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Forever Young? Don’t Bet Your Reserves on It!

Few board members really understand what is involved in maintaining a building.  It costs a lot of money to do it right.  It is easier and cheaper, but not necessarily the right decision to patch small problems in the short run than perform wholesale fixes.  The fix is often left for someone else while deterioration accelerates from lack of regular and preventive Maintenance. 

If the board does not develop a vision and plan for long-term maintenance, lenders, insurance companies and regulatory agencies will ultimately intervene to protect and promote their interests. 

Some building components and systems can be replaced or upgraded with little or no disruption to residents or building operation.  Major mechanical equipment such as boilers and chillers are routinely replaced, and building exteriors can be renovated from outside. 

Some systems are more difficult to rehabilitate or upgrade with residents in place – the building structure, architectural design and air duct, electrical, plumbing, fire sprinklers and buried water distribution systems. 

And some problems are almost impossible to correct with people in residence.  Environmental concerns such as lead paint, asbestos and hazardous materials buried on the property; building code and regulatory changes; sound resistance of walls and floors; poor ventilation creating persistent mold or air quality problems; and the deterioration of underground sewer pipes all may require vacating a building to correct. 

In some instances, buildings are doomed from the start.  For example, when a three-story garden-style condominium with wood framed buildings was constructed in the mid-1970s, the developer’s plan was to offer attractive units in a desirable location at affordable prices.  To achieve this, the units had to be constructed as inexpensively as possible.  However, problems later developed with the exterior cladding.  Leaks caused mold problems for the wood in the walls and floor framing. 

The buildings had many defects that did not become apparent for several years.  The wood floors sagged badly.  Pipe joints developed slow leaks that were not found until wood rot and mold appeared.  HVAC systems were undersized and air distribution was barely adequate. 

The condominium association never came to grips with the systemic problems.  They went through a series of management firms and engineers who correctly diagnosed the problems, but could not deliver a low-cost solution. 

Finally, an angry owner went to building-code authorities and complained about the structural problems with the floors.  The code authorities discovered a series of engineering reports describing the problems and recommending solutions that had never been implemented.  The authorities threatened to condemn the buildings unless the association took action. 

A new management team was charged with correcting the most serious problems.  The association had to arrange special funding because owners refused to pay a special assessment or repay a loan that would have funded the repairs. 

The repairs are still underway and won’t be completed for years at the present rate.  The ultimate fate of this community is uncertain.

by  Linc Cummings

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