Check-In on Community Association Deck Safety

As the weather heats up, condo owners begin to take advantage of their decks for some outdoor barbecuing with friends and families, extra room, and fresh air. While these decks are real assets when selling a unit, they could become a liability for community associations depending on who is responsible for maintenance and repairs. 

Generally speaking, a community association is responsible for inspection, maintenance and repairs of the property’s common areas – the lobby, rooftop deck, pool area, pathways, etc. If the property falls in the separate interest belonging to the homeowner, it is the homeowner’s responsibility. However, there are certain ambiguous areas as to who is responsible. These areas are known as exclusive use common areas, and are outside of the “airspace” that defines a homeowner’s separate interest but can only be used by a particular homeowner. These areas include individual decks and balconies. What falls under common vs. separate interests depends on each state and the governing bylaws of the community associations.  

Keeping Decks Safe

The association to minimize its liability risk should conduct regular deck inspections every three to four years. The inspection includes key areas such as ledger connections, posts and footings, post-to-beam connections, joists and joist connections, stairs, deck boards, handrail assemblies and guards. An inspector will be on the lookout for telltale signs of rot and structural issues. Particularly in older buildings, layers of paint or stain on a deck may be hiding water damage or decay, making the problem worse over time. Without the right protection and sealants, moisture and salt can do a lot to lessen the life span of a wooden deck. Other important things that need to be looked for include cracking, splitting, splintering, loose nails, loose railings, twisted posts and broken balusters. It’s also important to have deck structures inspected from below, particularly if it’s an elevated deck.

If owners are responsible for maintaining their own decks, guidelines need to be written into the association’s rules to cover the following items:

  • what to look for when inspecting the decks for damage
  • how to avoid damage to the waterproofing membrane
  • how often the deck should be resealed
  • the kinds of waterproofing systems that are acceptable to the association
  • prohibited deck systems, such as carpet and tile
  • deck drain maintenance
  • deck-to-wall flashing maintenance
  • grill safety measures and precautions

Deck collapses can cause injury to people and expensive damage to the building the deck is attached to. A community association should ensure that it not only has sufficient General Liability insurance but also an Umbrella Liability policy for catastrophic losses. Even if unit owners are responsible for deck maintenance and repairs, they could end up suing the community association.