Q&A: Contractor Theft?

Q There was recently a leak in the steam heating pipe leading into my neighbor's apartment below my own. The fixing of said leak falls to the condo board. I feel quite certain that the plumber they hired stole a necklace that was on a table near the bathroom (valued at $3,800). My insurance says that the responsibility for this theft falls to the condo board, but, upon filing a theft report, they in turn allege that the responsibility falls to the plumbing company. What should I do here, from a legal perspective?

—Concerned in Coral Gables

A “My first thought is—what evidence does the owner have that the plumber actually stole the necklace?” asks attorney Ben Solomon, managing partner at Association Law Group, PL in Miami. “Because “feeling quite certain” without a witness to the crime or other evidence is not likely to prevail in a court of law if it is based on mere suspicion. Maybe someone else took the necklace or the owner mistakenly lost it. There would be no way to prove the owner’s case without real evidence. I also do not generally agree that the “board” would be liable. First of all, if anything, it would be the association, not the “board” per se. Additionally, the association is not an insurer of the owners’ personal property, especially if it is merely a vendor of the association, as opposed to a direct employee. There may even be a disclaimer of such liability in the association’s recorded declaration.

“My advice is that the owner should report the matter to law enforcement and let them handle it. Additionally, the owner should file a claim with their own insurance company, who will likely pay the claim after a police report is filed and any additional requirements of the owner’s policy are met. I do not believe that under this particular fact pattern, the association would be held liable; however, these types of matters are very fact specific and would ultimately be up to a judge or jury to decide if the matter were litigated and all of the pertinent facts were known.”

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