Q&A: Who's Responsible for Leaks?

Q My aunt owns a condo. The condo on top of hers had a plumbing problem that was leaking to her bathroom. They opened a hole in her wall to see the condition of her pipes. They were rusty and with leaks. Is the building association responsible for this repair or is she?

—Water Logged in Illinois

A “The short answer to your question is that the condominium association is responsible to pay for repairs to these plumbing pipes,” says Steven D. Welhouse, an attorney with The Sterling Law Office, LLC in Chicago. “Your aunt should consult her condominium association's governing documents, including the declaration and bylaws, to identify this responsibility and make a claim to the association. Typically, a condominium association's governing documents will set forth the definition of "common elements" in the condominium building structure. Common elements are those features of the common elements that benefit more than one unit in the building. Common elements will include plumbing pipes located within the building's walls. The condominium association is responsible to maintain and repair the common elements of the building, including such plumbing pipes. If the plumbing pipes observed within the walls of your aunt's and/or neighbor's condominium unit were rusty and with leaks, the condominium association is responsible to repair them. The association should want to make these repairs in order prevent further, more expensive damage to the building.”


  • Does it not matter whether the pipes behind the wall only service one unit; which they would then become a limited common element and the Association would be responsible to repair the pipes, but would also have the option to assess the costs back to the owner who benefits from said pipe?
  • Lauren Peddinghaus, CMCA on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 2:29 PM
    Unless the pipes serving the unit are completely separate from the building's plumbing system, then they are typically considered common elements and must be maintained by the association. It's very unlikely that any pipes running through the walls to a unit are independent of the building's plumbing system. Pipes extending into the unit (from the wall to the sink, for example), however, would likely be the owner's responsibility to maintain. A dryer vent or the like that extends through the walls from a unit (but only serves that unit) is an example of a limited common element that the association would maintain but whose maintenance costs would be chargeable to the owner. As always, you should review your governing documents for specific information related to your association.
  • I have a leak in one of the rooms under the... carpet. They tell me it is my responsibility. They have to make holes in the walls etc. Please tell me if the condo can participate in the expense and how Thank you very much
  • I live in a multiunit condominium of which our unit is one of four units in the same building. The toilet in our master bedroom was stopping up. The plumber came out and determined that the plumbing within the common wall with another unit was the problem and had to be unplugged with some type of roto rutter so I called the association representative. He gave his approval and called the plumber to have it fixed. The Board of Directors are now trying to back charge me for the plumber fees. In the association By Laws in the Maintenance And Repair section it states: The association shall maintain the common areas and all improvements constituting a part of the Common Elements including the Limited Common Elements, and including but not limited to utility facilities serving more than one unit, utility lines in the Common Elements, including the Limited Common Elements and including but not limited to utility facilities serving more than one Unit, utility lines in the Common Elements.