Maintenance Responsibility. Determining responsibility for maintenance of fireplaces in condominium associations can be challenging. Older CC&Rs are generally silent about fireplace maintenance, repairs and replacement. There is a difference of opinion in the legal community. Some believe the fireplace falls outside the boundaries of the unit and is entirely the responsibility of the association. That includes the chimney, flue and firebox. There is a contrary opinion that makes the fireplace box part of the unit and the responsibility of the unit owner, especially since the only the owner receives a benefit from the fireplace and if something were to go wrong with the fireplace it would likely be due to the owner's actions.
In addition, if the CC&Rs make the owner responsible for mechanical equipment servicing their unit, that this includes the fireplace. Many municipal codes define mechanical systems to include anything that provides heating to a unit. For example, Section 103 of the LA County Mechanical Code entitled “Scope” states, “The provisions of this Code shall apply to the erection, installation, alteration, repair, relocation, replacement, addition to, use, or maintenance of any heating, ventilating, cooling, refrigeration systems, incinerators or other miscellaneous heat-producing appliances.”
Chimney Fires. The chimney vents hot gases, soot and embers from the fireplace. Over time, the inside of the chimney is coated with soot, which can lead to chimney fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are 26,000 residential chimney fires each year. In addition, bird nests or other obstructions in chimneys can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning when gases are forced into units. Associations should inspect and clean all common area chimneys on a regular basis. Depending on the type of materials burned in fireplaces and their frequency of usage, chimneys could need cleaning every year.
Recommendation: Boards should consult with legal counsel to determine fireplace maintenance duties and with a professional chimney sweep regarding inspection and cleaning schedules. In addition, governing documents should be amended to clearly assign maintenance, repair and replacement responsibilities for fireplaces.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.