Q: I own a townhouse that I rent out. The rules of the association make owners responsible for damage that is done by themselves, guests or renters. Our renter had a guest who was involved in a robbery attempt at the complex; he damaged a sign and light pole, but he escaped and the police haven’t been able to find him or the owner of the car he was driving. Now the association is trying to get me to cover the repair costs. Can the association do this? –Alex B.
A: Your association’s rules are common and legal. You are responsible for common-area damage you might cause, and if you invite people to your home, you likewise become responsible for the damage they might cause. The same is true for renters. Because they stand in your shoes, if they cause damage, you are ultimately on the hook.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you cannot attempt to recoup any money you pay the association by looking to the real cause of the damage: your guests, your renters or your renters’ guests. That would require a lawsuit if the responsible party doesn’t pay up. Meanwhile, the association will have been paid by enforcing its rule, and if you don’t comply, it will take whatever actions its rules provide for when members fail to make good on financial obligations.
Sometimes, an insurance policy can cover the costs of these mishaps. If, for example, you accidentally hit a sign while backing out of your driveway, your auto insurance would cover; and the same is true for your renters and their car insurance. Or, if the renters damaged association property by accidental misuse (of a meeting room, for instance), their renters insurance would cover (assuming they had the “liability” part). Even a guest’s accidental damage of association property, in a non-auto situation, might be covered by that guest’s own homeowners or renters policy.