Liability For The Condominium Association May Be Different Than The Individual Directors

Law Talk

Sam K. Abdulaziz
Attorney at Law

The Churchill, a 110-unit apartment building in Los Angeles was built in 1962. When it was constructed, concrete slabs were laid between the ceiling of each apartment and the floor of the unit directly above it. The slabs had large holes to accommodate water and electrical pipes. Although the plans for the building called for the unused holes to be covered prior to completion of the building, this was not done. The uncovered holes were a fire hazard and also allowed odors to pass from one apartment to another.

In 1976, the building was converted into condominiums. Afterwards, purchasers of two units (Ritter & Ritter) noticed odor problems in both of the units. They had purchased the units in 1995 & 1998. They then discovered that the holes in the concrete slabs were the source of the problem. They demanded that the condominium Association cover the holes. The Association stated that the Ritters were responsible for fixing the problem since they are the owners. Therefore, the Ritters are responsible for fixing the problem. The owners of the units then sued the Association itself, and the individual Directors. The Ritters sued and asked for financial damages due to odor intrusion into their units and sought an injunction requiring the Churchill to fill all the uncovered holes at the Churchill's expense.

After a trial, the jury found no liability on the part of the individual Directors, however, the jury found the Association was liable to the owners of the property on each cause of action. The Ritters were also awarded all of their attorneys' fees.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the holding of the lower court. The Court found that the liability of the Churchill was separate and distinct from the personal liability of the Directors. It was legally possible to have one without the other.

Members of the Association can recover damages from the Association resulting from a dangerous condition in the common area, as long as the members themselves were not responsible for the poor conditions.

The Court of Appeal also cited a well accepted principle of condominium law, which is that a homeowner can sue the homeowners association for damages to get the association to stop their improper behavior and enforce the provisions of a declaration, and they can sue directly to enforce the declaration.