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Q&A: Wet & Wild

Q The neighbor that lives above me has let water leak a number of times onto my ceiling. She has paid me off the books for the specific areas that she has damaged over the years, all at different times. My question today is this. Can I sue her in small-claims court the next time she damages a specific area of my ceiling for the entire expensive paint job that I have? Regardless, that she is only wetting a specific area of the ceiling, can I take her to court and make her pay for the whole paint job?

—Waterlogged in West Palm

A “Even though your upstairs neighbor has been reimbursing you for the specific areas of your ceiling she has 'damaged,' the source of the water leak must be determined as that is the key to your question,” says Martha Platts, an attorney at the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in West Palm Beach.

“Whenever there is water damage of any kind, it should be reported to the association and the insurance carrier(s) for the affected property. That will permit a preliminary evaluation by the association as to the cause of the damage. Recall that your association’s governing documents delineate maintenance responsibilities.

“In condominiums, the most common source of water leaks emanate from deteriorated plumbing lines or plumbing fixtures. In such instances where a deteriorated plumbing line or plumbing fixture causes damage to a unit, such as in the case of your ceiling, the damage is considered a casualty loss. In those circumstances, Florida Statutes §718.111(11) governs the allocation of responsibility (financial and actual) for the association and for the interior of your unit from such a casualty. Pursuant to the Statute, the painting of your ceiling is your responsibility and you must repair it at your own expense.

“The only way to get reimbursed for your expense of painting your ceiling would be to have a legal determination that the cause of the leak was your neighbor’s negligence. It could very well be that all these years she has been reimbursing you for expenses for something that was not her maintenance responsibility if the cause of the water leak was never determined.” n

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