As anybody who’s ever had his air conditioner go out in the middle of summer can tell you, buildings don’t maintain themselves. The purpose of this article is to discuss how community association managers and board members work with staff and contractors to maintain their buildings and grounds to keep the various components and parts functioning. Here’s everything you need to know about condo maintenance.
Common Questions About Condo Maintenance Answered
A series of questions and answers below may serve as a guide for managers and board members when it comes to condo association maintenance.
1. How much day-to-day involvement with condo maintenance does the typical community manager have?
The involvement varies greatly depending on the knowledge and experience of the manager, scope of the maintenance requirements, complexity of the property’s common elements, number of on-site staff, and dependence on third-party service providers.
However, the board should rely on professionals recommended by the manager who is expert in each category of repair and replacement. The manager is an expert in organization and administration, not in preparing specifications to replace the roof of a building.
2. What baseline level of knowledge should a manager have about a building’s physical plant and equipment?
In general, the manager should have a working knowledge of the physical components of the property. They should be able to refer the board to professionals in every aspect of condo maintenance, repair, and replacement. This is not to say the manager should perform the maintenance. Rather, they should be capable of collecting proposals and scheduling and contracting the projects.
A manager should know the limits of his or her expertise. They should recommend hiring professionals such as engineers, project managers to supervise the work of both contractors and on-site maintenance personnel. Typically, most high-rise condominiums and communities with complex common areas employ a facility manager. This facility manager is responsible for the physical plant and reports to the manager. Meanwhile, the manager addresses the administration and operations of the other aspects of the community.
3. Do managers obtain training as part of their licensing curriculum applicable to their state, or are there other resources available to them?
Very few states require community manager licensing. Those that do provide a licensing curriculum that touches on maintenance and emphasizes the need for managers to do the following:
- Know the maintenance requirements of their association and state statutes
- Utilize the services of professionals who are experts in their particular field
However, there are other sources of training including classes offered by the Community Associations Institute and other professional organizations. Some management firms offer in-house manager training related to many aspects of community association maintenance. For continued education, managers can attend local seminars and additional inhouse training to gain HOA maintenance knowledge.
4. How do state statutes address community association maintenance responsibilities?
Every state regulates the maintenance of community associations to some degree. For condominiums, statutes often distinguish between unit, limited common area, and common area maintenance responsibilities. A manager must know the association’s and the individual owner’s maintenance responsibilities. For example, the air conditioner that serves only one condominium unit is probably the maintenance responsibility of the owner even though some of the equipment is located outside the boundaries of the unit.
Other statutes may require community associations to provide pest control and regulate vehicle towing and swimming pool maintenance. Incorporated associations typically fall under a non-profit or not-for-profit corporation. Therefore, they should follow state statutes that regulate all non-profit corporations.
5. What’s the chain of command when a resident has a maintenance-related problem? Who should they call first, and how does the problem get solved?
The resident should always contact management, by a phone call or a personal visit, or through an online process to ensure that the service request is recorded.
Let’s say your office assumed the management of a small condominium association with on-site maintenance personnel supervised by condo association board members. A homeowner reported water leak damage in his unit to a maintenance person. This person took a look at the problem but failed to report it to the board.
More than a month later, the owner reported that the problem had worsened. It came to the point that he was becoming ill from the buildup of mold. A small problem escalated to a huge loss over a failure to follow the association’s policy regarding the procedure for reporting condo maintenance problems.
Once the issue is reported, the manager must arrange for inspection and repair. They do this either through on-site staff or outsourced contractors. They then report back to the manager or customer service staff when the work is completed.
6. What kind of condo maintenance issues can a manager and his/her building staff address on their own, and when should they call in a professional?
Typically, the guidelines for maintenance authority are established through board policy resolutions, or perhaps in the management contract itself. The manager must consider whether or not the problem can be handled by site personnel or if it needs to be referred to the contractor. A burned-out light bulb could be replaced by a housekeeping person or a light-duty maintenance person while a cooling tower malfunction would require a skilled and licensed HVAC professional.
Budget limitations also determine how much a manager can handle without board approval. Most management agreements include a spending limit for non-budget items or items exceeding the budgeted expense. The board should not micromanage the process, however. Board members should hold the manager accountable for performing his or her responsibilities, and the manager should keep the board aware of his or her actions through an Action Item List and Management Report.
7. How do managers go about hiring contractors and other service providers to work on common elements?
The manager’s role is to manage the process of hiring contractors, vendors, and service providers. The manager works with the board and often enlists the assistance of professionals. This includes engineers, consultants, and architects to develop the scope and specifications for one-time special projects, major replacements, preventive maintenance programs, or on-going maintenance contracts. The manager uses the scope and specifications to solicit bids.
There are sources such as local trade organizations or national ones such as BOMA (Builder Owners and Managers Association) and CAI with local chapters that have a membership list of service providers from which to select. Engineers and consultants also have connections to qualified providers. The Better Business Bureau is a useful resource to check a service provider’s reputation or to find a reputable one.
Upon receipt of the bids, the manager summarizes the proposals. The manager provides the information and a recommendation to the board of directors. The board ultimately decides which vendor will perform the work. Alternatively, if the work to be performed is complex or major in scope, the board should utilize the services of an expert consultant. A consultant will prepare the specifications, issue the Request for Proposal, receive the bids, and submit a recommendation to the manager.
Needless to say, the manager should have discretion for purchases. This includes light bulbs, cleaning supplies, office supplies, and other day-to-day supplies. It also includes any repairs necessary for the ongoing operations of the facility without having to go to the board for approval.
8. How involved should the board be in the process of purchasing and contractor selection?
The board should establish parameters under which the manager may operate by setting reasonable limits on expenditures without the need for board approval. Typical maximum amounts start at $1,500 and may exceed $5,000, depending on the community.
However, based on the manager’s recommendation, the board should select the provider for major contacts such as landscape, pool maintenance, roof replacement, and, in particular, reserve expenditures. The manager should not sign contracts on behalf of the association. The contracts should be between the association and the contractor.
9. During a condo maintenance project, what is the manager’s involvement with the association staff or with the contractor and his/her team of workers? Does the manager oversee the project, or just check in periodically?
The board should hire a qualified inspector or engineer to ensure that the work is performed per contract, especially with complex projects such as re-roofing or replacing the building façade. Most managers do not have the technical expertise or the time to adequately inspect a major project in progress. Managers do not belong on the roofs of buildings. Rather, the manager leads the various service providers to work as a team to perform at optimal levels.
10. What are some common mistakes when it comes to condo building maintenance and how can those mistakes be avoided?
Inadequate specifications and supervision are the two most common causes of failure. Others include haphazard bid process and board member/homeowner interference.
For example, a board may not see the need to hire a roof consultant to review the specifications for replacing the flat roof on a building. This may be because they think the manager can evaluate the bids. And the on-site maintenance technician can oversee the roofer. After all, those folks are being paid “big bucks” to look after the association.
In reality, the board is being shortsighted. The board fails to realize that the portfolio manager cannot spend every waking moment on the project. The manager also does not have the skills and expertise to determine if cement has the appropriate consistency and mix or if roofing flashing is installed correctly.
The manager is the generalist who knows where to find the specialists. They are not the person who writes specifications and Requests for Proposals. They do not ensure that the work is performed in the correct manner.
It’s a Team Effort
Avoiding the common pitfalls requires a good working relationship and level of trust between the board of directors, the manager, the onsite staff, and the maintenance providers. With these answers in mind, managers can effectively handle condo maintenance problems that arise.
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