Q&A: Persistent Roof Leak

Q. My co-op board and property management company have failed to correct a roof leak which filters to my top floor apartment for eight months. I believe the failure to be the result of low-cost repair/patchwork attempts rather than comprehensive resolution. This has resulted in severe inconvenience and thus prevents peaceful enjoyment of my apartment. What can I do?

                                                           —All Wet

A. James R. Stevens, principal at Chicago-based law firm Chuhak & Tecson, says, “Generally, a cooperative (at least in Illinois) is responsible, through its board of shareholder directors, for the maintenance and repair of the common portions of the property, of which the roof would be included. Roof leaks in shared living are often a difficult problem as it may take many attempts to determine, isolate, and fix the problem, all while leaks continue in the interim. Despite this inconvenience, boards, generally, should rely on the advice of qualified professionals in undertaking various repairs to the common portions of the property, including the roof.
“The reader indicates that the co-op board has been working on the roof issue for eight months. We see these situations frequently, where a board may attempt less expensive or less major repairs to tackle a persistent leak with an otherwise operational roof, and some opt, based on a contractor’s recommendation, to address a problem in stages. Often, qualified contractors may recommend trying a variety of minor repairs instead of rushing to a full re-roof which can be very costly.
“Owners often wonder if they have legal rights to sue to force work or alter a course of repair. That, unfortunately, depends greatly on the history of the problem, the specific issues at hand, and the governing documents of the co-op. Co-op owners may have a legal right in the governing documents or in court of equity to force action. So long as the board relies on the advice of its qualified contractor in how it goes about addressing the leak, it may not be actionable, but this depends greatly on the individual circumstances of the legal issues. There is a potential for legal trouble, though, if the board simply is not undertaking its repair obligations with the right advice.
“These issues present a two-way street: owners should be diligent about reporting repair problems and boards should be equally diligent in addressing repair problems, including the potential that the less expensive repair option may not be working. Ultimately, it may be time to bite the bullet on a new roof and all of the expense that a major project entails, but this should be at the recommendation of a qualified roofing professional and depends on the specific problems facing each individual building.”

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