image of co-op ceiling water damage

OK, so whose fault is this?

Question: I currently reside in a high-rise condo in Manhattan. I recently discovered major water damage in my bathroom ceiling. It was confirmed that there was indeed a leak in the unit above me, but their insurance claims it was not negligent and not on purpose. But they had to replace parts to stop the leak. So who is at fault here? And who is responsible for fixing my ceiling?

— Waterlogged on the Upper West Side

Dear Waterlogged:

What do your building’s bylaws say?

Your upstairs neighbor may, ultimately, be responsible for the damage to your apartment, but it’s probably the building’s responsibility to set things right for you.

A fundamental rule of condo or co-op living: If it’s on the wall, it’s your responsibility. If it’s in the wall, it’s the building’s.

You don’t say where the upstairs leak originated — whether from your neighbor’s leaking lavatory U-bend or a leaking pipe in the wall — but wherever it started, the water passed through the common area (the space between your neighbor’s floor and your bathroom ceiling) before dripping on your head. The building has a basic obligation to you to see that your apartment is habitable. A leaking ceiling means your condo isn’t habitable. Case closed.

Sort of. This could get into some fine legal points of condo vs. co-op living, so if you and your building can’t settle this easily, you may want to take it up a notch with an attorney.

Finally, if you have homeowners insurance, you could go that direction. Place a claim, have your insurance company fix your ceiling, and then go after either your neighbor or the building. You will have a deductible, of course, so you should consider filing a separate claim with whomever ponies up to cover your out-of-pocket expenses as well. Keep your lawyer on speed dial.

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