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US, Arizona, if the city is important I will post but would rather not at this time.

My dad moved into a condo some months back. For some reason he thought the upstairs neighbor might be plugged into his hot water. This morning he woke up and heard the neighbor's shower running. So went and flipped the valve on the hot water heater and sure enough the water stopped upstairs. So it sounds that it is the fact the neighbor is plugged into the hot water.

Is this enough to start a process where evidence can be collected for a lawsuit?

Is this enough where the police can investigate, securing a warrant to enter if need be?

I believe that utility theft is a crime, should police be involved now or later?

Whom should he engage first, counsel or police?

An just an aside question that I am sure will be answered in time, do police share their findings with a victim so the victim can present that evidence in a tort case?

  • Renting or own? Is there a condo association? How old/new is the condo? – BlueDogRanch Feb 14 '18 at 2:08
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    Before involving the police it might be a good idea to check with a plumber who is willing to take photos of what they find. They can trace the line and let you know if it looks like if the line was tapped, or if it was built that way. This could be a mistake that the plumbers that installed the plumbing made. – Jason Aller Feb 14 '18 at 2:33
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    "So [my father] went and flipped the valve on the hot water heater and sure enough the water stopped upstairs." - This is the actual problem. And it does not imply theft or a crime. Ask the apartment manager to have it fixed. Or just keep the valve turned off permanently, and your neighbor will probably decide to ask to have it fixed, assuming he still wants to use hot water. – Brandin Feb 14 '18 at 9:33
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    You want to sue for a few dollars in hot water? Just get a plumber to trace out your dad's line and remove any tap. Plumber does not need to enter the upstairs condo to do that. If you find a tap and want to report it to the police before removing the tap then go for it. – paparazzo Feb 14 '18 at 13:56
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    I don't want to sue anybody, but my dad he gets these nasty streaks of hot tempered indignation in him whenever he feels he has been wronged. My advice to him so far has been call a lawyer and a plumber, that was before I posted. I posted to just get a better feel for the issue. – Jon Feb 14 '18 at 21:58
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Sure, you can sue; but who are you going to sue? You have to prove someone knew about the fact that one condo resident was going to be paying for the other condo's hot water.

Mixed up plumbing and electrical systems are fairly common in apartment and condo complexes, especially ones that have been converted. Chances are high it's a mistake and was not done on purpose.

If you can find the original general contractor, he's going to say it wasn't him, talk to the plumbing contractor. Who will say I didn't do it, and my work is only guaranteed for five years, so talk to the plumbing inspector. He'll say he didn't see it, and besides, all those inspection records were thrown out ten years ago. The condo association may or may not have had oversight of the construction. Can you prove the neighbor knew about it and didn't tell the condo association? Can you prove the realtor who your dad bought through knew about it? Was there a home/condo inspection done - paid for by your dad or the seller - before the sale that might have spotted it?

The police aren't going to care; technically, it is a crime, in a way, but it's not like someone tapped into someone's cable TV or electrical power meter last week. This is a problem from years ago, more than likely from the original construction; so who is really responsible? The police aren't going to run that down.

And, what are the damages? A few months of part of a power bill? Is it really worth a lawsuit and a lawyer? Against who? I can't see a lawyer jumping into it.

If you want to do something for whatever comes next, yes, collect evidence. Tell the neighbor he/she's on your hot water. Take photos and get a licensed plumber to take a look at it and give you an estimate for separating the water systems. That will document that the two systems are not separate. (Either call your own plumber or ask the condo association for the name of someone).

Then, start with the condo association. They may be responsible for the inspections before the sale. At very least, the condo association may have to check off on the repairs. And, they may know more about it (oh, yes, we've heard about that in a few other condos...) You could bring it to everyone's attention at a meeting; it may be a common issue in the complex, and other residents may not know about it.

If, in fact, the neighbor doesn't have their own water heater, they may be more on the hook for expensive repairs than your dad. They may have more of a case against the condo association than your dad.

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  • My inclination is that the upstairs guy did indeed tap into the plumbing. So I don't believe he will be inclined to consent to entry. What then? – Jon Feb 14 '18 at 3:05
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    A plumber won't have to go into that condo to follow the lines within your dad's condo. Then, if you and the plumber do think he tapped into the line, talk to the condo association and not the guy. They will talk to the plumber; and then to the guy and arrange an entry with a plumber (and maybe with the police, their decision, not yours) if they need to. If in fact the guy did tap into the line, you have a case against him, and evidence. But again, it's hard to guess how much it's worth in terms of money and a lawsuit. – BlueDogRanch Feb 14 '18 at 3:19
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    @Jon I would seriously consider turning off the hot water heater for a few days. Then the problem might resolve itself. – phoog Feb 14 '18 at 3:32

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