The 3 Biggest Deferred Maintenance Mistakes That Condominiums Make

We all know that supplemental fees and increasing condo fees are the last thing owners want to consider, especially when it’s for something that doesn’t typically impact your day-to-day life in your home.  However, preserving your building envelope can be the best proactive investment your association makes…just ask any owner that has paid a special assessment for an annoying leak that turned in to a major building facade job.

Want to get the maximum number of years from your building’s exterior and not lose your wallet or wage war with your fellow neighbors?  You need a maintenance plan that the association must stay devoted to and in addition to that, here are the 3 biggest property maintenance and construction mistakes you should try to avoid:

1) Neglecting your roof until it leaks or endlessly patching to avoid a replacement

property maintenance and construction company roof leak fixAside from being a money pit, a constantly leaking roof can lead to a civil war among affected unit owners and the Board.  Also, what may seem like a minor drip, could be the tip of an iceberg: things like mold and wood rot could be hiding behind painted walls, causing illness to those with sensitivities and also an attractive breeding ground for certain types of insects. What’s more, insurers these days typically do not cover mold and remediation is very costly.

Avoidance will turn in to more money spent than just addressing the issue head-on. A proactive tip is to schedule annual inspections by your roofing vendor.  They will survey the structure, clean out gutters, clear drains, and patch or repair vulnerable areas. They will also inspect and repair copper downspouts and detailing, roof flashing, and other metal finishes that may deteriorate or leak over time. Regular visits from the same vendor will become an excellent resource for planning out the expected life span of your roofing materials.

If you already have a leak and can’t seem to chase it down, a structural engineer will be your next best resource.  They will pinpoint a targeted approach and can also help create a scope of work to ascertain bids from multiple vendors.  That way money isn’t wasted on guesswork and a clear plan can be made.

2) Neglecting your masonry and not making regular annual inspections

Masonry and brownstone deterioration can be major sources of water infiltration in a building.  With New England’s extreme weather conditions, it’s especially important to put forth a little preventative maintenance to avoid any surprises. Each year the freeze and thaw that occurs will break open cracks in deteriorating brownstone and masonry, allowing water to enter your building and cause damage to interior infrastructures.  Often times buildings will go through cycles of chasing elusive leaks year after year, patching and repainting the interiors of units only to find that they have wasted time, money, and patience on a leak that was coming from masonry and has now damaged interior wooden structures.

Most roofers may even note masonry issues on chimneys when they are doing a roof inspection, however it’s best to have a structural study performed every 5-years by an engineering firm.  These envelope studies include a thorough exterior review by a structural engineer that explores each surface of your building.  They will let you know areas of weakness, targeted advice for immediate repairs, and expectations over the coming years.  This tool will allow your association to plan appropriately and fund future projects for re-pointing masonry or performing brownstone patches.

3) Neglecting paint and exterior wood repairs

Boston property management client propertyIn addition to roofs and masonry, the last important area that should always be maintained on a regular cycle is exterior wood and paint. Performing an annual visual inspection each spring on window sills, dormers, siding, and any other painted surface will ensure that wood rot or decay doesn’t go unnoticed.  Rotten sills can contribute to masonry damage, since water will filter down past the sills in to exterior walls and freeze during the winter.  This will cause the cracks and damages noted earlier.

Every Association should build a 5-year painting plan that rotates the annual maintenance and painting of the building’s exterior.  This will ensure that each area is tended to and repaired as necessary, preventing a larger and more formidable project down the road that could require assessments and financing.  The exterior envelope study performed every 5-years can be a good tool for planning your starting point.

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5 Tips For Maintaining A Self-Managed Community

When it comes to routine maintenance, self-managed communities are at a disadvantage. Large Boston property management companies like ours are able to use their size to reduce costs and attract vendors to each individual community, but a self-managed community doesn’t have that kind of leverage. Large management companies also have more resources in place to learn about vendors and minimize risks. To help even the score, self-managed communities should consider the tips below.

Compliance compliant property management companies in Boston MA

One of the most important aspects of self-managing a community involves making sure that the community is abiding by all relevant laws. When it comes to vendors, this includes paying payroll taxes when applicable. In general, each vendor may be considered either an independent contractor or an employee. If the vendor earns more than 50 percent of his income from your association, he may be considered an employee, and you must pay the applicable payroll taxes. Conversely, if the vendor earns less than 50 percent of his income from your association, you can consider him and independent contractor and simply issue a 1099.

Vendor Selection

Shop carefully for your vendors and always remember to choose someone who isn’t involved with the association. For example, agreeing to hire a board member’s uncle to perform maintenance work may be a recipe for disaster, as the vendor may expect special treatment because of his relationship with the association. To ensure that you get the best possible vendors, try to network with other associations and make connections with some of their vendors.

Communication 

Clear, frequent communication is absolutely essential to the success of your projects. When dealing with vendors, make sure that you clearly explain the project through the use of diagrams and written specifications. You should also make sure that each vendor is providing you with a detailed proposal that includes information about the cost to the association, the type of materials they would use and the amount of time it would take to complete the project. After you choose a vendor and allow him to begin work, continue to communicate with him about the status of the project as it progresses.

Insurance 

Never hire a vendor who doesn’t have sufficient insurance. If something goes wrong during a project, the vendor should have an insurance policy capable of fixing the problem and repairing any damages your property sustained. Before hiring a vendor, ask for proof of insurance. The certificate he provides should show that he possesses automobile insurance, non-owned automobile insurance and general liability coverage. The policy should also name your association as an insured party. For more information, consult your insurance agent.

Relationships 

Finding good vendors can be challenging. After you enter into a relationship with a respectable vendor, take good care of him. Pay all of your bills on time, keep the lines of communication open and treat him with respect at all times. If a vendor completes emergency and routine repairs to your specifications, show your appreciation to that vendor by allowing him a priority bid on your larger project. A vendor who feels a sense of loyalty to your association will be more likely to complete jobs accurately and efficiently, even when you’re in a bind.

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The Crucial Responsibility: Stepping Up To Serve On The Board Of Trustees

As the community’s primary source of guidance and leadership, a condo association’s board of trustees carries a great deal of responsibility. The board must learn how to deal with complaints from residents, enforce the association’s rules, work with third party companies like Boston condominium management  and continuously work to improve the association as a whole. To be effective, the members of this board must be willing to dedicate both their time and energy to the betterment of their community on a daily basis.

Because of its demanding nature, running for a position on the condo association’s board is not to be taken lightly by any resident. However, stepping up to serve the community in this way can also be rewarding. Members of the board are highly involved in the association’s day-to-day activities. Unlike other residents, board members have unique influence over the way the community operates, and they have the power necessary to make a positive difference in their surroundings.

Why Some Residents Won’t (or Shouldn’t) Run for the Board

mediate management companyUnfortunately, many residents avoid running for the condo board even when they believe that they would be good at the job. Participating in board meetings and other activities requires dedication, and few people are willing to give up their free time in favor of extra work. Many residents also avoid the condo board because they are afraid to take on the responsibility that comes with a position of leadership. Furthermore, dealing with complaints from residents can be aggravating, and enforcing association rules has the potential to affect the reputations and social lives of the board members involved.

Perhaps more upsetting is the fact that some residents who do lobby for a position on the board of trustees are doing so for the wrong reasons. For example, the resident who lives beneath a rambunctious neighbor may be tempted to run for the board simply so he can enforce stricter noise regulations. This individual doesn’t care about the good of the community; he is only concerned with his own agenda. Once he has accomplished his goal, he will “coast” until his term is complete. Such an individual is not an asset to any board of trustees.


When Residents Should Run

In spite of the potential drawbacks, residents who do favor the greater good of the community should still consider running for the board of trustees. Without a strong board, maintenance suffers, regulations are ignored and communities lose their cohesiveness over time. Although it may not be the most popular position, someone still has to fill it.

The best board members are those residents who aren’t afraid to appropriately express their opinions and take a stand. Board members should also be ambitious, strongly dedicated to the continuous improvement of the community and unafraid of hard work. Finally, any resident considering running for the condo board should make sure that he or she has the time required to fulfill all of the duties that accompany the position.

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Considerations on Whether To Allow Marijuana In Condos

Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. However, recent changes to Massachusetts state law allow people who have certain debilitating conditions to grow and/or use marijuana for medical reasons. This new development presents a unique challenge for condominium boards, since some residents may now wish to grow, store and utilize marijuana inside of their units. We would like to provide you a few things to consider when deciding to allow marijuana in your managed condos.

onsite property management considerationsPotential Issues

Allowing unit owners to grow or smoke marijuana inside the building can cause multiple problems for the condo board. Most obviously, smoking inside the building is a fire hazard. If unit owners leave marijuana cigarettes lying around or use them near flammable substances, a fire may result and cause damage, injury or even death. Likewise, marijuana use in the building exposes other residents to second hand smoke, which may compromise their enjoyment of their homes and make them uncomfortable. Furthermore, if any children live in the building, their parents may not want them exposed to marijuana use. Any residents who feel that their rights have been violated may file lawsuits against the condo board, which can be expensive, stressful and time consuming for the association.

Marijuana use in a condominium complex may cause damage to the walls and ventilation systems, and any fire caused by marijuana smoking can cause significant damage to the building’s structure. Unfortunately, many insurance policies specify that smoke damage, caused by standard cigarettes or marijuana won’t be covered. Thus, condo boards that allow marijuana use in the building may find themselves without an insurance payoff in the event of damage.

Unfortunately, the situation becomes even more complicated when the rights of disabled residents come into play. Residents with debilitating medical conditions who have a prescription for marijuana may feel that their rights are being violated if they can’t grow and use marijuana in their own homes.

Implications

Even though Massachusetts state law has approved marijuana for medical use, federal law has not. Furthermore, Massachusetts state law specifies that organizations, such as condo boards, are not required to allow smoking inside of their facilities. In the end, it is up to the condo board to decide whether or not to permit residents to use or grow this substance inside their homes.

The issue of marijuana use in condos is extremely complicated. At the time of publication, no rules are set in stone for boards to follow. To determine the best course of action, condo boards must consider what is best for the community. If the condo board doesn’t want to deal with residents using marijuana in the building, one option is to ban smoking altogether. In most cases, it’s best to ban both regular cigarettes and marijuana in order to prevent claims of discrimination.

However, even if the board decides to ban smoking, it should still be prepared to consider each situation on a case-by-case basis. Boards must be flexible when dealing with residents who have serious medical conditions, and accommodations may be necessary in some situations. Above all, condo boards must be willing to communicate with residents about the community’s governing documents, policies, smoking bans and possible accommodations for residents who have valid prescriptions for medical marijuana.

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A Portfolio Approach to Energy Performance

“Energy Hogs”

Multi-family communities have an opportunity to enhance their comfort and satisfaction while reducing one of the largest controllable costs they face: the cost of energy.  Associations are positioned to simultaneously reduce operating expenses, increase net operating income, improve their image and help protect our environment.

Strategic investments that reduce energy use also improve asset values.  Associations should raise awareness about the energy savings potential in their communities by educating residents and providing a path toward higher stages of sustainability.  Whether it’s performing energy audits, comparing their energy usage with other communities, or discussing ways owners can reduce costs, associations should involve the community at each stage to educate and engage residents. Partnering with an experienced Boston property management company to help with these efforts is also an option you might want to consider.

How to Reduce Energy Use

Associations can analyze trends in energy consumption to actively manage operating costs.  An energy management program, including benchmarking and tracking of improvements, can identify profitable, energy-saving best practices.  For instance, replacing incandescent bulbs with longer lasting energy efficient bulbs saves money while reducing the labor costs associated with continuous bulb replacement.

Whether it’s replacing lighting, windows or other building components, deciding how to reduce energy use requires energy data from the community in addition to comparative data from other multi-family communities.  While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the factors to consider:low income property management boston

  • Climate
  • Age of building
  • Water consumption
  • Physical layout of property
  • Market demand for energy
  • Energy requirements of amenities – elevators, HVAC systems, washers, dryers, gyms, garages, and pools.

Reducing Energy Costs

Before starting a project geared to reducing energy use and costs, ask “how many years will it take the monthly energy savings to payback the project costs?” Lighting upgrades, natural gas conversions, control system upgrades and low flow toilets have each saved communities money.

But neither the amount of savings nor the time-to-payback are always consistent across communities.  Therefore, communities should benchmark and compare their community to other communities, analyze targeted cost reductions and prioritize them.

Set Goals for Improvements

Communities should get motivated, get educated, and get started toward improved health, home, community, and environment!  However, forward looking projections can be met with skepticism if historical data is lacking and energy savings cannot be confirmed.  That’s why associations should assess trends in building performance and frame discussions around best practices in energy efficiency.

If $400 – $575 in savings per home per year is the community goal for each owner, perhaps a simple manual could recommend specific actions to maximize the likelihood of goal achievement.  For instance, peak energy demand affects the cost of energy.  So, in addition to committing to strategic retrofits, communities might use demand management to maximize energy use at off-peak hours.

Measurement Challenges

The numerous benefits of energy efficiency are easier to quantify at the community level than the level of the individual unit owner.  For example, the amount of energy savings is affected by the quality of construction and ongoing management in addition to the quality of energy audits.  Therefore, investments at the community level should be coupled with the collection of the following basic energy data:

  1. Benchmarks – total fuel expenses, energy use and current commodity prices
  2. Monitor opportunities – energy savings opportunities and whether an energy audit is needed
  3. Analyze trends – energy use projections and demand management predictions
  4. Measuring Solutions – maintain data on the performance of retrofits and capital projects
  5. Reporting and Improvement – collect data and compare dataset with energy audit reports

In Massachusetts, legislation is driving change and creating opportunities involving annual benchmarking, required audits and retro-commissioning in large buildings.  Associations should evaluate the energy performance of the multifamily building they manage and compare it against itself and other buildings.  To make prudent energy decisions, they should develop an energy management plan, compare it with a portfolio of multi-family buildings and measure improvements over time.  Associations should lead the way in reducing operating expenses from energy use to increase net operating income and help protect our environment.

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Investigating How Reasonable Accommodation Requests Are

property management services bostonCondo associations deal with a variety of requests from their residents on a daily basis. In most cases, the association can easily decide whether or not to grant the request based on the cost, feasibility and necessity when it comes to onsite property management. However, when requests made by residents involve accommodations for a disability, the situation becomes more complicated.

The Federal Fair Housing Act

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, disabled individuals are entitled to an equal opportunity to enjoy their homes. The act requires condo boards and other housing providers to grant reasonable accommodation requests made by handicapped residents. In addition, the act also requires condo boards to respond to requests made for accommodations in a timely manner.

The Federal Fair Housing Act defines “reasonable accommodations” that permit handicapped residents to enjoy their homes without causing extreme administrative or financial burdens to the condo association. Because there are no hard and fast rules for determining whether a resident’s request is reasonable, condo associations must consider each request on an individual basis.

Before a condo association is legally required to consider a request, the requester must show the board that he has a disability or impairment, such as blindness or the inability to walk, that makes the accommodation necessary. If the requester is able to demonstrate this need, the board must consider accommodating it. When considering the request, the board should factor in the cost, amount of work required and any alternative accommodations that could be pursued. If the board chooses to deny the request, it must be able to show clear evidence that making the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive for the board to handle. Otherwise, a court may force the board to comply with the resident’s request.

Assessing Questionable Requests

Many requests, such as the request for a wheelchair ramp, are obviously reasonable. In cases such as this where the disability is apparent, condo boards are not permitted to request further information and must comply with the request if at all possible.

However, the appropriate response to some requests, such as the request for an emotional support animal in the home, isn’t always clear. When requests are questionable, the Federal Fair Housing Act allows condo boards to request more information from the resident in question, such as documentation from a doctor that supports the need for accommodation.

Avoiding Problems

Regardless of the nature of a resident’s request, condo boards should proceed with caution. Discrimination lawsuits can be very expensive, especially if the court finds in favor of the resident. Outright rejection of requests almost always results in a lawsuit, so condo boards should follow an established procedure for assessing each request presented. Procedures should include a formal review of the request, its necessity and its feasibility. Before denying any request, condo associations should consult with a qualified attorney who has experience in the industry, and they should draft a written response to the resident that details the reasons for the denial.

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