Ice damming is a natural phenomenon that occurs in all types of residential housing and commercial buildings, whether in a common interest ownership community like condominiums, or in stand alone structures. Ice dams usually occur after a heavy snowfall and several days of freezing temperatures. Warm air inside the building leaks into the attic and will warm the underside of the roof causing snow and ice on the roof to melt. The melted water will drain along the roof, under the snow, until it reaches the cold overhang or gutter. The overhang tends to be at the same temperature as the outdoors and the melted water will refreeze and form an ice dam and icicles. The ice dam can cause damage to the roof, which can result in water leaks to the inside. Frequently the result will be a water spot on the ceiling under the roof damage. Water from melting ice and snow can also infiltrate inside in other ways, through windows, cracks in the siding/sheathing, and other open spaces. In some circumstances, the problem belongs solely to the owner of the residence.
However, when it occurs in condominium buildings, it becomes an issue for the condominium association (which usually owns and is responsible to maintain the commons elements, such as the roofs, the gutters, the attic spaces, and the siding) as well as for the owner of the condominium unit (who owns from the perimeter walls of the unit inward). As with any situation involving water infiltration from the common elements into a condo unit, the association has the obligation to address the source of the infiltration and stop the leak, while it remains the responsibility of the unit owner to repair the water damage which occurs inside the unit (*see also below). This analysis is complicated by the fact that many condo associations have insurance policies which cover all damage to the property, even damage that occurs inside a unit, over and above the applicable deductible. So, if the damage to the inside of the unit exceeds the association’s insurance deductible, the insurance covers the overage, while the unit owner is responsible for the amount of the deductible (via their own homeowners – HO6 – coverage, or out of pocket). If the damage is less than the association’s deductible, the unit owner is solely responsible for the cost of repairing the damage.
As for what an association can do to prevent ice damming from occurring, or remediate it once it has occurred, there are various products and techniques advertised in the marketplace (simply search online for “ice damming solutions”). Some are likely more effective than others. Whether it is “reasonable” for an association to purchase and implement these products and techniques (that is, required by the association’s duty to maintain the common elements) involves a cost/benefit analysis by each association based on their financial situation, the construction of their buildings, and the frequency and severity of the problem. If a complaint is received from a unit owner that water is infiltrating his/her unit due to ice damming, it would not be reasonable for an association to simply refuse to respond by blaming it on a weather event they could not control. There are likely cost-efficient techniques an association could employ that would at least stop further leaking. Researching such techniques, including seeking expert opinions on how to prevent such problems, is something an association should do…at a minimum…to satisfy their duty to the members of the association.
[*In accordance with NJ court opinions on the issue, an HOA or condo association is responsible for damage to the inside of a unit only if the association was negligent in addressing the source/cause of the damage. For instance, if a unit owner reported to her association that water leaking into her unit through a hole in the roof of the building (or, as here, from ice damming), but the association failed to timely address the leak and infiltrating water continued to damage her unit, or worse yet failed to address the leak at all, in that situation the association could be found negligent and thus responsible for the water damage to her unit. Otherwise, a unit owner is responsible for any damage to the inside of his/her unit under the association’s insurance deductible. This is why it is important for an association to require that all unit owners carry HO6 insurance on their units.]
If you have specific questions about this issue or other HOA-related issues, don’t hesitate to contact our office to speak to one of our attorneys.