Water Damage from the Upstairs Condo? Here’s What to Do

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: March 26, 2024

Are you noticing water leaking through your ceiling? 

If so, you might be dealing with water damage from the upstairs neighbor.

Here at ServiceMaster by Zaba, we have been restoring condos in Chicago, Illinois for the past 15 years, and we’ve seen it all. 

In this blog we outline exactly what to do in this situation.

How to Handle Water Damage From Upstairs Neighbors

water damaged ceiling

1. Notify Your Neighbor

The first thing you should do is notify your upstairs neighbor. 

Even if they’re not responsible for the damage, you can discuss what’s going on. This is especially important since they may not be aware of the situation.

If the neighbor can’t stop the leak, alert building maintenance right away.

Tip: Stay calm and collected when discussing this. If they’re not responsive to the damage, you need to contact your own insurance. 

2. Review the HOA’s Master Policy and Bylaws

Contact your HOA and request two copies of their master insurance policy and bylaws. 

Forward one to your insurance agent so they can determine coverage and any HOA liability. 

Be aware that the HOA may not legally be responsible for water damage in your unit beyond the interior walls of your condo (this is where consulting your bylaws will come in).

3. Call Your Insurance Company

Don’t assume the owners of the upstairs condo or your HOA will reimburse you for water damage. 

Call your insurance agent to start the claims process and learn more about what damage is covered (and what isn’t) under your policy. 

Tip: Act quickly because if you don’t, you can jeopardize your insurance claim – especially if your property develops bacteria growth, primarily mold, mildew, and fungus. 

4. Bring in a Water Damage Restoration Company

professional water damage restoration

Extensive water damage needs to be handled by certified restoration technicians.

If your ceilings, walls, floors, or belongings are badly damaged, and you’re in the Chicago area, contact ServiceMaster by Zaba for additional assistance: (773) 647-1985.

Our team can help you navigate the insurance claims process and provide mold remediation if needed. 

5. Document the Damage

When you notice water damage, your first instinct may be to clean it up as quickly as possible. 

Before you do that, though, you need to document the damage.

Use your phone to take photos and videos of the damage, documenting ruined items and affected walls, ceilings, and floors. 

These photos will be critical when you file a water damage insurance claim later.

Who Is Liable for Water Damage in a Condo?

As a unit owner, you’re responsible for maintaining your unit to a safe standard, regardless of who caused the damage. 

Still, water damage situations are complex.  

To understand liability in your situation, you’ll need to consult your condo’s bylaws and read them carefully. 

This is especially important if there’s an HOA in your building or if the water damage was caused by a faulty building structure. 

As you consult the bylaws, make sure you’re looking for information about who is responsible for filing an insurance claim because that step is not always covered by the unit that caused the damage. 

Under certain circumstances, you may be able to subrogate through your insurance company, which means that they can go after the other party for damages. 

Your HOA’s Responsibility

Your HOA carries its own insurance covering water damages that originate from the building’s common elements. Their policy also covers limited common elements. These are examples of common elements.

  • Hallways and corridors
  • HOA supply storage areas
  • Garbage rooms and docks
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Building roofs and exterior walls

Limited common elements can include unit fireplaces, windows, decks and balconies. The HOA’s responsibility for water damage usually stops at the interior walls of a condo.

Ask the HOA for a copy of their master insurance policy as well as the association’s bylaws and declarations. Review the information with your agent. He or she can work through variations in provisions relevant to your situation. This allows you to identify and fill in any gaps between HOA coverage and your homeowners policy.

What Causes Water to Leak from the Upstairs Condo?

Residential water damage from the upstairs unit can be accidental, or it can be the result of negligence.

Understanding why it happens can also help you understand how long you might have to wait for repairs to fix the problem.

These are the most common causes of water leaks from upstairs condos.

  • Faulty washing machine or dishwasher hoses (or an overflowing dishwasher)
  • Leaks around bathtubs and showers
  • Clogged toilets or backed-up sewer lines
  • Leaky pipes behind walls or under sinks
  • Shoddy maintenance on building plumbing
  • A malfunctioning refrigerator line in your neighbor’s unit
  • Water tanks leaking
  • A burst pipe in the wall (or a common pipe through a building)

Your insurance company will want to establish exactly what happened so that they can assess liability and settle your claim.

When you speak to your agent, make sure you share contact information for your HOA, your building’s maintenance manager and the upstairs neighbors.

Residents in Illinois: What You Need to Know

ceiling water damage condo chicago il

If you’re a resident of Illinois, in addition to reviewing the HOA’s insurance coverage, make sure you understand your rights as a condo owner. The Illinois Condominium Property Act defines specifics that apply to HOAs and condo owners.

For example, Section 9.1 (a) outlines owner responsibility for water damage to another condo or common area when the water source originates within the unit. If a leak in the unit upstairs affects your condo, that individual is expected to cover the damages through homeowners insurance.

The ICPA also defines the HOA’s responsibility for maintaining building conditions and common elements. In general, if water damage doesn’t originate inside a unit, it’s likely caused by a problem that must be addressed by the HOA.

In such cases, the HOA can be held responsible, especially if the damage resulted from negligence or shoddy maintenance.

Dealing with Condo Water Damage in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

It’s never easy to deal with residential water damage. It seems even harder when you have to address liability issues.

Keep the lines of communication open between on-site management, your HOA and the neighbor upstairs. Stay in close touch with your insurance agent too.

Professional water damage cleanup and restoration are key to a quick recovery.

You can count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba here in Chicago, IL 24/7. Our teams provide everything from initial assessment to assistance with the claims process. We service Millenium Park, Logan Square, Lincoln Park, and all of North Shore

Call us now to request an inspection: 773-647-1985 

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or a substitute for individualized professional counsel.

Can I sue my upstairs neighbor for water damage?

In some cases, yes, but it depends on the specifics of the water damage and the severity of the problem. In most cases of water damage, the responsibility falls on the owner of the unit from where the leak originated. If your condo is in an HOA, though, the responsibility may fall upon the HOA rather than the condo owner. To learn more about your legal rights, contact an attorney for specific guidance. 

Do I need temporary housing if my one-bed, one-bath condo has been affected by water damage?

If the water damage is extensive and your condo needs to be taken apart for repairs, you should consider moving out while the work is being done. Fortunately, your insurance company will likely help you find (and pay for) temporary housing.

How long does condo water damage restoration take?

Water mitigation can usually be completed in about 3-4 days. Repairs, however, will take longer and can take from 3-6 months in some cases. 

Does condo insurance cover all water damage?

Your homeowners insurance covers most types of water damage. For example, you should be covered for burst pipes, rain and ice dam leaks through the roof or flooding due to a broken appliance.
Very few homeowners insurance policies cover natural flooding events. You can purchase flood insurance for your condo through FEMA. Ask your agent about the National Flood Insurance Program and how it might suit your needs.