Real estate Q&A: When neighbors share a wall, who's responsible if there's an issue?
By GARY M. SINGER
August 16. 2018 11:55PM
Homes that share a wall or fixture are governed by either the community documents, or a private "party wall agreement" between you and your direct neighbor, according to board-certified real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer. (Dreamstime)
Q: I live in a townhome in a homeowners association where there are four units attached on each parcel by an archway. I have bees in the wall of the archway that need to be removed. My neighbor says that the association is responsible because the problem is not within the four walls of our units. The association says it is my responsibility. Who is correct? -- JoelA:
While neighbors may have good information to share with you, they are not considered a recognized authority. And, all too often, even the board of your association can be working under a misunderstanding of what your governing documents actually say. I have lost count of the times an association was trying to enforce a restriction that only exists in their "understanding" of the rules.
To get to the bottom of this, you will need to review the documents to see what they actually say. Association rules are, in reality, nothing more than a contract between you and your neighbors, and the only way to know what is in a contract is to read it.
Homes, such as yours, that share a wall or fixture are governed by either the community documents, or a private "party wall agreement" between you and your direct neighbor. If, for some reason, your community documents are silent on this sort of maintenance issue, and there is no party wall agreement in place, the general provisions of law -- what lawyers call "common law" -- will give you the answer.
Under common law, a problem such as yours will be split equally between the two landowners that share the problem.
This means that unless your community's governing documents state the association is responsible, you and your next-door neighbor are on the hook. If your neighbor is not cooperative in resolving the issue, you will need to take care of it and look to your neighbor for reimbursement of half the cost.
Worst-case scenario, you may need to sue your neighbor to be reimbursed and, depending on the cost of the bee removal, it may not be worth it to make an enemy of your neighbor with a lawsuit.Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.