One of the biggest attractions of living in a condo or a townhouse is the maintenance-free lifestyle. You don’t want to have to mow the lawn or worry about major repairs, like the electrical system or the plumbing. In most condominium settings, homeowners own everything, meaning that major repairs and maintenance generally fall to the homeowners association (HOA) for the whole condo development. However, this isn’t always true, as certain maintenance responsibilities may still fall to individual unit-owners or homeowners. Typically, the HOA will only handle repairs required by shared amenities, like the boiler that provides heat to every unit or shared spaces like hallways and stairs.

Chimneys can pose an unusual situation for people living in condos or townhouses. Some units could share a single chimney, with the attached fireplace sitting neatly in a common space. Other times, each individual unit could have its own fireplace and chimney. In either situation, there are often still legally gray areas that residents may find quite confusing. Even if you go to an HOA board meeting, the members of the board may not have an easy answer to offer. There are a variety of factors to consider regarding both chimney repair and maintenance when you live in a condo or a townhouse.

Does Your HOA Agreement Have a Clause About Chimneys?

This is the first thing you need to check. Sometimes association bylaws include specific instructions about chimneys. For chimneys located in shared, community spaces, for example, each resident could be responsible for a portion of the costs associated with annual maintenance and repairs in the event of serious damage. When individual units have their own fireplaces, flues and chimneys, the individual owners of the units could be held financially responsible for the maintenance of the chimney.

Because of the risk of fire, and the potential for one person’s failure to maintain a chimney to result in damages to other units, it is possible that your HOA requires an annual inspection. Generally, you will need to provide documentation that a professional came out and carefully inspected your chimney for both external and internal issues, ranging from crumbling mortar to hidden squirrel or bird nests on the inside. In this situation, you will be expected to pay for this inspection and any maintenance on your own. Failing to do so could result in fees or fines from your HOA.

External Repairs May Be an Association Expense

As a general rule, most HOA policies specify that the roof and its elements are a common element, shared by all the residents in the various units. If residents are experiencing leaks and therefore property damage as the result of an issue with a chimney, the HOA could end up liable for the cost of those damages and their repairs. Especially in cases of a single chimney for a fireplace in a shared space, or in the case of connected flues and chimneys shared between adjacent units, the HOA may find it more cost effective to simply cover the expenses related to chimney repairs.

Owners should take note, however, that failing to report concerns or early signs of damage could result in the HOA refusing to pay for internal repairs as the result of external chimney damage. If you notice that the chimney for your unit appears to be in poor condition or see signs of a potential leak developing, you should notify your HOA as soon as possible.

Again, the final decision about responsibilities concerning chimney repairs will depend on the language in your HOA bylaws. Knowing what you’re agreeing to before you purchase a condo or move into a townhouse can help protect you from unexpected costs in the future. It’s also important to check if the HOA requires that you work with a specific contractor or if you are allowed to select your own for necessary chimney repairs.

Read the definitive guide to chimney repairs and maintenance.