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I believe it is reasonable to place responsibility for a busted waterline with the HOA and roofing contractor. Can I get thoughts from this forum on responsibility? ...or, Where can I research this?

The HOA scheduled roof work on the building of my rental unit. I live out of the country and have a property manager. Notice of the work may have been in the form of a poster somewhere on the property, so I was not aware.

Two years ago, when there was discussion about future roof work, I voiced concern about the solar heating unit that is on the roof. In April 2018 work started. and without my knowledge or permission the waterline, (my property), to the solar panels was cut. The HOA assumed the solar panels were not working.

To do the work, the water main was turned off without notifying anyone. My tenant may have turned it back on to use water(unaware,). The cut lines, the water pressure, and/or the heavy jolting from the roof removal caused the waterline to bust. Although it is not 100% certain, the plumber who came to do repairs, said the type of leak was consistent with a sudden break, not a slow leak which would have indicated there was a problem before.

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As a general rule, if one party damages the property of another through their negligence, they can be found liable and made to pay for those damages. The crucial question here would be whether it was foreseeable that the various actions would cause water damage. If, for instance (case A), a plumber assumed that the water lines were dead and just cut them, that would cause damage and would be negligent (everybody in the profession knows that you have to assume that all lines are live). In case A, the plumber was negligent. In case B, the plumber shuts off the water and cuts the line, then tenant turns the water back on (causing damage). Now the tenant's actions have contributed to the damage (if he had left the shutoff alone, there would have been no damage). In that case, the court has to compare the negligence of the parties, and may decide that the tenant is 40% at fault and the plumber is 60% at fault. That would mean that the plumber is responsible for 60% of the damage. But in case C if the plumber put a note on the shutoff and the tenant decided "But I need the water!", then the tenant might be found to be 100% at fault.

In case D, we can suppose that there was some obscure problem in the solar panel / water line arrangement (a weakening of a joint, perhaps coming from an earlier installer not using a bimetalic connector), and the damage resulted from repressurizing the line, causing a rupture. In that case, the plumber could not have foreseen the rupture, so he would not be liable. The installer would though, because he should know that you never directly connect copper and galvanized lines. If you also have a roofing contractor and an HOA, each person is going to have to blame the other for the problem, so the plumber will shift blame to the HOA for misinforming him about the water lines, or maybe we can show that the roofing contractor is really at fault because he drove a nail through a pipe. The point is that you have to find somebody who neglected to be cautious when there was a foreseeable risk – and determining that depends on the factual details. To the extent that you or your tenant is at fault, you have reduced ability to recover from others. One last complication is the fact that you have an agreement with the HOA. That agreement may limit your ability to recover for their negligence.

Your attorney will sort through the many factual issues, and figure out who to sue, if anyone. Although, rather than suing, a letter saying "You owe us, let's just settle this" is more efficient. Your insurance company will presumably cover most of the damage (and then will go after whoever is at fault – which could be the tenant). If you are just trying to recover a few hundred dollars and are avoiding attorneys, you may want to read this summary of California law.

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