Property & Casualty Insurance/sewer line

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QUESTION: Hello Dominick,

I bought a condo new back in 1998. Ever since I've owned it about every couple years the sewer line backs up. I just thought some weeds had found their way thru a crack or something. It happened again recently and this time they ran a camera down the line. The back up is being caused by a part of the pipe that is pushed in and broken from the top and is obstructing flow.   
It appears this happened back during the building process as it's been an issue ever since I moved in.
Do you think I should consult the master policy to see if it is covered?  Thank you!

ANSWER: Dear Jackson:

I'm sorry to hear about your sewer line backing up.  It's actually a common issue as pipes tend to get older, tree roots get into the pipes, cars/trucks drive over the plumbing lines, etc...  As for your insurance policy and coverage issues, I have not seen your policy or endorsements.  I would recommend that you look at your policy and endorsements to confirm that you first have coverage for backed up sewer systems.  

With homeowner policies, the standard Ho-3 policy does have coverage.  With you living in a condo, it's the HO-6 policy which is a bit different because you don't own the plumbing system once it leaves the interior of your condo.  I believe it's the condo association that owns the plumbing system and you may ultimately want to notify them of your problem.  While they may have a master policy, which you referred to in your post, it's going to be up to the condo association as to whether it's worth a phone call to their insurance claims department.  With most small claims, the association will cover the loss out of their own reserves and NOT call the insurance company.  For all we know, their deductible might be $25,000-$50,000 per loss.  It might be better for the condo association to cover your interior damages out of their reserves, however I'm fairly certain that they may ask you to call your own insurance company for the interior damages.  In either case, the association should make sure that the plumbing system is working fine and you could hire an attorney or take the association to court (if needed) to recover your deductible, any unpaid damages that your insurance company may not have paid, etc...  Between the condo association and your insurance company, one or both of them should work together to make sure that you are made whole.  

Good luck and feel free to keep me posted!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks!  Great detailed answer......update:

I did consult the HOA manager (we have hired an outside company to manage our HOA). She said it was not common property.
"Since the sewer line serves just your unit, it is not a general common element and not covered in the insurance policy."

I then ask about appealing to the HOA or the builder's insurance company since this has been an issue since it was new. She responded:
"Since the HOA is not responsible for the line, there is nothing to appeal to them.
I would be really surprised if you could get the builder to agree to pay for damages that have been ongoing since 1998. Usually, homes are sold with a 1 or 2 year builder warranty and claims have to be filed within that time."

be clear, the part of the sewer that needs repaired is between my condo and the main line at the end of the driveway, so it's outside the condo but before you get to the street. So that part of the line does only serve each condo. (These are side by side condos with garages, one level).

Is it possible I am indeed out of luck or is she trying to get rid of me to spare the HOA from any costs?  Thanks

Answer
I'd recommend that you get in touch with a reputable local attorney and request a free consultation.  I'm not sure what state your condo is located in, however I feel that your condo association's manager is giving you the run around.  There is little doubt in my mind that they are indeed responsible for the pipes as they leave the interior of your condo, unless there's a law in your State that protects them. In Florida, once the pipes go behind a wall, into the attic crawl space, under the foundation, under the parking lot, under trees outside your unit, etc, they are no longer your property or responsibility to maintain.  At the street, the pipes become the property and responsibility of the city.  To the condo manager's defense, there may be condo association rules and/or bi-laws which state that they are not responsible for the plumbing system outside of your unit.  Do you have a copy of those bi-laws and have you read them?  

I have to share a story with you and others reading this posting...  About 13 years ago, I was looking to purchase a townhome through a realtor that has an HOA.  We were concerned about who would pay for the maintenance of the outside of the units as well as whether our dogs would be allowed.  We were assured by the HOA's manager that the outside maintenance would be their responsibility (painting, wood repairs, roof repairs, plumbing leaks, sprinkler, lawn, landscaping, etc.), however she said that our dogs would not be allowed due to their weight (60 & 100 pounds).  "Only small dogs less than 25 pounds are allowed here", she said.  I told the realtor that I wouldn't be able to buy the townhome because of the rules against our large dogs and within 2 hours my realtor obtained and provided me with a copy of the association's bi-laws.  The bi-laws only addressed that we cannot have cows and other farm animals.  There's no mention of the dog size restrictions.  Was I misled by an HOA manager?  Absolutely!  Does it happen everyday across America?  Of course!  If thousands of people don't question the HOA rules or reach out to an attorney, think of how much money the HOA is saving.  Have your HOA manager put it in writing and then take the letter to your attorney.  

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Dominick Belinchak, Insurance Adjuster

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Property & Casualty Insurance Claims -- Residential & Commercial. I've worked for approximately 20+ insurance companies and have adjusted just under 1,000 claims, including residential & commercial losses that involve business interruption, fire, smoke, pipe break, hurricane, sinkhole, flood, water damage, mold, theft, vandalism, rental properties, appliance water leaks and others. If you are hitting a "brick wall" with your insurance company or insurance adjuster, or have a coverage question, please feel to ask. I'm here to help you!

Experience

Texas Independent Insurance Adjuster 2004-current Florida Insurance Adjuster 2009-2014

Education/Credentials
BS Business Administration USF (Tampa) -- 1992

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