Mill Creek condominiums in Chapel Hill were built throughout 1984 and 1992, most with polybutylene piping — also known by the brand name Qest piping — which is prone to leakage that can lead to varying degrees of property damage.
Doug Brown, manager of the homeowner’s association of Mill Creek condominiums, said the faulty piping has led to about 20 major incidents of property damage caused by pipes leaking or breaking in the past 30 years.
Sara Morris, a UNC junior and Mill Creek resident, said she has experienced issues with her plumbing.
“I have lived in Mill Creek since August and we have had a toilet continuously run, which is kind of alarming,” Morris said.
Morris leases from Mill House Properties, which represents the building’s owner.
“They never told me if we could prevent it, if it was our fault or what we should do when it happens,” Morris said of the issues with her plumbing.
Another UNC junior and Mill Creek resident, Emily Kelly, said she has also had incidents with water leakage in the past year.
“Water from the shower leaked down into the living room from upstairs,” Kelly said. “We didn’t call anybody at the time.”
The properties are owned by individual owners, many of whom are represented by local realty companies including Mill House Properties, Dunlap Lilley Properties, Louise Beck Properties and Carolina Realty.
“(The homeowner’s association) asked them to replace the pipes, but we can’t force them to,” Brown said. “It’s not within our authority.”
While the buildings’ polybutylene pipes are disclosed to potential buyers, they are not disclosed to leasers.
Brown said leasers typically do not ask about the condominiums’ plumbing.
“There’s no requirement to disclose this as far as I know of,” said Ed Moore of Carolina Realty. “A lot of people don’t know about this.”
Brown said the cost of replacing the piping and the connectors is inexpensive with the actual part costing less than five dollars. He said the real cost is opening the walls and ceilings.
Brown also said owners do not replace the pipes or the connectors until the pipes break or leak, and in those cases some only replace or repair the sections where the accident occurred.
“We do replace them once they break, but not before,” said Cameron Inglis, administrative assistant at Mill House Properties.
Owners are responsible for the damage caused to the actual property, but are not responsible for a leaser’s personal property damage, Brown said.
Brown said renters must have renters’ insurance for their property to be personally protected from an accident.
“Some of that damage resulted from people standing there with their mouths open,” Brown said. “People stand around waiting for the fire department to come because the management companies never told renters how to turn the water off.”
He said it is the management companies that move quickly that save everyone time and money.
“(Polybutylene piping) is something everyone would prefer not to have,” Brown said.