kitchen sink

When you live in a condo, one of the perks is that you typically don't have to worry about maintaining the outside of your building or upkeeping of most anything beyond your front door. But what happens when the unit above yours springs a water leak — and that water comes into your condo?

Water can cause significant damage that's expensive to repair, and it can sometimes be confusing to determine who will foot the bill, should a water loss occur.

Determining who pays

In a condo, you share walls — and sometimes plumbing lines — with your neighbors, which makes handling water damage different than for those who live in a house.1 There are several variables that may determine who ends up paying for water damage, and the ruling on that can vary from state to state.2 A great place to start when determining who is responsible for water leaks and damage in your condo is with your condo association. Request a copy of the by-laws and rules to find out what is considered part of your unit and what responsibility falls on you as the owner.

What to do if you find a leak

As soon as you notice a leak, contact your association.3 Then take photos of the water damage, including any property it might have damaged, and move your belongings away from the affected area. You can provide these photos to your insurance company when you make a claim. Avoid throwing away or giving away water-damaged items until after your insurance company has settled your claim.1

What to check before you move in

Water can cause structural damage and create mold issues. One way to minimize the risk of water issues in your condo is to look specifically for signs of plumbing problems before you buy it. Make sure your home inspector checks the water heater for leaks, rust and corrosion. Make sure they check for signs of leaks around pipes and turn on the water in the sinks, showers and bathtubs to check the water pressure. The inspector should also look for signs of water damage around the shower that could indicate leaking and inspect ceilings and floors for any signs of previous leaks or damage. Warped floors could also be a sign of previous water damage.4 

If you find signs of damage, it's important to find out the history of the circumstances and how it was resolved. Talk to the condo management staff and make sure you understand what the problem was and what repairs were done. It's important to make sure the problem was fixed completely, not just cosmetically, so you won't be likely to experience further issues.

Plan ahead to prevent or limit water damage

It is essential to have adequate insurance in place to cover water damage. In addition to having insurance, consider these helpful tips for safeguarding your condo from water leaks and damage:

  • Install stainless steel braided lines, instead of rubber hoses, on your washing machine and large appliances.
  • Install a drip pan under your condo’s water heater, washing machine and other water-carrying appliances.
  • Consider water sensors or a water shut-off device for your condo.
  • Turn off the water supply leading into your condo when you're away for extended periods of time.
  • For more tips, contact your Private Client risk solutions consultant.

Water mishaps can occur unexpectedly, so it's a good idea to keep the name and emergency number of a reliable plumber stored in your phone. Ask your association or building manager if there's a plumbing company they prefer you to use.

Knowing how to handle water damage when it happens can make the claims and repair processes run more smoothly. Learning in advance how your association or building management determines the financial responsibility for this type of incident can save you from unpleasant surprises if it occurs.

[1] "Water Leak? If you Live in a Condominium Association Who is Responsible?" (Dec. 7, 2017).
[2] "When there's water damage in a co-op or condo, who pays for the repairs?" (June 13, 2018).
[3] "Condominium Leak? Who is responsible?" (June 14, 2017).
[4] "A Condo Inspection Checklist," Samantha Kemp, (Dec. 12, 2019).
This insurance overview is for informational purposes only and does not replace or modify the definitions and information contained in individual insurance policies, their endorsements or their declarations pages, which are controlling. Terms and availability vary by state, and exclusions apply. Products are underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and affiliated companies, including Crestbrook Insurance, Columbus, Ohio. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle and Nationwide Private Client are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.