In Colorado, we are blessed and cursed with four seasons, each being the foundation of various possible issues with unoccupied or vacant units especially in mountain communities. Units can be unoccupied for different reasons, maybe they are truly vacant or maybe they are idle units that are rented out periodically. Winters can be brutal and it is this time of year where we see an increase of bursting pipes followed by water damage. This damage can be extensive and trickle into surrounding units causing significant repair costs. Unoccupied units can also become a target for vandalism or even used as makeshift housing for squatters both leaving significant damage in their path. Bob Strong of Strong Insurance Agency based in Steamboat Springs noted in a recent presentation that vacant or unoccupied units account for the majority of claims costs in Colorado resort condominiums. Furthermore, he noted that 82% of all claims and 71% of all claim dollars involve water. Based on his years of experience, he has identified a list 9 basic steps associations can take to minimize the risk of water damage in unoccupied units:
- Property management staff should have access to any unoccupied, vacant or idle units at all times.
- Pre-season inspections in the Fall should ensure that thermostats are set to a minimum of 65 degrees and that all windows and doors are properly secured.
- Inspection of sprinkler systems before and during cold weather season.
- Weather forecast of –15F or colder requires more diligence of preventative measure. (Faucets of unoccupied units should be allowed to drip during cold spells to keep the water pipes from freezing and then be turned off as soon as temperatures rise above freezing).
- Identify water pipes located on exterior walls – consider adding additional insulation to the pipe or install vents allowing the flow of heat to those areas. Make sure all cracks in walls or other openings are sealed with caulk or insulation.
- Inspect water supply lines for leaks. Rubber hoses are not recommended as they tend to deteriorate over time.
- Use flexible copper tubing for icemakers.
- Water heaters over 10 years old should be inspected yearly by a qualified professional. Water heaters on average require replacement every 10-13 years.
- Daily walk through of unoccupied, vacant or idle units to check for any problems that could lead to a maintenance or safety issue.
Before undertaking inspections it is advisable to consult with your attorney to make sure your authority is well documented. In addition, many communities are amending their governing documents to require replacement of high risk equipment such as water heaters, rubber hoses, etc. with authority for the association to do so if owners refuse. We also recommend that a thorough record be kept on file of all inspections and any actions taken. For more information please contact any of our attorneys at 800-809-5242.
Sources: Strong, Bob. Strong Insurance Agency. Steamboat Springs, CO. 970.879.1330. Basic Requirements for the Prevention of Water Damage Claims in Resort Condominiums.