WHEN A PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIM TURNS INTO AN OWNERSHIP ISSUE

Published on: April 10, 2018

A complete understanding of your condominium’s Declaration of Trust, Master Deed, By-Laws, Amendments, and other governing documents is extremely important when living in a condominium. A review of these documents will dictate the size and boundaries of the condominium’s units among other things.  Recently, a client came to MEEB because his unit was being damaged by a water leak coming from a roof deck owned, through an easement, by another unit owner.

When the case came to MEEB the understanding was that the roof of this particular condominium was divided into three parts; half of the roof belong to a 6th floor owner who was the neighbor of our clients and the other half of the roof was split between our client and a 4th floor unit owner, who gained possession of its portion of the roof top through an easement granted by the Board of Trustees in 1997.  However, a review of this condominium’s governing documents showed that this easement could not be granted by the Board of Trustees.

A close review of the condominium’s Master Deed showed that the roof top was not defined as a common element (which the Board of Trustees could grant an easement over), but was actually part of the unit below it, meaning the roof top was considered to be part of the 6th floor units below it.  MEEB filed suit in the Land Court seeking an Order that the easement is invalid and that the 4th floor unit had no property rights in the condominium’s roof top.

In Barstow v. Eagle Trace Properties, LLC, 17MISC000275 (Land Court), Judge Scheier found that the Board of Trustees did not have the right to grant the easement and that the 4th floor unit owner did not have property rights in any portion of the easement.  The Judge ruled that the easement was invalid and granted Summary Judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, who now is the owner of the entire roof above his unit.

The takeaway from this case shows how important it is to have a complete understanding of your condominium’s governing documents. Just because something has been occurring for twenty years, as in the case above, doesn’t mean that it is right or proper.  Having a MEEB attorney review your condominium’s documents can give you a clear understanding of what the rights and responsibilities of the unit owners as well as the condominium trust.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact Norm Orban at norban@meeb.com.