Dear PoP – HVAC Problems with a New Condo

Photo by PoPville flickr user christopher.poole

“Dear PoP,

In 2009 I purchased a brand new condo within a brand new construction in the 14th and U St area. Since the beginning I have had issues with malfunctioning HVAC units. I find this whole situation very inappropriate. I purchased a brand new apartment in a brand new building because I do not have the time or skill to have to deal with having to make repairs. I purchased a one year warranty with the apartment.

In the last month or so the builder attempted to make some repairs and in doing so damaged my floor. The entire process of trying to obtain fully functioning HVAC units has been very frustrating. What legal recourse do I have?”

Anyone ever deal with a similar situation?

31 Comment

  • I’m sorry about your situation, and I know it’s too late now, but a new construction condo is not the thing to buy if you’re concerned about things breaking.

    • Exactly. Why would you buy new construction if you were looking to specifically avoid these issues? Everyone knows the first few years are when the construction kinks have to be worked out. Sounds like you should be renting. Or at least educated yourself on the common sense behind ownership.

      • “Everyone knows the first few years are when the construction kinks have to be worked out.”

        I wasn’t even thinking of that. I was thinking specifically of condo buildings that started construction at the peak of the housing boom, and when the market tanked the developers cheaped out on a lot of things. Given that this brand new construction condo was purchased in 2009, I’m sure that’s what happened here.

  • were these the window units shown in the picture or realy HVAC – split systems, chillers, rooftop package units, etc?

  • Look at you condo documents. In new construction they provide a limited warranty. Well thats what I had but ususally they don’t cover consumerables such as dishwasher, fridge, hot water hearter.. etc. Look for those documents. For example my limited warranty says if in trying to fix something they are responsible for any damages. If you have no warranty they you are SOL. other than the damages to the floor. First off I would send a certified letter asking them to fix the floor or you will consider taking legal action. That usually gets people to correct their wrongs.

  • The reality is that you are not a renter anymore, you are an owner. Unless there is a warranty in current effect, you have no recourse. You can threaten legal action, but it’s no different from threatening legal action for a car that is out from under a warranty, it’s not going to do any good.

    Your best bet is to pay your own A/C guy and try to get to the bottom of it. It may require replacing a condenser or indoor unit. Another joy of home ownership.

  • Email the builder with pictures of the damage and ask them to make repairs. If they don’t do it of their own volition, you probably can’t do anything.

    I would prepare yourself for a lot of tough responses because your complaints/frustrations seem to be a bit naive. In buying a home you took responsibility for all the parts in that home. Builders often have to come back through and update “punch lists” within the first 6 months after a sale, but once the condo board takes over and signs off on the development, you are on your own. It’s actually pretty lucky that they would even make repairs so long after you moved in–2 years after I bought my condo, a storm damaged my rooftop hvac unit and I had to pay $600 to have it fixed.

    The cost to sand and re-stain a fee floorboards really isn’t a big deal given that you got for free what would otherwise be a costly repair. Realistically, it isn’t the builder’s job to make repairs so long after you moved in.

    Have you notified your condo board or management company? That would be my first stop (although I can see how random advice from strangers on a local blog would be almost as valuable as educating yourself on the condo docs and builder agreement that legally outline your rights and responsibilities)…

  • Two years is a long time. Good developers give you a two year limited warranty, but that’s pretty rare, and I certainly wouldn’t hold it against a developer for only offering a year. Put it on your credit card and pay it off ASAP.

  • me

    I bought a new condo around 14th and U a fwe years ago and knew I would have some of the problems like what you mention. When I had HVAC issues, I was reminded to do the twice-yearly maintenance on it. It’s recommended that you have the maintenance done twice a year, though sometimes people say only every year. It sucks, but like others have said, you are a homeowner now. I was pissed that our combo washer/dryer unit died after having it for literally 2 months over the warranty date, but instead of wanting to know what others could give to me, I put my big girl pants on, went to Home Depot, and bought a new washer and dryer.

    You’ll find that in this neighborhood, some of the developers and landlords just used the cheapest materials. You’re gonna have a few issues, so brace yourself and save up now.

    • me

      Adding: I am just a bit incredulous at the whole “legal recourse” thing. Come on.

      • Yeah. And the comment “I purchased a brand new apartment in a brand new building because I do not have the time or skill to have to deal with having to make repairs,” strikes me as unbelievably naiive. I’ve never bought a condo or new construction, but even I know this mindset is completely backwards. If you are going to make such an expensive purchase you should have someone notion of what you’re getting into!

    • Jen,

      What kind of maintenance needs to be done on an HVAC unit besides replacing the filter ever 2-3 months? Is there something else I should be doing?

      • me

        Yeah, actually. I was told when I did the walk-through for my place but then forgot, until I had a problem a year down the road! I’m not sure what all they do, probably flush everything and lubricating clean everything, but when calling a HVAC company they really do have maintenance visits. If you look in your HVAC book that comes with it (again, which I did after I had a leaking problem, along with the musty smell that came with it), sure enough, it says that you need to perform maintenance on it.

        Oh, here’s a link I just saw:

        Again, just stuff that you a) expect when you buy a home or b) learn along the way as you own it.

    • You’ll find MOST new home builders use the cheapest materials, especially if it was built from ~2001-~20007…your HVAC will 99% of the time be builders grade/bottom line and Home Warranty’s are a joke. They wont give you remotely decent service or product options. Yet people still get duped and think having a home warranty means something.

  • If someone came in to do repairs, and damaged your condo while performing those repairs they need to fix the damage.

    You say that a month ago the builder came in to perform the work, are they responsive to your requests? If so what recourse are you looking for?

    Our new-in-2009 condo heat pump had a bad control board in 2010 and the part was replaced under the 5 year manufacturers warranty…we had to pay the labor to have Argent diagnose and replace the board.

    What types of malfunctions are you having?

  • Also, as far a new condo owner horror stories go this one is pretty tame.

  • Many many things. Not having it maintained by a reputable company 2x a year cuts the system life easily by 5 yrs maybe more. Amp draws checked, coils cleaned, change the filter, brush off blower wheel, etc.

    • me

      Yup. Learned that one. Never had to replace my system, but I did get yelled at by the guy because I didn’t do the maintenance that first year.

  • sorry that was in reply to ACE in DC.

  • I think a condo developer has to put some kind of bond up for maintenance issues that arise for the first 2 or 3 years. I learned that here on PoP.

    • me

      No way. I bought mine direct from the developer and there is absolutely nothing like that. I checked when I had issues. Maybe every place is specific and others might, but mine definitely did not.

  • I bought a condo in a small building in May 2009 — the first owner in gut rehab that divided a town home into two units.

    It was my understanding at the time that DC condo construction law had a “lemon law” protection that made developers in new construction and rehab work liable for any major (i.e. structural, roof, hvac, electric, plumbing) issues for two years. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t fully understand all of the details of this ordinance.

    However, after about 9 months in my unit, the HVAC system stopped working. I called the developer’s representative, and within 24 hours he was there with an HVAC technician to diagnose the problem. It turns out that the motor on the fan had gone kaput — who knows why. He came back with a replacement part the next day, and that was the end of that. I never saw a bill (or a lawyer).

    I guess I was fortunate to have a responsible developer, but I assume the only reason he took care of it so quickly is that I had the law on my side.

  • sorry, but this is hilarious. welcome to the joys of homeownership. be thankful you have neither a roof nor a basement to deal with.

  • Not sure about the AC itself, but the damage to your floor should be recoverable.

    I am guessing that the builder does not have HVAC repair men on staff. They likely hired a company to do the work. Any reputable repair company has insurance for this exact situation.

    I had a repair man out to fix my GE fridge. When pulling my fridge out to get to the back of the fridge to make the repairs, the repair man scratched my wood floor. I pointed the damage out to the repair guy and he told me to call the company. I called the repair company and they had insurance. I had to get a couple of estimates for fixing my floor, but in the end, the repair company’s insurance company cut us a check for damage.

    Of course, if the repair man claims he didn’t cause the damage, you might have a bigger problem. Good Luck!!!

  • I would work with your condo association. They should have commissioned a transition study that can be used to compel the builder/developer to make repairs under the 2-year bond they had to post with the City (available at DCRA). If you are forced to resolve on your own, I suspect it’s more likely to be cheaper to fix yourself than pursue any legal remedy.

  • Buy a home warrenty to cover problems like this down the road. I pay approx $400/year and so far it has more than paid for itself every year.

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