Regular maintenance of common areas is one of the core responsibilities of a Homeowner Association or Condominium Development. An Association will always need maintenance. In order to maximize the preservation of property values, every Association should be proactive in identifying and addressing components of the common property which need regular maintenance. Failure to do so will inevitably result in “trouble at your door.” This article contains some tips on how to avoid that trouble.
It is human nature to avoid potential problems until they clearly manifest themselves. But Associations should not abide by the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Deferring the common area maintenance responsibilities can have damaging effects upon a community. While deferrals are sometimes a financial necessity if you don’t have available cash, postponing necessary maintenance projects should not be viewed as a cost savings technique. In some instances, deferral might be the result of simple oversight or neglect. Regardless of the cause of neglecting routine maintenance, the end result is often significant increase in the ultimate cost when compared to addressing the issues in a timely fashion.
Step 1: Adopt a resolution committing the Association to following a maintenance plan. The resolution can state that the Association is committed to providing quality control oversight and cost containment oversight for its maintenance responsibilities through an annual maintenance plan. The resolution can require that the plan be re-evaluated annually so the obligations are not neglected. An Association may create an advisory committee for the purpose of implementing the plan and evaluating different maintenance options and costs. By passing a resolution requiring a commitment to an annual maintenance plan, the Association’s future managers will be bound to follow the policy. This ensures a continued commitment to pro-actively addressing maintenance issues.
Step 2: Adopt a formal maintenance plan. The plan should include both budgeting and a routine physical inspection of the property.
With respect to budgeting, Associations should perform a reserve study to develop funding plans for future repair, maintenance or replacement of common property. A reserve study is a budget planning tool that identifies the current status of the reserve fund and establishes a stable and equitable funding plan to offset the anticipated future common element repair and replacement expenditures.
Most reserve studies do not include “destructive testing,” so the studies do not attempt to address latent and/or patent defects. Nor do they typically address useful life expectancies of components that are subject to more rapid deterioration as a result of improper design, installation, or to subsequent improper maintenance. The reserve study typically assumes all components will be reasonably maintained for the remainder of their life expectancy. A proper reserve study will give an Association some guidance on the financial costs associated with maintenance and repair of common elements.
In addition to the reserve study for long term costs associated with maintenance and replacement of common property, a separate budget should be prepared to regular, ongoing maintenance. This would include lawn care, snow removal, painting, caulking, roof shingle replacement, gutter cleaning, and all other ongoing maintenance activities.
The maintenance plan should also require an annual inspection of common area components. This valuable management tool will help to ensure that all components achieve a maximum useful life expectancy and that they are functioning as intended throughout their lifespan. Routine inspection will better ensure that the reserve study estimates are accurate and reliable.
Step 3: Physically Inspect and Maintain the property. The physical inspection of the common area components should be performed by a qualified professional and should include a written summary of conclusions with specific recommendations for any needed repairs or maintenance. For example, maintenance of the roof should be done by a licensed roofing contractor. Inspection of the exterior cladding surfaces, walkways, recreational facilities and other components should all be done by licensed professionals.
Painting is one of the most critical elements of routine maintenance. If ignored, exposed surfaces will likely deteriorate, causing dry rot with the potential for structural damage. The paint on the exterior of any building is a very important component of any maintenance plan. Metal and wood trim should be painted every 2-3 years. Metal surfaces typically require rust-inhibitor applications as well as a final coat of paint. The complete painting of other common area buildings should be done every 5-8 years.
Rain gutters are another critical component of the common area requiring annual maintenance to insure proper water run-off. Clogged drains can cause of variety of water seepage problems, including roof leaks and damage to cladding components. Failure to maintain gutters can be very costly in the long run.
Light fixtures and light poles should be inspected. Keep an eye out for signs of rust and make sure that all lights are fully operational. Inadequate lighting can be a safety issue which could expose an Association to personal injury liability. Adequate lighting is therefore a critical component of an Association’s maintenance plan.
Likewise, concrete should be inspected annually for cracks and raised areas, as well as degradation of the surface. Raised areas can create a trip hazard as well as impact the overall appearance of a community. Asphalt areas need to be resealed regularly.
In some instances, the Association’s builder or developer may have generated their own maintenance plan. Ask your developer for any information relating to the products used in construction, any manufacturer guidelines for maintenance and warranty information for their products. These materials will likely provide details for implementing your maintenance plan.
The goal of a proper maintenance plan is to provide specific, detailed guidance to the Association of how and when to offer repairs to the building and land components. If consistently followed in conjunction with a properly prepared fee schedule, the components will enjoy their maximum useful life and repair costs will be held to the minimum. This will better ensure the successful operation of an Association.
If your Association doesn’t have a maintenance plan, your reserve study forecasts will likely be inaccurate, and your Association will find itself in a place it didn’t intend to be. As Yogi Berra famously stated:
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”
Plan long ahead, know where you are going, and avoid the ”trouble at your door.” Implement a formal maintenance plan for your Association.