The movie’s called Money Pit and I’m Shelley Long
November 5, 2021 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I am a first time solo homeowner in Brooklyn. I bought my place about a year ago. Over the summer I removed crown moulding in the living room and found chalky, water damaged plaster underneath. I hired a licensed contractor to fix it and they did, but the plaster became damp again. I notified the Board of my co-op over a month ago and they have not conclusively identified the cause of the water damage (or a solution).

The Board hired two professionals to look at the roof to find the source of the dampness, one who said it was condensation from the chimney and one who said it was a leak, not condensation from the chimney. I am unable to access the roof myself and would have to get special permission from the Board in order to access it (not that I would know how to identify the source of the leak myself, but if I were to hire an expert to assess it). One of the Board members is an architect and he stated in an email to me that he has a fiduciary duty to the co-op to minimize costs so he is taking his time finding a solution. He has also stated several times that he is a volunteer and my sense of urgency is upsetting to him. It’s pretty clear that the fact that my 400sf apartment has water damaged plaster in the main room is not a priority for the Board. I reached out to several contractors about repairing it and they said I should wait until the building identifies and repairs the source of the leak. If the Board were acting, I’d be okay with that advice. The severity of the situation is that I’m a homebody, this is COVID times and my home is a construction site. I work remotely. I’ve maxed out stays with friends and nearly maxed out my air bnb budget. Just need some advice and problem-solving. Advice can include names of experts who could look at the roof of a 16-unit Brooklyn co-op and tell me why my walls are damp. Thank you. Please be kind/not snarky, if possible. I’m pretty worn out by this situation.
posted by ponibrown to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you describe your living situation?
What is the current status of your living area?
Is this a studio— is there a hole in your walls?
Are you able to sleep, eat, inhabit your living space?
posted by calgirl at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2021

Best answer: It's very surprising that a board member and architect (!) wouldn't find water damage coming from the roof an urgent issue! He has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the coop -- which is not the same as minimizing out of pocket costs! -- and water damage could absolutely cause an issue that is long-term more expensive or dangerous.

I think you need to substantially increase the sense of urgency on the part of the Board. Your next call is probably not to a contractor but to a lawyer. The goal here is not to sue them or even (necessarily!) to get them to pay for repairs but to get what you need to perform the repairs on your apartment, like access to the roof or common spaces.
posted by goingonit at 10:39 AM on November 5, 2021 [21 favorites]

Retain a lawyer and point them at your Co-op Board. Until you scare them, they're going to sit on their hands. Only the threat of an expensive and protracted lawsuit will scare them. I'm the president of an HOA and this is the ONLY thing that lights a fire under our management company. Anything less results in me pulling teeth for months on end. Lawsuit incoming? Somehow shit starts happening with a week.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:56 AM on November 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

I don't know if this is helpful or not, but first of all I feel your frustration about unexplained water and living in a construction zone. I had some mold in the bathroom of my (not top floor) Brooklyn apartment last year, and it took about 6 weeks to identify the source of the leak that was causing the mold and get it fixed and ceiling closed up again. Covid seemed to make things a lot harder because the tenants above me wouldn't let contractors into their space and the whole thing was very stressful because I didn't know when it would end and I was constantly letting people into my small space to inspect things, and they would often show up when I was in the middle of conference calls. Over the course of it, I had at least the building's handyman out 5 or 6 times, at least 4 visits from 3 different plumbs, a roofer, and the building manager.

Finding the source of leaks should be a priority - if the co-op doesn't find it, the next time it leaks it will cause more damage to the structure and potentially other units. My understanding is that a lot of roofers/contractors/water remediators are backed up with work because of the unusually large amount of rain we've gotten over the last few months. It does take time to schedule things/find the right professional, you don't have someone new out looking at things every 3-4 days, they're not moving as quickly as they can.
posted by A Blue Moon at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had a similar issue with unexplained water damage in my NYC co-op. Since the cause of the damage was caused by something outside my own four walls, it was the building's responsibility to pay the repair bills. Ultimately the source of the leak turned out to be the next door building who I shared a wall with and that became a whole other hassle.

You should examine your proprietary lease to understand what the building is liable for. Send that to the co-op. I'm sure they'd rather fix the source of the problem then pay your repeated repair bills.

Finally, have you checked with your neighbors? If others are experiencing something similar it can be helpful in both locating the source of the problem and in getting more allies to push for action.
posted by brookeb at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

One of the Board members is an architect and he stated in an email to me that he has a fiduciary duty to the co-op to minimize costs so he is taking his time finding a solution. He has also stated several times that he is a volunteer and my sense of urgency is upsetting to him.

Water leaks are urgent and he is not the right person to be handling this if he does not understand that. Are there meetings? It is time to go to one in person or virtually, if that is how they are held. If not, is there any other way to let the rest of the people in your building know about this issue? You all need a group or email list or something so you can keep each other informed that does not involve the board. If I found out my condo board was ignoring something like this, I would be pretty upset with them.
posted by soelo at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

What, if anything, do your bylaws, say about this? Mine indicate that the board is legally obligated to deal w/maintenance issues potentially impacting common elements - such as leaks - promptly. There may be some leverage for you there.

(The feelings of the people who have elected to serve on the board are mentioned zero times, by comparison.)

FWIW, I dealt with a similar issue, though w/a cooperative board (who, for example, easily gave me roof access so I could have someone look at it) and it still took multiple inspections before the issue was identified (which apparently is not uncommon for more occult roof problems). You are probably already doing so, but make sure to carefully document all your interactions w/them, contractors, etc., so that you can advocate for yourself when it comes to getting all of this paid for.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi calgirl. Just replying to your question about my living situation. Thanks for asking. It’s a one bedroom. It’s habitable but not comfortable. Most of the mushy old plaster has been removed and the masonry is now exposed in two large patches. I’m hoping the exposed masonry will help the Board identify the source of the dampness. We don’t have a super or building manager, it’s just the 5-person volunteer/elected Board and whatever contractor they choose to diagnose and fix the issue.
posted by ponibrown at 6:20 PM on November 5, 2021

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