DEAR BARRY: We own a townhome and are trying to deal with the fools who run the homeowners association (HOA). Last month, we had a major roof leak that wiped out our master bedroom ceiling. The HOA is supposed to maintain the roof, but they’ve neglected it for years. Now that their negligence has damaged our home, they refuse to pay for interior repairs. They say the interior is our responsibility. A lot they know about responsibility — at the last HOA board meeting, we requested that they pay to replace our ceiling, and they dismissed this as though it was a joke. What can we do to get some fair treatment? –Karen

DEAR KAREN: The HOA is in no position to be laughing. Instead, they should rethink the situation. Under ordinary circumstances, interior repairs are paid by the homeowners. In this case, interior damage was caused by gross negligence on the part of the HOA. They were contractually obligated to maintain the roof, not for the sake of appearance, but to protect the interior from water damage. Had they performed their duty, your bedroom ceiling would not need replacement. Apparently, the HOA needs a lesson in responsible conduct.

Therefore, here is the doctor’s prescription: Get three contractor bids for the ceiling repairs and for repainting the bedroom. Send these bids, by certified mail, to the HOA. Inform them that you will take legal action unless they pay for the interior damages. If they do not comply, file an action in small claims court. The cost for this type of lawsuit is minimal. There is a one-time court appearance; no attorneys are allowed; and the judge usually renders a decision on the spot.

The main point to stress in court is that the HOA caused the interior damage by failing to maintain the roof, as required by the association bylaws. Show the judge a copy of the HOA requirements, and be sure to include photos of the damaged ceiling and the deteriorated roof.

If you prevail, the board may be less inclined to joke about future claims, and your fellow homeowners will know that they are not subject to the whims of an unreasonable HOA.

DEAR BARRY: I have "popcorn ceilings" in my family room and office and want to have them removed. But I can’t find a contractor who will do the work. Everyone I’ve called is afraid of asbestos. What do you recommend? –Richard

DEAR RICHARD: The main question is whether or not the ceiling texture actually does contain asbestos. People often assume that ceiling texture contains asbestos when it does not, or they assume that it does not contain asbestos when it actually does. The only way to know for sure is to have the material tested by a certified laboratory.

If there is no asbestos, any contractor or handyman can scrape off the material. If the material contains asbestos, removal must be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. If the texture has not been tested for asbestos, now is the time to get that done. Just take three separate samples from different rooms, place them in plastic sandwich bags, and send them to a lab for analysis. Certified asbestos labs can be found online.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

***

What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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