Re: Lots of Gray: How to Assign Financial Responsibility for Homeowner Damage to Common Property
From: David Bygott (
Date: Fri, 25 May 2012 08:16:19 -0700 (PDT)
I can offer a few diverse examples from Milagro Cohousing, where we have a 
fairly vigilant 'Structure and Maintenance' committee that manages building 
exteriors and tries to nip such problems in the bud, and an 'Architectural 
Review' committee that vets all proposed structural modifications. 

1) Strict pre-emptive measures to protect community: A few years back, a member 
wanted to install photovoltaic panels on his roof, which involved drilling 
through the metal cladding and theoretically compromising the roof's integrity. 
Most of us trusted the contractors to do a good job and to guarantee their 
work, which indeed was so. But, as the community is responsible for roof 
maintenance, and this was a relatively untested operation, a pressure group 
demanded that this wasn't good enough. The homeowner must sign a legal waiver 
absolving the community from any responsibility for roof damage resulting from 
the installation. There was a lot of discussion and argument and polarization 
(What? In cohousing?!!). The homeowner, under some duress, paid a lawyer to 
create a waiver (hopefully as watertight as his roof), and the project 
successfully went ahead. Subsequently 7 more of us have added PV panels to our 
homes, we each duly signed the waiver, and
 contributed to the PV pioneer homeowner's legal outlay. So far there have been 
no structural problems and everyone is very happy with their PV systems. Each 
time a new one is added there is less and less fuss, it's routine now. The main 
'objectors' have died or moved out, but looking back, I think in this case we 
were smart to clarify very precisely the limits of community responsibility. 
Given the current climate in our community, I suspect that if someone's PV 
panels were torn off the roof by a gale, the community would at least help 
arrange repairs rather than say 'you're on your own now', - but we do have the 
latter option.

2) Community voluntarily pitches in: Thieves cleaned out most of our workshop 
equipment one Xmas eve, and it wasn't insured. No-one could really be held 
responsible for the loss, we just didn't have very good security at the time 
and nothing like that had happened here before. So one member organized a 
community-wide yard sale, and the proceeds were enough to restock the tools - 
and to improve the locks on the doors.

3) Community conditionally refunds homeowner costs: We have had a few cases of 
bees nesting in people's roofs, where the homeowner has organized 
extermination, and community has paid because it is argued that it's S&M 
committee's job to ensure there are no cracks for bees to enter. However, some 
of these operations have been very expensive. We are now ruling that the 
community gets to choose whom to call in, as the guy down the road is way 
cheaper than the high-profile exterminators. We also ask homeowners to report 
immediately any sign of bees moving in.

4) Member voluntarily covers costs: For small items, say less than $500, where 
someone's negligence clearly results in equipment being broken, the culprit 
usually volunteers (or is persuaded) to pay all or part of the replacement 
cost. However we do have a small slush fund for repairs and replacement. So 
this is a bit of a grey area.

5) Preventive education: We have a community wastewater-processing wetland 
system whose microbes can be damaged if people flush certain chemicals into it. 
So far this appears not to have happened, because we make a big effort to 
remind all homeowners frequently which products are safe to use for washing and 
cleaning, and which are not. In this case, clearly it is impossible to police, 
enforce or assign blame. All we can do is impress on members what a huge and 
expensive stink (literally) will result from noncompliance, and they seem to 
get the message.

Prevention is far, far cheaper than cure. We are getting better at it, but all 
the time getting better at mediation too and trying to ensure that neither 
individuals nor the community get stuck with outrageous repair costs.

David Bygott
Milagro Cohousing

Date: Wed, 23 May 2012 19:04:30 -0400
From: Steven Hecht <steve_hecht [at]>
Subject: [C-L]_ Lots of Gray: How to Assign Financial Responsibility
    for Homeowner Damage to Common Property
To: cohousing-L [at]
Cc: Dan Groher <dgroher [at]>


After seventeen years on-site here at New VIew Cohousing in Acton, MA we
are now wrestling with how to assign financial costs when a lapse in
homeowner maintenance causes damage to common (condo) property. For
instance: Our condo docs place window ownership (hence maintenance) into
the hands of the unit owner. If the window develops rot in the frame or the
sill, moisture can percolate down around the window and damage the exterior
envelope of the house, which belongs to the condo. The first round of
repairs to damaged envelopes was picked up by the group because we were
unaware (!) that our condo docs assigned window ownership to the home
owner. In the future we have decided that lapses in window integrity that
damage common property will be the responsibility of the homeowner. Another
example: Shrubs that grow too close to the house exterior that causes
rot/damage to the trim or the clapboard.

I'm writing to find out how other groups have dealt with this issue. There
are a lot of potential gray areas in assigning fault/responsibility to the
homeowner when private property interfaces with common property. Does your
group hold strictly to the condo docs and give no wiggle room to the unit
owners in cases like this, or have you implemented some kind of mediation
protocol to resolve potential conflicts?

Steve Hecht
(978) 635-1145 (call if you'd like!)

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