HOA Case Law Journal
with Julie McGhee Howard
Villa Sonoma Perimeter Summit Condominium Association, Inc. v. Mainor
356 Ga. App. 794, 849 S.E.2d 226 (Ct. App. Georgia 2020)
There are few events as calamitous as water damage to a home. Jesse Mainor, a condominium unit owner, experienced condominium unit water damage twice in short order. In his case, the source of the leak was another unit’s hot water heater which subsequently leaked into his ceiling, causing damages into the five figures. Though commonly understood in the condominium industry and insurance trade, terminology in the Georgia Condominium Act had never been clarified by the courts, leaving “fire and extended coverage” open to interpretation as unit owners sought relief from associations for condominium unit water damage.
- In January 2018, Jesse Mainor’s condominium unit at Villa Sonoma sustained damage as a result of water leaking from a hot water heater tank inside another unit. Mainor’s unit suffered damage to the dining room ceiling and floor; living room and kitchen walls; living room ceiling and floors; and kitchen ceiling and floors.
- In total, the alleged damages for the January 2018 water damage to Mr. Mainor’s unit were more than $10,000.
- Just one month later, Mainor’s unit sustained another water leak causing another $4,480.60 in damage.
- When the association and its master insurance carrier did not pay for the damages, Mr. Mainor filed suit against the association for breach of contract and attorney fees.
The Issue of the Suit
As the leak originated outside of Mr. Mainor’s unit, he argued that it was the responsibility of the condominium association to repair and compensate him for the damages. The association’s attorneys argued at trial that the association was not responsible for the damage because it did not cause the damage and it was not required to carry insurance for condominium unit water damage. Specifically, the association argued that the state condominium statute’s requirement for associations to carry “fire and extended coverage” insurance does not include coverage for water losses.
The Georgia Condominium Act does not specifically require condominium associations to obtain insurance for condominium unit water damage, and the term “extended coverage” had never been clarified by the courts, leaving it open to interpretation. Mr. Mainor and his attorney won the case at trial, and the Villa Sonoma Perimeter Summit Condominium Association appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision. The Court of Appeals finally clarified for everyone’s benefit that “fire and extended coverage” does not extend to water damage. While Mr. Mainor’s lawsuit was for a relatively low dollar amount, the ruling in this case has dramatic repercussions that may well affect other real estate, mortgage and insurance-related statutes and contracts in Georgia and even nationally.
The Cautionary Tale
Although the board of directors and their attorneys prevailed, the experience shines a bright light on “common practice” knowledge and even statutes that are open to interpretation. In this case, a long-standing expression, dating back to WWII, had never been properly clarified by the courts. This left the unit owner and condominium association at odds, as each was interpreting the law in a different way. This case highlights why associations must make wise choices in their legal representation when faced with statutory interpretation that requires not only an understanding of case law, but also a sophisticated understanding of community association practices in general.
Additional coverage about Villa Sonoma Perimeter Summit Condominium Association, Inc. v. Mainor:
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