Siddons v. Cook and Country Place Condominium Association
In a case of “first impression” in New Jersey, the Appellate Court found that common interest community associations may have a duty to warn condominium owners of potentially dangerous conditions and construction defects known to it, even involving property or issues related only to an individual unit. The Appellate Court did not rule on whether the condominium breached its duty to warn and remanded that issue back to the Trial Court for disposition.
The case centered on Sandra Siddons, a common interest community association member whose unit was flooded when a faulty dishwasher hose in the unit directly above hers burst. She sued the upstairs unit owners as well as her condominium association for the substantial damage caused to her unit. Although there were no problems with the upstairs owners’ dishwasher, it was revealed that the condominium had known of at least three other units that experienced similar problems with faulty hoses. Ms. Siddons claimed that the condominium had a duty to warn all owners of this problem. The Trial Court disagreed, held that there was no duty and found no liability.
The Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court and found that while the condominium had no duty to inspect or maintain personal property that were not common elements – such as a dishwasher or washing machine – located in an individual unit, the condominium did have a duty to act reasonably to warn the unit owners of potential dangers of which that condominium had prior notice. Because the risk posed by the faulty hoses was not known to the majority of the unit owners and only to the condominium, the Appellate Court found that the condominium was in the best position to notify the unit owners of this potentially dangerous condition. Further, the Appellate Court found that it would not be an undue burden to require the condominium to make this information available to the unit owners.
The lesson here is that condominiums and their managing agents or boards have heightened duties to notify owners of some recurring problems and construction defects – even as small as a faulty dishwasher hose – that may potentially cause damage to the units or common elements. It is advised that this notification be done in writing. Condominiums must make case-by-case determinations, in consultation with counsel and management, about whether notice of a particular problem is necessary.
It is also very important to note that this decision applies only to condominiums and not to cooperatives, homeowners associations or other forms of planned unit developments.