Q&A: Neighbor Resposible for Leak?

Q I've had an existing leak in my full bathroom since the unit owners above me have moved in. It so happens that their son runs a bath for as long as two hours at a time, blasting the water full force. Over time this has caused damage to the pipes and I've had recurrent leaks in the bathroom ceiling. An extensive plumping job was done two years ago to replace the broken and deteriorated pipes. However, the beginnings of yet another leak have surfaced on the ceiling as well as in cracks on the wall. I was told that there is nothing they can do to prevent my neighbors upstairs from taking long, two-hour baths or 24-hour baths for that matter. Is there anything I can do? Please advise.

—Water-logged in Woodlawn

A “Community association living often presents problems like this,” says attorney Peter H. Jagel from The Law Offices of Peter H. Jagel in Naperville. “While the type of association involved in this case has not been specified, it sounds like a typical condominium or cooperative arrangement. It is also not clear who paid for the "extensive plumbing job," so I am not sure how this was handled in the past. Generally speaking, pipes that service more than one unit are considered common elements and are the responsibility of the association. Pipes that service only one unit are considered a part of that unit and are the responsibility of that unit owner. Most declarations also provide that if a unit owner (or a tenant or guest of a unit owner) takes some action that causes damage to a common element, then that unit owner is responsible for the resulting damage. This would include common element pipes.

“In this case, since there was plumbing work done on these pipes only two years ago, there should be a clear understanding as to whether the pipes in question are common elements or a part of the unit above. If they are a part of the common elements, then the association must get involved as part of the maintenance and repair of the overall common elements of the association. If the pipes are part of the unit (only servicing the unit above), then I am assuming that the above unit owner paid for the previous plumbing repair and will have to pay for the new repairs that are now required, including the damage done to your unit.

“As for the length of the baths or the strength of the water flow, there is little the association or a neighboring unit owner can do. The use of a unit is personal to the resident as long as the use is not in violation of an association rule or the law. If there is a rule related to noise, nuisance, odors, etc. that is being violated by the above resident's actions, then a complaint can be filed with the association board. Ultimately, the cost associated with pipe and unit repairs every two years should cause the unit owner to change behavior.

“The board of the association must get involved if the pipes are common elements. The board could get involved if the board determined that there was a rules violation and a complaint was registered. And the Illinois Condominium Property Act provides that a condo board would also have the authority to take some action because more than one unit owner is involved in this issue. (765 ILCS 605/9.1(b)). Otherwise, you may just have to ask the resident above to be more considerate.”