Clean, Gray and Black Water
Adams Stirling PLC


QUESTION: We had a black water leak affecting multiple units and our management company hired a remediation company to clean up the mess without first getting an estimate or board approval. As a board member, I do not want to pay for the clean-up since we did not authorize the work. How should we handle it?

ANSWER: Before answering your question, I should define "black water" for readers. There are three categories of water when it comes to building maintenance, clean, gray and black:

Clean water is what comes from your faucet and shower and is drinkable. Clean water lines are under pressure, which means a flood from a water line can quickly cause a lot of damage. Failure to clean-up the water and dry out wall cavities can lead to mold, which is expensive to remediate.

Gray water is waste water that comes from sinks, washing machines, and bathtubs. It contains soap and low-level contaminants. Gray water floods can occur from separated drain lines or backups if the lines become clogged. These lines can clog if people put potato peels, pasta, rice, etc. down garbage disposals.

Black water (also called sewage) is wastewater from toilets that contains fecal matter and urine. It carries high levels of bacteria that can cause diseases such as hepatitis and dysentery. Backups can occur from items being flushed down toilets such as diapers, sanitary pads, etc. If the clog is in a line at the bottom of a stack, the amount of sewage flowing into a unit from other units higher up in the stack can be significant.

Clean-Up. Whenever floods occur in condominiums, they invariably involve common areas and other units. Associations are obligated by the Davis-Stirling Act and their CC&Rs to maintain, repair and replace the common areas. That means associations must move quickly to remove all water from carpets, floors and walls and clean any contaminated areas if gray or black water is involved.

Management. Because these are emergency situations, it should be a standing policy for management to immediately call a plumber to stop the flooding and a remediation company to extract water and dry out walls. Bidding is not necessary. From your question, it sounds like the manager acted properly. If he had not, you would have faced a much larger bill and possible litigation. That means your board should pay the remediation company. If you don't and the company sues, I have no doubt you will lose.

Recommendation: Whenever floods occur, immediately fix the leak and clean everything. Simultaneously notify insurance of the loss. Then determine fault and, if appropriate, levy a reimbursement assessment to pay the insurance deductible (assuming you have a policy regarding deductibles). See Water Damage Checklist.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC