17 May What you need to know about leaks in sectional title schemes
It can be quite costly when leaks cause damage inside a sectional title unit. This can happen when a geyser bursts or malfunction, or as a result of a leak from a pipe or the roof.
The reality is that in many cases, the damage can be avoided – or at least, minimised – if it is maintained regularly. There are a few ways in which leaks from common property or inside a unit can be detected and avoided with ongoing maintenance and just a bit of vigilance.
Where does the leak come from?
Leaks can originate from outside or inside a unit. External leaks can originate in roofs, gutters, downpipes, doors, windows and walls. While the cost of maintenance to doors and windows are shared between the owner and the body corporate, other areas are part of the common property and is maintained by the body corporate. With a proactive maintenance programme in place that schedules regular inspections of all relevant areas with the aim of preventing unnecessary leaks and damage, the trustees can save the body corporate a lot of time and money.
Internal leaks can be caused by pitted pipes (copper), cracked and broken pipes, appliances such as washing machines, and showers and baths that are not sealed properly. Renovations can also cause leaks, especially where the plumbing is altered or damaged when knocking out walls.
It is difficult to know when a pipe has been damaged or pitted and is causing a leak. This means that the problem is often only identified once the leak has started and caused some damage.
Who pays for the repairs?
The cost of repairing damage to a unit from an external source like a roof is the body corporate’s responsibility. The body corporate may submit a claim to their insurers for the damage caused to a unit through the roof but if the roof was not maintained and the leak happened over a period of time, the insurers are likely to refute the claim on the basis of negligence (lack of maintenance).
Where a leak originated inside a unit, the owner of that unit will be responsible for repairing the leak. The cost of repairs can be claimed from the insurers, who – subject to an assessor inspecting the cause of the leak – will be responsible to pay for the damage. This is not always the case and for that reason, it is critical to understand the terms of the scheme’s insurance policy when submitting a claim for a leak.
What action must be taken?
When a leak is detected, the managing agent and the insurance broker must be informed of the potential of a claim. This will ensure that immediate steps are taken to prevent any further damage – via leak detection to identify the origin of the leak – or to affect immediate repairs where possible to stop additional damage.
In many instances, insurance companies work with specific contractors who will then be instructed to attend to the damage and reinstatement of the unit. Where leaks originated externally, the body corporate will need to attend to those external repairs before internal repairs can commence. If this is not done timeously, the body corporate will be held liable for any additional costs incurred as a result of delayed repairs.
The body corporate is responsible for maintaining the scheme’s common property, including the structures where most of the visible leaks originate such as roofs, walls, gutters, down pipes and windows. If the body corporate keeps to a scheduled maintenance plan, and attend to ongoing maintenance, leaks will be limited to storms and unforeseen eventualities which should be covered by the body corporate’s insurance.