Dryer Vent Safety
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 15,000 home fires are caused each year by faulty or improperly maintained dryers. More than half of these fires are caused by dryer vents that have failed to be cleaned. As temperatures begin to rise, it is time for community associations to examine what type of policy is in place regarding dryer vent maintenance.
Dryer vent maintenance is of particular concern in condominium and cooperative regimes where multiple units are located within a single building. A fire that is sparked in a single unit could have catastrophic effects in the building as a whole. Given the significant safety and health risks to person and property presented by improperly maintained dryers, boards should strongly consider implementing policies requiring owners to maintain their dryers and provide proof of the same. If your association already has such a policy in place, you should review the policy and your enforcement procedures with your attorney to make sure that every owner is in compliance.
There are a number of legal factors to consider when implementing or reviewing a dryer vent maintenance policy. Initially, you will want to review your governing documents to determine whether dryers and their components are classified as part of a unit. This is almost certainly the case for all in-unit dryers, but it is worth reviewing the provisions of your governing documents to ensure there is no language which assigns maintenance responsibility for a dryer, or any of its components, to the association.
Once you have determined the maintenance responsibility for dryers, you will also want to review the provisions of your governing documents to determine what type of authority the board has for implementing a dryer vent policy. In most cases, the board’s rule adoption authority with respect to the operation of the community, including the authority to preserve and/or protect the common elements and units from damage, will be clear. The governing document should also be examined to determine the board’s authority with respect to unit access and performing maintenance and repairs, which unit owners fail to complete. This “right of access” authority is critical in enforcing a dryer vent maintenance policy. Frequently, this “right of access” authority is coupled with a right for the Board to assess charges incurred by the association in the performance of a unit owner’s maintenance and repair obligations back to the unit owner. Once you have reviewed and established the authority outlined in your governing documents you can begin to draft a policy.
The policy should provide that unit owners be required to perform routine maintenance of their dryers, including the cleaning of any dryer vents and ducts, on a periodic basis. Many associations establish a two year requirement for maintenance. Proof of service should be submitted to the board/managing agent in order to ensure compliance. An alternative that many associations use for the benefit of the community as a whole is to engage a contractor to provide a bulk rate for dryer maintenance and cleaning. Owners can elect to use the bulk rate contractor or a contractor of their own selection; however, in either case, proof of compliance must be secured.
If an owner(s) fails to comply with the policy, the “right of access” provisions previously discussed can be triggered to gain access to the unit(s) and perform the necessary maintenance. The costs of such action can be assessed to the unit owner(s) at issue. Depending on the authority outlined in the governing documents, the board may also be able to levy a range of other sanctions for failure to comply with the dryer vent policy, including suspending privileges and assessing fines.
We encourage you to contact your attorney to make sure that your association maintains an appropriate dryer vent maintenance policy to help mitigate the risk of fire in your building(s).