Q: Our condo in Chicago has no cold (or potable) water in the kitchen. The condo fee covers water.
From my conversations with the condo's management company, fixing the problem entails replacing a major valve in this large building and is a major undertaking. They give no estimate about when the work might be done, if ever.
Should this problem have been disclosed to us at purchase, and would it require disclosure at an eventual sale? Would we be justified in asking for a reduction in the monthly fee, retroactively? If we got a reduction, would that let management off the hook for fixing the problem?
A: It sounds obvious to say, but we think you’re entitled to be able to turn on the tap in your kitchen and get cold, drinkable, usable water. While we don’t know the details regarding the plumbing in the building and any other particulars of the kitchen itself, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that your kitchen and bathroom fixtures have hot and cold running water.
We’re wondering what caused this kind of problem and whether any other units are experiencing the same. Was the kitchen rebuilt or relocated within the unit? Assuming the kitchen is original to the building, it’s unclear why your unit has (presumably hot) but not cold water.
While peculiar, it's not unusual that one condo unit in a building will have a problem that does not affect other condo owners. Examples include roof leaks, window problems, foundation issues such as cracks or settling, water infiltration and plumbing problems.
The condominium documents probably state that the association is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the common areas and elements of the building. Your plumbing issue, as described, seems to fall under that description and we believe you should be able to rely on the documents that bind all the unit owners together as an association and that govern how the owners interact with each other and the association.
But there's a lot we don't know. We don't know the costs involved or other circumstances surrounding the lack of water to your unit. We also don't know if the association has made attempts to fix the issue and, if they have made a serious attempt, why it has been unable to resolve it.
If the central issue is that it just costs a lot to repair the valve, well that's too bad. There are times that buildings need to make certain repairs even when the costs are high. If the roof were the association's responsibility, we doubt the building would refuse to replace it if it needed it, even if the leaking only affected one unit.
Go back to the association management team to get more information. You want to know when the issue was discovered, how it was investigated, what possible solutions there are and their timetable for fixing the issue. If they refuse to talk to you or give you the information you seek, you should talk to the president of the homeowners association and ask for the same information. You might also ask for the past two years of building board meeting minutes to see if the issue came up in those meetings and what was said about it. (You can also start attending monthly condo board meetings to raise the issue.)
Once you have that information, you will be able to evaluate whether your seller knew or should have known about the issue. (Some of our astute readers will wonder why you or your professional home inspector — if you hired one — didn’t discover that the cold water wasn’t working in the kitchen. In our view, an inspector should turn on all taps to test water pressure.)
If the sellers knew about it (and we think they probably did) then they should have disclosed it to you. Not having cold water in a kitchen is a big deal, which the building management has confirmed by indicating the repair will cost a significant amount.
After you do this research, talk with an attorney who has experience in seller disclosure issues and condo lawsuits to determine whether you have an action against the seller and if it will be worth going after the seller for your damages. But you should also explore the possibility that you'll have to sue your building to fix this issue.
Having no cold running water is a problem that will likely depress your home's value if you tried to sell it. Having this become a publicly known issue might become a black mark on the entire condo building, as will filing a lawsuit.
It's no fun to replace building valves and pipes, and the whole thing can be expensive, time-consuming and annoying. Even so, not having cold running water is a nonstarter. Be sure to let us know how things work out.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.