Attorney DePalo Victorious in Contentious Premises Liability Lawsuit

1/11/2018

Governo Law Firm congratulates Attorney Vincent DePalo for securing a summary judgment victory for a condominium association in a contentious property damage and breach of contract dispute among two unit owners and a condominium association. The plaintiff filed suit after experiencing several water leaks into her unit, claiming an upstairs neighbor's negligent maintenance and repair of that unit's bathroom caused the leaks. The plaintiff also asserted that the condominium association breached its duty under the condominium by-laws by failing to make repairs inside the upstairs neighbor's unit and by negligently maintaining the common area pipes. The condominium is a four-story, thirty-two-unit building located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The plaintiff argued that the condominium association's by-laws require the association to compel repairs inside individual units if a unit's condition negatively impacts the market value of other units or if the association deems the unit's condition is hazardous. The most troubling repercussion of the plaintiff's interpretation of the by-laws was that it would have bound the association to force repairs inside a private unit based on a single, unsubstantiated complaint from another unit owner.

In an insightful and detailed decision, Associate Justice William C. Barrett rejected all of the plaintiff's claims against the condominium association. Judge Barrett noted that the plaintiff could not show that the by-laws created an affirmative duty requiring the association to force the upstairs neighbor to completely renovate her bathroom and plumbing. Instead, he found the "language [in the by-laws] is actually more permissive than compulsory" and therefore the association did not breach its contract to maintain the building. The judge also indicated that the plaintiff failed to prove that the common area pipes caused any of the leaks.

This Cambridge condominium association uses the same boilerplate language in its by-laws and condominium documents as countless buildings throughout Massachusetts. This case highlights the need for condominium associations to be aware of the language in their governing documents and to be cautious in dealing with unit owners. An association should always seek counsel when confronting property damage disputes that may lead to litigation.

Governo Law Firm has represented condominium associations and property owners in various complex cases for three decades. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Vincent DePalo at [email protected].