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Understanding liability rules for condominium owners

Most, if not all, Texans who live in condominiums do not stop for even a split second to consider Texas’s laws that determine the liability of individual unit owners for injuries suffered by visitors to one of the condominium units. While this blog is not intended to instill such fear into its readers, a healthy sensibility to the laws that govern units and the responsibility of individual unit owners’ liability can help prevent accidents that may cause the HOA’s liability insurance rates to increase.

The general rule

All homeowners’ associations and individual unit owners have a duty of using reasonable care to maintain the condition of the premises. If a visitor suffers an injury because the HOA or an individual member failed to fulfill the duty of using reasonable care, failing to put away lawn maintenance equipment, for example; the insurance expenses of the entire HOA will increase. Moreover, the individual unit owner who caused the accident may also be required to pay damages to the injured party.

HOA’s can also be held liable for unsafe conditions, such as uneven or broken curbs, non-compliant manhole cover heights, equipment left on the sidewalk and in the winter, failure to remove ice and snow from sidewalks and driveways or any portion of the premises.

Responsibility for common areas

The HOA has the principal responsibility for maintaining the safe condition of all common areas, such as sidewalks, driveways and parking areas and play areas. If an unsafe condition in a common area is proved to be the cause of a visitor’s injury, the HOA will be held 100% responsible. However, the HOA may pursue a claim for reimbursement (subrogation is the legal term) against the unit owner whose negligence created the hazardous condition and was the cause of the injury.

Using insurance to reduce risk

You can virtually reduce or eliminate all of the hazards discussed above by using liability insurance properly. However, all insurance policies that cover all or a portion of the premises must be carefully drafted and coordinated with the coverages of all other relevant policies to avoid overlaps or gaps in coverage. The advice of an attorney who is knowledgeable about the law that applies to HOAs can be very valuable.