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Water leak in condo: Who is responsible and how to prevent inter-floor leakage?

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Inter-floor leakage is the second most popular complaint received by the Tribunal of Strata Management in Malaysia. Water leaks are exacerbated in strata-titled buildings because the owner of the parcel from which the leakage originates might not wilfully cause and suffer from said leakage.

Inter-floor-leakage-who-is-responsible2
© Andriy Popov / 123RF

Fortunately, for strata property owners, the Strata Management Maintenance and Management Regulations 2015 (SMR 2015) has prescribed a standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling water leakage among strata parcels. Any dispute can be raised with the Commissioner of Buildings (COB), the officer appointed for administering and carrying out the provisions in the Strata Management Act 2013 (SMA).

Under the SMR, inter-floor leakage is defined as “any evidence of dampness, moisture or water penetration in the ceiling and/or any furnishing materials attached to the ceiling that form parts of the interior of a parcel, accessory parcel, common property or limited common property”.

Inter-floor leakage is a huge nuisance to all parties including the victims, building management and neighbours upstairs. Rectification measures can be costly and it is common for the repair works to cause quite a bit of inconvenience.

You must be thinking, how do you go about convincing your neighbour that the water leak in your unit is their fault? Luckily, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT) has included a clause within the Strata Management Act 2013 to address inter-floor leakage, a rising problem in strata buildings across Malaysia. Building managers and neighbours who do not cooperate in investigations and rectification may be subject to punitive actions including a fine of RM50,000.00 and/or 3 years imprisonment upon conviction.

This regulation offers some respite to frustrated house owners suffering from water leakage and elevated moisture within their units. Let’s take a look at frequently asked questions on inter-floor leakage or water damage:

Inter-Floor Leakages – Who should pay the price?

For owners of primary properties, it should be noted that any defects occurring within the Defect Liability Period (DLP) or within 24 months upon vacant possession, falls under the developer’s responsibility. Upon a DLP complaint, the developer should send their contractors/repairmen to patch up the water defects.

For owners of older properties or subsale homes, the owner of the upper floor shall be responsible for said leakage in the absence of proof to the contrary. This means that the owner of the upper unit will have to foot the bill for repair works.

Cause of LeakageWho is responsible
Defects in any units within the Defect Liability Period (DLP)Developer
Leakage from the unit above after DLPProperty owner of the unit above
Defects in common property within DLPProperty developer
Defects in the common property after DLPBuilding management

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What should I do when there is a water leak in my strata unit?

Inter-floor-leakage-who-is-responsible2
© KAZUMA SEKI/ 123RF

When the parcel owner or management notices signs of dampness, moisture and water dripping from the ceilings of common properties, limited common properties or party walls, a complaint should be made to the building management. The management could be the developer, the Joint Management Body (JMB), the Management Corporation (MC) or the Sub-MC.

What should the condo management do?

The strata building management should then carry out an inspection as soon as possible or within seven days. The inspection serves to identify the cause of the leakage or party wall damage and who is responsible for the damages.

Factors to consider

Here are some things that the building management needs to consider when carrying out the inspection:

  1. Legal presumption of water travelling from top to bottom due to gravity.
  2. Any defect in utilities that serve one unit is the defect of the parcel owner.
  3. Any defect which occurs during the Defect Liability Period or DLP falls under the property developer’s responsibility.
  4. Any defect in the utilities that serve more than one unit is actually a defect of the building’s common property and shall be repaired by the management.

If the building manager discovers that the leaking utility does not belong to the complainant, he shall serve a 7-day written notice to the upstairs neighbour for a joint inspection. Denial of access for inspection and rectification work by said neighbour is an offence and may, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of less than RM50,000 or imprisonment of less than three (3) years, or both.

In the case of an emergency where the water leakage may materially cause a risk of flooding to other residents and buildings, forcible entry may be affected. However, more witnesses are necessary during the entry to prevent any risk of trespassing and theft during the urgent inspection and rectification work.

What happens after the water leak inspection?

Step 1: The building manager shall issue a Certificate of Inspection (Form 28) within seven days to the complainant and relevant owner, stating the cause of the leakage and whether the parcel owner or management is liable for rectifying the leakage.

Step 2: A duplicate copy of Form 28 shall be forwarded to the Commissioner of Buildings (COB) for reference.

Step 3: If the relevant parcel owner fails to trigger the rectification work within seven days, the management shall forthwith rectify the leakage and charge the owner accordingly. Failure to repay the expenses incurred may lead to a case of default.

What can I do if the strata parcel owner refuses to rectify the water leak damage?

Should there be any dispute to Form 28 or any refusal by the party liable in the rectification of the water leak, the case can be referred to the COB for dispute resolution. The COB may appoint a registered architect, engineer, quantity surveyor or building surveyor to assist in the case. The cost involved shall be borne by the party liable for the rectification of leakage (culprit parcel owner).

All parties shall comply with the decision of the COB, failing which the case can be referred to the Tribunal of Strata Management.

Who should repair the damaged ceiling or finishing in the affected strata unit?

The rectification work for inter-floor leakage includes consequential damages and costs will be borne by the culprit parcel owner.

Can water supply be terminated by the condo management?

While the condominium management body is allowed to force its way into your unit, they are not allowed to cut your water supply. In the event that termination of the water supply may reduce the risk of flooding, a temporary water supply must be given.

SOP of Inter-floor leakage in SMR 2015

Causes of water damage in strata properties

Inter-floor-leakage-who-is-responsible3
© 123rf

Poor maintenance causing high water pressure

Leaking domestic water pipes has been identified as one of the major contributors to inter-floor leakages. It happens occasionally in buildings with plastic water pipes and dilapidated metal water pipes which burst easily under high water pressure.

Water hammering happens when moving water is stopped abruptly, causing a pressure spike in the internal walls of the pipes. Poorly maintained pressure-reducing valves and other fittings in the plumbing system can also cause high water pressure.

Other common causes of water leaks include waterproofing failure in internal wet areas and rooftops, cracked external walls and dilapidated window sealant.

Dampness and moisture derived from water vapour leads to condensation

This type of water leak can be prevalent in poorly insulated copper water pipes and condensate water pipes of air conditioner systems. In fully air-conditioned rooms like server rooms and some manufacturing facilities, poorly insulated party walls and soffits also suffer from condensation in the event of air leakage when humid air encounters cold surfaces. Buildings in tropical highlands also suffer from severe condensation issues.

How to prevent water leak damage in strata buildings?

Optimally, the prevention of water leaks should start from the design and construction stages. However, some preventative measures can still be put in place by the management committee of strata properties. Here are some tips for building managers in minimising the occurrence of inter-floor leakages in strata and commercial properties:

1. Water pressure management is important to control water leakage from domestic water pipes. Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN) prescribes safe water pressure as follows:

LocationMinimum pressure
Parcel meter for residential units10m head (0.98 bar)
Flush valve10.5m head (1.03 bar)
Source: Uniform Technical Guides in Water Reticulation and Plumbing, Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN)

*All distribution water pipes must be below 30m head (2.94 bar), otherwise a Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) should be employed.

2. Water pressure must be checked and normalized in the event of regular bursting of domestic water pipes. Regular servicing and maintenance of pressure-reducing valves are critical in water pressure management.

3. Water hammering is another common cause of burst pipes and it must be mitigated with water hammer arrestors. Selection of piping materials which is not subjected to corrosion, strong joining mechanism, (i.e. hot air fusion or threading) and mechanical strength is recommended.

4. Finally, ventilation is critical in pump and water tank rooms with excessive chlorine gases. Poor ventilation in these rooms can cause corrosion of the pumps and water pipe fittings.

5. Regular checking, recording of water pressure and planning for refurbishment during the expiry of (water transport & drainage) service lifespan is essential to minimize the interruption caused by building leakage and the consequential secondary damages.

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Why you should take inter-floor leakage seriously?

Adverse health impact on residents

The adverse impact of inter-floor leakage includes biological contamination and accelerated degradation of building materials and structures. It has been scientifically proven by the Institute of Medicine (USA), Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (USA) and World Health Organisation that dampness is associated with poor hygiene, indoor air quality and infestation of mould.

Mould-Contamination-inter-floor-leakage
© Kuan You Wai

Mould is 100 to 500 times bigger than bacteria and represents the presence of biological contamination – imagine a battalion of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, bugs and other microorganisms. These pathogens and their spores actually exist in small quantities within our natural habitats, but our immune system is capable of protecting us accordingly.

The problem is that dampness triggers mould germination and growth. Fragments, mycotoxin and microbial volatile organic compounds released by these pathogens during their combat with other microorganisms for food are poisonous and detrimental to our health. When visible mould is spotted, mould remediation exercise including moisture detection, rectification and sanitisation is necessary for the health and well-being of residents.

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Secondary damage to a building

Water has molecules with 2 hydroxyl radicals (free electrons), that readily combine with other molecules and oxidise them accordingly. Excessive dampness and water can lead to accelerated degradation of building materials, i.e. the irreversible expansion of organic compounds and corrosion to metallic materials.

Prolonged exposure of concrete structures to dampness can lead to disintegration and cracking via the carbonation process. The high alkalinity of concrete at pH 13 to 14 causes the formation of a protective film that protects the reinforcing steel bars (rebars) against corrosion. When rainwater dissolves carbon dioxide gas, carbonic acid is formed.

The acidity of rainwater can neutralise concrete and bring down its pH value. When its pH reaches 9, the protective film on the concrete is broken and corrosion is triggered. Rebars (i.e metal bars that are used to provide additional support to concrete structures) will go through oxidation leading to volumetric expansion of up to 6.5 times when the rebars are fully corroded or oxidised.

This process cracks the concrete from within and materially reduces the strength and integrity of a building’s structure. The corrosion process will be accelerated and exacerbated in the presence of chloride ions from seawater or swimming pool water.

Basically, dampness accelerates the ageing of a building while causing a host of other problems such as deterioration of plaster/wallpaper and cracks in party walls and ceilings!

At the end of the day, inter-floor leakage is not just an individual unit owner’s problem. It should be looked into by building managers or the management committee too. A preventive maintenance mindset should be adopted and the strata management committee must arrange for scheduled inspections. This is necessary to minimise the possibility of damages caused by water leaking before it causes catastrophic damage that may not only cause building decay but also biological contamination.

Inter-floor leaking issues could however be avoided if the management body keeps to their compulsory Periodic Inspection of Buildings schedule.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Water Leaks in Malaysia

There are pinhole leaks, moderate leaks, and gushing leaks. Pinhole leaks are tiny and often challenging to detect, sometimes manifesting as infrequent drips or being entirely silent. Moderate leaks are the most frequently encountered type, presenting as a noticeable but not overwhelming flow of water. Gushing leaks are typically the most dramatic and involves a substantial and rapid release of water.
Water dripping from an upstairs unit can result from various causes, including plumbing leaks, burst pipes, malfunctioning appliances, roof or ceiling leaks, HVAC system issues, overflowing fixtures, or poor waterproofing. If you are a tenant, to address the issue, turn off the water supply if possible and report the problem to the property management.
Yes, strata owners can sue their management for water leakage if it can be demonstrated that the management's negligence, breach of duties, or failure to maintain common areas directly led to the water leakage issue. However, the specific procedures and success of such a lawsuit would depend on local strata property laws, governing documents, and the ability to establish a clear link between the management's actions or inactions and the water leakage problem.