Town Homes Mean Something in Common

17.08.18 03:23 PM By Paul Cantor

For many who enjoy semi-maintenance-free living and prefer living closer to city centers, (apart from having fewer windows) townhome-living feels no different than living a single family home. From the outside, however, one thing is very obvious: one or more shared walls.   This begs the question: who is responsible for issues that arise out of that common (or party) wall experience? What if you have leaks, pests, or mold growing inside? Unlike a condo, where you only own the airspace and none of the structure itself, townhome owners are liable for their common walls.   The owners of each lot are jointly responsible for maintenance and repair of these walls unless damage is caused by one owner’s negligence, in which case the negligible owner is responsible for repairs, according to real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer, writing for the  Sun-Sentinel. He advises you not to consider your neighbors recognized authorities on matters like these, even saying the board of your association can be working under a misunderstanding of what your governing documents actually say.   “I have lost count of the times an association was trying to enforce a restriction that only exists in their ‘understanding' of the rules,” says Singer. “To get to the bottom of this, you will need to review the documents to see what they actually say. Association rules are, in reality, nothing more than a contract between you and your neighbors, and the only way to know what is in a contract is to read it.”   He goes on to say that attached housing that shares a wall or fixture is governed by either the community documents or a private “party wall agreement” between direct neighbors. “If, for some reason, your community documents are silent on this sort of maintenance issue, and there is no party wall agreement in place, the general provisions of law — what lawyers call 'common law’ — will give you the answer,” he says.   Under common law (as the word implies) problems with shared walls are split equally between the landowners that share the problem. “This means that unless your community’s governing documents state the association is responsible, you and your next-door neighbor are on the hook. If your neighbor is not cooperative in resolving the issue, you will need to take care of it and look to your neighbor for reimbursement of half the cost.”  Source: Sun-Sentinel, TBWS