Can an HOA prevent an owner from installing a clothes washer and dryer without first obtaining a study
advising that such installation would damage the plumbing or
other common interests?
I understand the desire by owners to add modern conveniences in their
units. A washer and dryer not only
makes life easier, it increases property values. Unfortunately, if the
developer did not design the building to include washers and dryers,
installing them at a later date can be problematic. This is especially
true in buildings originally built as apartments and later converted to condominiums.
Running electrical and water lines through the walls to a new
washer/dryer is usually not a problem, provided the vendors are licensed
and insured and everything is done to Code. The problem is water
usage. Most condominium developments are master metered for water. That
means everyone else in the association pays via their regular
assessments for the increased water usage by the owner with the clothes
washer. In my experience, owners are not very charitable on this
issue--they don't like paying out of their pockets for someone else's
higher water consumption.
Common Area Laundry Room
. Buildings that are not designed for an in-unit washer/dryer often have communal laundry rooms with coin-operated machines for residents to use. Associations rely on the income from those machines to offset utility costs. Owners who install their own washers and dryers deprive the association of income from the communal machines (which raises the cost for everyone else). In addition, residents with in-unit washer are more apt to use their own machines more frequently than they would coin-operated machines, thus increasing their use of "free" water.
. The biggest
obstacle is the building's drain line. The sudden force and volume of
water into a drain pipe during the rinse cycle can overload the line and
lead to backups in other units. When developers build multi-unit
developments, they calculate normal water flow and only install lines
needed to handle those flows per applicable building codes. Clothes
washers need larger lines due to the larger flow and turbulence of water plus the sudsing effect of the detergent. Even if existing lines
can handle the load of one washer, can it handle additional washers in
the stack? If not, can the board approve one washer but deny all others
in the stack? To handle the increased load, a larger drain line may need to be installed from the washer through the building to the sewer. That means opening the walls in the units below the new washer. This can be costly and disruptive.
. New complexes often have
floor drains for mechanical failures or backups so water does not flood adjacent units
. To install a floor drain to meet building codes can usually be done but may be costly.
Venting the clothes dryer can also be problematic. Dryer exhaust lines
cannot, under any circumstances, vent into the common area walls,
ceiling or floor spaces. Doing so puts moisture into those spaces that
can lead to dry rot
that destroys the wood structure and mold that can
create health problems for residents. It also puts lint into the space which can lead to
a fire. If the dryer vents to the outside (as it should) there is a
limit on the hose length (no more than 25') because of lint accumulation
in the line and back pressure buildup. Where venting to the outside is
not possible, a special indoor dryer vent can be used but they have
their own problems. Every time a load is dried, a gallon of water or
more is released into the unit, creating excessive humidity with
possible condensation and mold.
Noise and Vibration
the washer and dryer are installed, noise and vibrations can radiate
through walls and floors into surrounding units. The problem may be
minor or it may be significant depending on how the building was
constructed. Sometimes the problem can be cured with a thick rubber mat
under each machine.
The duty is not the board's to commission and pay for a feasibility
study. The obligation falls to the owner who wants to alter common area
electrical and water lines and drains, and install venting. Even if the
project is feasible, there is no obligation by the board to approve it.
Every one of the problems I described can, in most circumstances, be
overcome--it's only a matter of money. In older condominium developments
and especially condo conversions, the cost can outweigh the
: There is clearly a benefit to installing clothes washers and dryers in units. Boards may want to set up a plan for retrofitting the building under the following conditions:
the retrofit is feasible,
larger drain lines can be installed,
proper dryer venting can be installed,
everything is done to building codes by licensed and insured contractors, and
the requesting party pays pay for it.
Under those conditions, a gradual retrofit of the building may be desirable.
: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us
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