The Joy Of Condo Ownership: Spending A Year Fighting To Have Water-filled Finished Basement Fixed

Until May of 2011 living in a condo had its ups and downs. It then took a dramatic downturn.

It happened that month when I went into my basement to do some laundry (yes – I cook too!), and while I was standing in front of my washing machine, my shoes felt squishy on the carpet. I felt it with my hand and realized the carpet was saturated. We had been having heavy rains, but this had not really crossed my mind as a cause. I checked the pump on the washer – dry as a bone. Then the rainwater idea occurred to me. I checked everywhere to see if water was coming in. . Everywhere that is, except under my feet.

Brian Harte

When I finally got the gumption to pull back the carpet (of my fully finished basement – mind you), the source of the water was evident. Cracks in the floor of my foundation were making a small spring erupt into my basement. I would later learn that this term is called ‘hydrostatic pressure;’ that is, when water pressure builds rapidly and has nowhere to go, and like electricity, it seeks the path of least resistance – in this case, my floor. . Up came the padding and due to some fast action and previous dealings with water damage, I was able to save the carpet, for the moment.

I thought the rules on this one, at least for my community, were pretty clear. Damage to inside of unit, caused by outside factors = responsibility of the association. I knew it. They knew it. But getting anyone to move their behinds on the damage was an entirely different story. My daughter had lost her entire play area and as time went on, the frustration grew. With that, so did my resolve. I continued to pay my common fees and I continued to fight while no action to speak of came from the association.

Three basement waterproofing companies came in to my home to evaluate the situation and although they all has a slightly different version of how to fix the problem, one thing was clear – in order to keep the water out, nothing short of a perimeter pump system would do the job. Meanwhile – 7 other units in my complex were undergoing the same problems with flooding basements and nothing was getting done for them either.

I spend the next several months getting very acquainted with construction, the declaration, bylaws, rules and regulations, CIOA, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Ding.)

Life was great. 1/3 of my unit was pretty much gone and the monsoons would not stop. Come August of that year, in the middle of one of these monsoons, my wife and I noticed a downspout from our third floor window was directing rainwater everywhere but out the bottom; more accurately, it was bursting at the seams. I took many pictures (tip). A work order was put into the association stating precisely that the downspout was defective and “needed to be replaced.”

The next day, workers came out and cleaned the gutters. For those not following the story: gutter does not equal downspout. I am not in the construction or renovation business and I know this – I am sure you do too.

Fast-forward one more week. Monsoon time again. I was not at home when the frantic phone call came to my cell phone. “Get home now, there is water coming in all over the place!” And indeed it was.

Water was streaming in through my basement ceiling, destroying everything in its path, through my den; completely totaling the room. And what was the source? Yep, busted downspout that was never replaced. It was so filled with leaves and junk that it burst through my siding and came cascading down my walls inside my unit.

At this point I had lost 50% of my living space, was dealing with mold issues, and total destruction.

This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

As a former active Marine Corps Corporal I can work with less than adequate living accommodations. But two things were different here. I refused to let my family live like this and this was my home; something I paid for. Game on.

As my many requests to the Board and Management Company were getting brushed off, I started calling everyone and anyone I could think of that might be helpful. As you know, very few state agencies are. I put in a call to the Town Building Inspector who said that he usually did not deal with condo matters such as this. I told him that there may be a structural integrity issue with my unit and he came out as a courtesy. My intent was only to get a third, neutral party to out here to detail the damage.

My next call was to the local Health Department, which initially offered no assistance, so I called the State DPH – sometimes it is a matter of just getting the right person on the phone, twice.

The State called the local DPH back and got me in touch with an investigator who had the power of arrest for housing matters. I sent her several pictures, including one of workers cutting a small hole in the ceiling of my den with water pouring out on top of them (and this was several days after the rain had stopped). She made short order of calling the Property Manager and advised me that her correspondence with them was to this point: fix the problems or the PM and Board get arrested. The wheels began to turn.

For several weeks, my den got ripped apart and put back together, including new paint and carpet. One job down, but the basement was still a mess.

I called the PM and emailed Him, as well as his supervisor on a regular basis – sometimes I think they just got tired of hearing from me when all was said and done.

I attended every Board meeting and picked away at everything the board was doing – including quashing a budget vote because the laws had not properly been followed. I dug my heels in and refused to take no for an answer. I was fighting for my family.

I had some pro-bono advice from several attorneys and to cut to the chase, everything was eventually resolved, my basement was fixed, and we had our home back again because I never stopped the emails or phone calls, and never let go of my demands to have my unit fixed.

Some other things I did: saved and printed every email, continued to submit work orders, took pictures of everything, constantly, and kept one token in my pocket for what I considered would be an eventual lawsuit – the downspout that caused a majority of my damage (hey – the worker said I could have it.)

When I see the horror stories come in as President of CCOC – the movie in my mind reverts to that day, watching my ceiling and walls fall apart, my wife crying, and feeling that there was no one there to help me. And there wasn’t, except for the wonderful woman from the Health Department – who I keep in touch with to this day.

I refused to back down. I fought much of this particular battle on my own.

But you do not have to – for that is what drives us in our mission for the CCOC.

 Keep your chins up and take a breath every once in a while – you have many in your corner – and never, ever give up the fight.

 Brian Harte

President and Chairman of CCOC

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6 Responses to The Joy Of Condo Ownership: Spending A Year Fighting To Have Water-filled Finished Basement Fixed

  1. Sylvia Zebrowski says:

    I feel your pain. We had a similar case where the north side of unit and the sliding glass doors leaked each time it rained. We emailed, called and attended the board meeting to no avail then one afternoon/evening I reached my boiling point. I went to the seven board members’ house and told them to come to my unit now and see the water coming into my unit. Wives got mad and some were not home but eventually most of the board came. This was the first time the board had been into the unit when the water was entering it. For approximately 20 years the PM would send the “handiman” to inspect and nothing would get accomplished. After the installation of new windows and siding most of the leaking has stopped.

    There has to be a better way.

  2. John Romero says:

    I have the same problem. I have been trying for fifteen years to get the Board and Management Company to put a drain in the front walk. When it rains, the water backs up onto the sidewalk making it impossible to use the side walk and it eventually goes into my basement. I have sent emails, letters, pictures etc and nothing seems to work. They refuse to do anything because of the cost involved.

  3. Inga Muskulus says:

    I had water basement flooding problems for over 10 years! After the mold grew into the basement ceiling and the entire finished basment needed to be torn out!Then I took actions into my own hands. However even after engineer and architect reports idendifying the problems the BOD and Association did nothing!
    I hired an attorney and after a long hard battle over a year I won, but at what cost. However after over 20 years I finally have a dry basement 🙂 Even The Association’s Attorney was on MY side! At The Condo meeting he said:”IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO FIX IT, IF IT GOES TO LITIGATION IT WILL BE FAR MORE COSTLY FOR YOU”
    Then everyone approved the major construction.
    Prior to my law suit I joined The CCOC, but it was of no help for my issue. I was not even able to tell my horror story to the newspapers.
    AT THIS TIME INDIVIDUAL CONDO OWNERS STILL HAVE NO RIGHTS.IF A CONDO OWNER IS FORCED INTO LITIGATION AND WINS THERE SHOULD BE A GUARANTEE THAT THE LEGAL FEES WILL BE REIMBURSED. IT WOULD BE GREAT IF THE CCOC COULD ACCOMPLISH THIS. It would help conflicts not to escalate.

  4. Jackie Trieber says:

    I am certainly happy to hear about CCOC. I have a very beautifulI condo which I love. I have been living in my condo for 16 years…and in that time the pond has flooded into the parking lot and destroy any cars parked there…as as well any thing on our garages (including our cars) usually once a year. We, not the condo association, are responsible for the damage to our cars and property. The side walks were broken for years and many of us fell. I ended up needing physical therapy for at least 6 months because I hurt my neck. My HVAC unit was leaking Natural Gas. The Gas Company came out and Red Tagged it. The condo management took the Red Tag off the unit. I wrote a letter to the Management Company telling them if i died in my sleep, a copy of this letter is with my Atty. They finally fixed the unit. Over the last 16 years of living in my condo, I have had another Natural Gas leak that I could smell in my kitchen. The condo Super came out many times, the Gas Company came out many times…to no avail. When my kitchen ceiling and my kitchen was destroyed by the roof leaking 2 years ago, the gas leak was finally discovered. The Gas Company told me that if I had lit a match in my kitchen, the entire condo would have blown up. The gas Company red tagged my condo and the condo assoc had the gas leak fixed. Prior to that, the old roof leaked for years destroying my ceilings in my front foyer down to my family, among other places.

    The roof leaking two years ago has never been fixed. They have been trying to replicate the “ice dam” situation so I have been living with a destroyed kitchen and an 8 ft hole in my ceiling.

    I have had constant sinus infections, ear infections, Bronchitis, I am exhausted all the time. I have been achy, depressed, sick and anxious for years with no apparent reason.

    Six weeks ago my fiancé, my sister and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks. My sister has friends that own a house there. We got back home and my sister was over to the condo and she started to feel like she was going to be sick…and so did I. We were dizzy and nauseous. She said to open a window and I did. And we felt a little better. She went home because she felt so sick. I got into bed. I called the super and told him what happened. I thought it was CO2 poisioning. He got a couple of sensors the next day and brought them over. And also did a Home Depot test kit for mold. It came back positive for three types of mold. I was shocked! I am allergic to mold.

    A week later I moved out of my own condo. I was sick as a dog every day…and much worse when it was raining out. The Condo Assoc has never contacted me…the Management Company has never contacted me…I texted the owner of the Management Company…desperate to know what they are going to do…and the SOB chewed me out for bothering him on his vacation and told me I shouldn’t use his private phone! He has been abusive to me, rude and an overall bastard no matter what problems come up…even when I am asking them to fix their problems The only person that has been fantastic has been the Super.

    I’ve called the Atty Generals office and they don’t handle this type of thing. I have called my Atty and he is trying to find an Atty that can help me. Why isn’t there a State Agency that can help condo owners from being abused and taken advantage of? I asked the Condo Board to put my fiancée, our two little dogs and I, up in a hotel until this is resolved. They won’t even respond to me.

    At my request the Condo Board hired a company to come in and “test the air” which took three weeks. Meanwhile I’m staying with friends an hour away and have to commute an hour to work and an hour back. Meanwhile I’ve asked numerous times what the process is and how long will all of this take…and still no response!

    I was told by a friend of mine on the Board, that I can submitt another letter to the Board (that doesn’t meet for another month!). I asked if I could go to the Board Meeting when this happened and I was told only the Board members go to these meetings. It’s better if I wait until the Condo monthly meeting…next month! I asked if i could have an emergency meeting of the Board and I was told they don’t do that.

    The abuse and suffering I have had to endure living in my condo is off the chart. I dread having to have any contact with the owner of the Mansgement Company (so does everyone in the condo development) and now I have a home that I pay extreme condo fees for, that I can’t live in and there is no end in sight.

    HELP! I need help and guidance!

  5. Brittany says:

    As a contractor who specializes in condominium maintenance I see a lot of condo buildings that are in need of repair.Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned on a regular basis. I always carry a pocket full of pennies and drop a couple down the leader to make sure it is clean. Flexible leader extensions are great for getting the water away from the buildings.The landscapers have a better chanace of moving the flextube rather then crushing the hard leader pipe.But, now the issue of preventive maintenance falls on the manager and board.I believe the association should have a building inspection bya contractor and the board can see what maintenace is needed.I know its usually the job of the pm to do the inspection but with all the managers I know of I only know of one that does inspections of his condos onec a week.

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