Question: We have a number of vacant homes in our homeowner association. Does the HOA have a responsibility to secure and protect them?
Answer: This is more of an issue in HOAs that have attached or common wall housing like condominiums and townhomes. Most of the damage to vacant units is caused by rodents, freezing pipes that cause flooding, and vandalism. An unheated unit could have pipes freeze which causes flooding to it and neighboring units. This could be disastrous in a high rise condominium.
Controlling the freezing issue is extremely important in units vacant for long periods of time. While most HOAs have the legal right to have access to vacant units for emergencies, the HOA needs to pre-plan by being aware of specific units which are vacant and know whether they are abandoned or merely temporarily vacant.
If a unit has been abandoned due to foreclosure, the HOA should take proactive measures to ensure that the unit is winterized (pipes, toilets and hot water heater drained). Beyond that, the HOA is not responsible to damage the unit interior may suffer due to extended vacancy. Abandoned units are usually in some stage of foreclosure, so at some point a lender will take measures to secure and protect their collateral. Until then, the HOA needs to do what is necessary to protect neighboring units.
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