Q&A: Liability When Not at Home?

Q I am looking for information regarding service contractors (i.e., cable, Internet) needing to set up a prior appointment to access the equipment that is installed on owner's terraces. Does the unit owner have to be at home to let the workers through their unit to the terrace to do the job, or can a super or other building staff member open up the home and be there while the work is done? What are the liability issues raised by having outside contractors walking through private homes? Whose responsibility is it if some personal property is damaged or stolen during the process?

—Concerned Condo Owner

A “The advantages to unit owners in not having to stay home to admit a vendor to their unit are obvious but, equally obviously, allowing third parties onto the condominium’s common areas, with potential access to other units, and into an otherwise locked unit, presents obvious liability and security issues to the association,” says attorney Clive D. Martin from the Boston-based law firm of Robinson & Cole. “The association can avoid some foreseeable problems by requiring written authority from the unit owner whenever he or she requests management to allow a third party into the unit, or to release the unit’s key to that third party in his or her absence. The association should create a Unit Admittance Form, and require any unit owner requesting access for a third party to sign it, giving specific details of the date, time, name of visitor and purpose of visit. The form should make clear whether the admittance is for one date only or multiple dates. The form should state explicitly that condominium personnel are not expected to remain in the unit with the third party, but that their authority is simply to admit the person into the building or into the unit. It should contain a release, making clear that the owner agrees not to hold the association or its management company liable for any damages or loss perpetrated by the third-party inside the unit, and a hold harmless agreement that the owner will indemnify the association for any damage caused by the visitor elsewhere in the condominium, e.g. to common areas or other units. The form has significant legal ramifications and the association should consult with counsel in drafting it. But however carefully drafted it is, it is useless if not signed, and the Trustees should require strict enforcement. Obviously, the form should be kept in the condominium’s records in case of a subsequent claim.”