the adjoining wall which had gotten wet at the bottom. They ran dehumidifiers and fans for a few days until it was dried up. 

It sounds like we're generally covered by our insurance but they will subrogate to reclaim the money from her insurance. We would also really like our deductible of $500 back (this may not be much to some of you but especially for something that clearly wasn't our fault, this is a lot of money for us). Our claims adjuster said they will try to reclaim the deductible during subrogation but there's no guarantee. He suggested we get the insurance info from her and attempt to contact her insurance company directly to ask to reclaim the deductible based on her being liable for the damage caused. 

The problem is that she seems to be avoiding contact with us and trying to stall on giving us her insurance information or claim number. She's pulling the "I was sick all week" card and said she'd send the info yesterday (after asking for the 4th or 5th time) but she hasn't. The other thing here is that she just went into escrow on her place and is in the process of selling - she opened several days before we heard the dripping behind the walls. I'm wondering if she's trying to ignore/brush this under the rug in hopes of moving out asap and not having to deal with all this.

Any advice on what we should do at this point? I've contacted our HOA and they and the HOA's insurance agent basically said this sounds like a "neighbor to neighbor" dispute/issue that we need to resolve amongst ourselves, and that they typically won't even get involved unless the damages exceed $10k. Even then, since this was the internal wall/ceiling of our units, they'd more than likely keep their nose out of it. I'm going to contact them again on Monday and try to speak with the actual property/community manager for the association just to see if they can do *something* (at least issue a letter to the neighbor indicating that they are responsible for the damages, etc). As far as speaking directly with the neighbor, I'm trying to avoid any sort of confrontation with her - both my wife and I are already on edge and want to chew her out for trying to duck out of it, but that wouldn't be a very nice or neighborly thing to do even if she is moving out.

You contacted your insurance company and that is all you really need to do. They will deal with her insurance company. Ignore your upstairs neighbor for the time being. 

When the claim is being processed you will be cintacted by your insurance company and you can ask about your deductible then. It is probably too early in the process at this point anyway. 

As for the HOA, that is standard practice when it doesn't involve common areas.

Originally posted by @Steve Racicot :

You contacted your insurance company and that is all you really need to do. They will deal with her insurance company. Ignore your upstairs neighbor for the time being. 

When the claim is being processed you will be cintacted by your insurance company and you can ask about your deductible then. It is probably too early in the process at this point anyway. 

As for the HOA, that is standard practice when it doesn't involve common areas.

Thanks! I've asked a few others and I hear mixed things. Some, including my claims adjuster, were recommending getting her insurance info and asking them directly now. Others have recommended writing her a letter or having the HOA or even a lawyer draft a letter to her, indicating that she's fully responsible for compensating for any losses not covered by insurance (including the deductible). As far as the subrogation process, my claims adjuster told me that he had two of the same incidents come up before (leaking toilet I think) where one insurance company denied the claim and deductible repayment for one incident while the other insurance company paid everything out in full. I guess I'm mostly just concerned about getting the deductible back and potentially any other 'hidden' costs that may come about that insurance may not end up covering, etc.

I wouldn't reach out to your attorney. if you are worried about a 500$ deductible, an attorney will quickly cost you more than that.

Originally posted by @Steve Racicot :

I wouldn't reach out to your attorney. if you are worried about a 500$ deductible, an attorney will quickly cost you more than that.

That makes sense - I would want to avoid taking the legal route because that seems like the point of diminishing returns. 

Would you suggest writing her a letter giving her a 'status' of what's going on (I don't even know if she realizes that we had the wall ripped out and fans blowing 24/7) then asking her, nicely but straightforwardly, to cough up the $500 in light of the damages caused by the leak from her unit?

As i said on my first post, wait and deal with it through your insurance company.  

You will most definitely upset your neighbor asking her for money. Remember she has damage too.

And insurance companies are not always in a hurry to pay out.

Originally posted by @Steve Racicot :

As i said on my first post, wait and deal with it through your insurance company.  

You will most definitely upset your neighbor asking her for money. Remember she has damage too.

And insurance companies are not always in a hurry to pay out.

 I have doubts she will fix anything - the water damage remediation company said there was very minor damage in the form of a 1'x1' wet spot where her fridge is. She has even less incentive to fix since she's moving out assuming escrow closes soon and probably thinks it'll just dry up and she can forget about it. That said, couldn't she and her realtor get in big trouble for not disclosing this to the buyers who are in escrow?

I'm wondering if you can file a lien against the property for the amount of the damage. If so, that could cloud her title and hold up the sale until you get paid. It's not fair at all for you to be stuck with the $500 deductible.

Originally posted by @Bob H. :

I'm wondering if you can file a lien against the property for the amount of the damage. If so, that could cloud her title and hold up the sale until you get paid. It's not fair at all for you to be stuck with the $500 deductible.

 I heard that it's not something you can just go out and do in most cases. You'd likely first have to sue and get a judgement against her in order to do something that drastic. I don't know what the process is in CA but I'm trying to avoid taking a legal road here.

Updated 9 months ago

EDIT: just found this -http://homeguides.sfgate.com/put-lien-house-california-6843.html Looks like I'd have to take her to small claims court first. Not something I'd want to end up doing probably...

@Jeremy Lee I've been to small claims court successfully twice in California. No lawyers are needed, and it's not hard if you have a good case. (In the first of my two cases, a builder that would not correct a foundation leak for months showed up and started digging the day before the court date. In the second case, the store that would not honor its carpet warranty did not show up, so I won by default.) In your case, you might need to hurry to get the judgment and lien before the defendant's sale closes.

Originally posted by @Bob H. :

@Jeremy Lee I've been to small claims court successfully twice in California. No lawyers are needed, and it's not hard if you have a good case. (In the first of my two cases, a builder that would not correct a foundation leak for months showed up and started digging the day before the court date. In the second case, the store that would not honor its carpet warranty did not show up, so I won by default.) In your case, you might need to hurry to get the judgment and lien before the defendant's sale closes.

 Thanks - in this case, it may hinge more on whether her actions are considered "negligent" or not. There are a few out there saying that she cannot be held liable in any way unless she was proven negligent. And the only way she could be considered negligent is if she knew about the leak yet ignored it. This doesn't seem to be the case. I don't know if there are state/local laws or perhaps the CCRs that might 'override' this "negligence clause" but I'm planning on speaking with a lawyer tomorrow (I signed up for legal assistance through my employer for something else, so might as well take advantage)

In California, perimeter walls and ceilings is considered "common area" unless there are exceptions in the governing documents. Read civil code 4185 and 4775. Your neighbor will be responsible if she can be proved neigligent. Otherwise, HOA is responsible for it.

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