Q&A: Dishwasher Dilemma

Q. Our association is self-managed with 12 units. An owner installed a dishwasher without any written request to or approval from the board. The board told her that we believed this was a violation, since all 12 units share one water tank and one water meter. The water bill is included and paid with monthly assessments, and is the highest utility bill that the association pays. Our bylaws were written in the 70’s, and laws change. The owner’s defense here is that the dishwasher uses less water than doing dishes by hand. Are they in violation for not clearing the installation with the board beforehand? If so, what are our options?

                            —Scrubbing in Skokie

A. “There are two considerations with regard to a possible pre-approval requirement for the installation of a dishwasher,” says Michael C. Kim, of counsel at Chicago law firm Schoenberg Finkel Beederman Bell Glazer. “First, the declaration/bylaws/rules of the condominium may specifically provide that dishwashers (or similar appliances such as clothes washers) may not be installed in units without the prior approval of the board of directors. Alternatively, the use of the common plumbing system is subject to reasonable restrictions adopted by the board of directors, typically based upon the capacity of the system to handle such an appliance. If the declaration/bylaws/rules do not require prior board approval for the installation of a dishwasher and the plumbing system can accommodate such an appliance, then there would be no violation. 

“It is possible that dishwashers are now more efficient and use less water than hand-washing dishes or engaging in other water-related usage (such as taking long showers). With regard to commonly metered utilities (such as having one water bill for the entire building), there is always the potential that some unit owners may utilize that utility in greater proportion than another; such variations in usage is expected. If the unit owner were ‘overusing’ the water supply (for example, by operating a home beauty salon within his/her unit and thereby using essentially a commercial volume of water), then there may be an argument that such usage is excessive beyond normal residential needs. 

“Finally, if the unit owners amend the declaration/bylaws to require pre-approval or to prohibit installation of dishwashers, then such limitations can be imposed by an amendment to the documents. As for adopting a rule to prohibit the installation and use of dishwashers, in general, rules must be ‘reasonable’ and, if a dishwasher in fact does not consume an extraordinary amount of water but rather is more efficient than hand-washing dishes, then a rule prohibiting use of a dishwasher may be considered unreasonable and therefore unenforceable.”

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