Spring is upon us and with that comes the spring thaw and plenty of April showers. This translates to a most frustrating period of time for many cooperatives, especially those buildings which are built with basements. Members are often strongly encouraged to maintain adequate insurance coverage for their unit interiors and the contents, however, some individuals continue to ignore the advice of the cooperative, assuming such a risk is the cooperative’s problem. This, however, is an incorrect and risky assumption.
The best defense to basement flooding claims is of course an offense outlined through duly adopted rules, regulations and policies that unequivocally place that risk back to the member. In other words, ensure your governing documents are not only clear about the prohibited uses of a dwelling unit basement, but that any items they choose to store in the basement are the responsibility of the member in the event damage occurs due to basement flooding.
Many housing cooperatives were originally built as early as the 1950's. This means that unless extensive overhauls have been made to the plumbing systems servicing the buildings, the pipes may be working overtime resulting in extra wear and tear. This does not mean you need to replace your plumbing, but it does mean that your members must understand that flushing certain items down the toilet or pouring grease, oil or egg shells down the kitchen sink can and often will combine into a mixture similar to concrete. This type of condition not only slows the flow of water down the drain, it can clog the main sewer lines servicing the buildings and end nastily in a basement.
Establish rules for your members which describe first the responsibility for property damage and clean up in the event there is basement flooding or a sewer backup in the building. Make it painfully clear that loss of personal property stored or used in a basement due to flooding is under no circumstance the responsibility of the cooperative. Next, set up a fine system for misuse of the plumbing lines and explain that should damage result from improperly disposing of items through either the toilet or the sink drains, costs to repair damages traced back to a member will be borne by offending member.
Clarity is key and education will decrease the headaches associated with the responsibilities of both cooperative and member, in the event basement flooding becomes an issue. If you find your documents a little less than clear about the above issues, we strongly encourage you to contact your legal counsel to discuss revisions to your governing documents.