Condo Owners’ Legal Rights When the Bug Guy Damages Your Property
Homeowners associations hire contractors for upkeep all the time, but what happens when an HOA’s contractor, such as a pest control worker, damages a condo owner’s property? Who picks up the bill?
Today’s story will be of special interest to three groups of readers:
(1) Anyone who owns a condominium under the management of an HOA, a homeowners association.
(2) Managers of HOAs.
(3) Companies that contract with HOAs and cause damage to the property of condo owners.
Let’s begin with this question: Who is responsible if a contractor hired by the association damages property inside the condo?
That was “Stephanie’s” question.
“Our HOA contracts with “Get Outa Here, Bugs” for pest control. During a treatment, without permission, the technician pulled out my drop-in GE electric range to spray. He dropped it, and the outer glass of the oven door shattered. While 22 years old, it looks and functions as if it were brand new, but replacement parts are not available.
“The pest control company wanted to take the door off and install tempered glass, but GE says this is inviting a fire hazard. They recommend replacing the oven and not attempting a repair as there is no way of assuring safety for high temperatures.
“I told Get Outa Here what GE said, requesting them to replace it with a comparable new, drop-in oven, but they said, ‘Get out of here’ and refused, offering $300, claiming ‘It had depreciated.’
“They broke it; they should replace it. I don't need a fire hazard and want to be fair, but the only solution I can see is to have them install a new oven. Management of my HOA essentially told me to jump in the lake. What’s fair?”
Google ‘HOA’s Contractor Damaged My Property’
If some night you can’t sleep, just Google “HOA’s contractor damaged my property.” You will find post after post of HOA management trying to wiggle out of responsibility for hiring incompetents who wind up destroying condo owners’ property.
I asked the opinion one of the nation’s leading experts in the legal obligations of HOA management, attorney and author John Linford, from Bakersfield, Calif.
“In my opinion, certainly the pest control company and very possibly the HOA are responsible for damaging Stephanie’s oven. Drop-in ovens require special care to remove and install. Unless the HOA had written proof of having determined the pest control’s technician was trained in removal of these ovens, this raises the inference of their negligence in hiring Get Outa Here.
“Unlike a car, a fully functioning oven doesn’t depreciate, and she is owed a new oven, end of story.”
An Approach Toward Resolution
I ran these facts by a friend of this column, attorney Evan W. Walker of San Diego. His law practice concentrates on personal injury and property damage. He agrees with Linford, pointing out:
“While the law in this area differs somewhat state-to-state, unless the condo owner signed some sort of a waiver of liability, Stephanie is owed a new oven. I am amazed at the lack of common sense often shown in cases of this nature, especially arguing that the oven had depreciated. It is not a car, so such a position is plain wrong,” Walker strongly maintains.
It occurred to me that if the HOA and Get Outa Here refuse to compensate her or turn the matter over to their insurance carriers and she goes to Small Claims Court and wins, their insurance rates could be raised, as court filings are monitored by the insurance industry.
Walker replied, “Yes, they could see an increase in their premiums as their carriers would be aware they pose an increased risk of loss.”
And, finally, I asked Walker, “If Get Outa Here were your clients, what would be your advice to them?”
“Pay for what you broke!”
A Chat with Stephanie and Get Outa Here
I set up a conference call with my reader and “Alex,” owner of Get Outa Here.
While friendly and apologetic, he insisted on comparing the oven to a 22-year-old automobile. “That’s not going to fly,” I replied, telling him what I learned from phoning pest control companies across America. “To a one, every owner said, ‘If we broke it, we will either repair or get her a new oven. That’s what’s fair.’”
Either a cheapskate or just plain stubborn, Alex did not seem to appreciate the power of a truthful, negative review of his company online. “Alex, your employee set off this nightmare, so why not be a good guy and fix it?” I asked.
“So, what do you recommend?”
“You have two choices: The two of you work out a compromise, or wind up in court, all over the $1,600 required to purchase a new oven. I am getting off the call and letting you two resolve it.”
And they did, less than $1,600, but a good compromise is where everyone goes away a little disappointed.
What This All Means for Condo Owners and HOAs
The lesson for consumers is to know your rights and to assert them, according to Walker. “If a company comes into your home and damages your property, they should pay for it. Period.”
The lesson for HOAs is to take better care of your residents and owners. “If you hire a company that goes into an owner's home and damages property, step up and pay for that damaged property and apology for the inconvenience,” Walker says. “Everyone should take responsibility for their actions.”
About the Author
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."