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Do I have to pay half the cost to repair my upstairs neighbour’s joists?

Winters  Property Management has over twenty years experience in the management of residential and commercial property. All our property managers are licensed by the Property Regulator and as a business, we are members of both the Society of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Our expertise is often called upon by owners to advise them on difficult situations. The following piece is a query which was sent to The Irish Times Property Clinic and which our MD was asked to respond too.

If the joists are considered communal areas, insurance may cover them

I live in a small development of just 8 apartments. We manage the OMC ourselves. We have two directors, who live in the building, all but two of the units are owner-occupied. The other two are rented out There are two floors, each has a private entrance no lifts or internal communal areas to maintain. We have a communal garden which is well maintained.

The Apartment upstairs to ours has recently been sold. The owner lives there and is a builder by trade. He is doing a huge amount of work, knocking down internal walls, reconfiguring the property he has moved his kitchen from the back to the front of the house. Directly outside our door we now have ugly waste disposal pipes, he has also knocked out a much bigger window, which takes away from the overall integrity of the 1880’s building.

Now he informs me that the jousts on my ceiling and his floor are rotten and that I should pay half to repair them. Is this my responsibility? Should I pay? The OMC recently repaired the roof and insulated, what is effectively ‘his’ ceiling, as he is on floor two the top floor. At the time I asked if our ceiling could also be insulated but was told that this was an issue for each apartment owner.

So, who exactly owns the internal ceiling/floor in an apartment block and who owns the walls, roof and ‘main’ ceiling? 

Thank you for your query and your experience is not uncommon in smaller Owner Management Companies, however, it is a complex issue that touches on a couple of different areas. Firstly, it raises the responsibilities of an Owners’ Management Company (OMC) and in the second instance the responsibilities of individual apartment owners and the impact of various building regulations.

In relation to the OMC, its operation is covered by the Multi-Unit Developments Act which was introduced in 2011. In simple terms, the OMC is usually responsible for the shared common areas of the apartment block including corridors, external walls and roofs. There can be some variations on this arrangement so you need to ask your solicitor to review your title documents which will outline in detail the services that the OMC is to provide. They will review the long leasehold title of the apartment which determines the responsibilities of the owners’ management company (lessor) and apartment owner (lessee).

In the event that the jousts are considered part of the building’s common areas, OMC services include having appropriate insurance in place on the block of apartments. In this instance, it may be worthwhile to explore the block policy in detail and to establish if the jousts in question are considered part of the building fabric by the policy and if so, does the policy cover the required works? This may come down to the cause of the damage to the jousts and the OMC may need to appoint an engineer and/or loss adjustor to explore this in more detail.

On the second issue, Individual apartment owners are usually responsible for everything inside the four walls of the apartment including insurance and maintenance. However, from the sounds of your query, it appears that your neighbour may have carried out works on parts of the building which are the responsibility of the OMC. If this is the case, then the OMC needs to take action to ensure that your neighbour complies with the terms of his long leasehold title and with the OMC house rules.

It’s understandable that given the size of the block the OMC is self-managed however it is important that the directors have some knowledge regarding responsibility for the different parts of the building fabric. If this is not the case, then they need to retain the services of an experienced Building Surveyor to guide them in making sure that any works carried out in the building comply with applicable building regulations and the obligations imposed by the long leasehold title document. Additionally, alterations, as described, may have an impact on the overall Block Insurance policy and the insurers need to be updated on material changes to the building. Lastly given the age of the building it may listed on the local planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS), buildings on this list are legally protected and all changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

As seen in The Irish Times, this article was written in response to a tenants query regarding knowing your rights when it comes to apartment living. This advice is given by Enda Mc Guane, managing director of Winters Property Management, a chartered property manager and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland