The carefree lifestyle of condominium residents may make an owner feel as though taking off for a winter in Florida is a simple as removing the trash and locking the unit doors. Managers will explain that it’s not so simple.
Jeff Martin, president of Foreside Real Estate Management of Portland, Maine, says, “We manage condo communities from a half dozen to over 110 units… although the average size is around 30 [which is] very typical for Maine. About half of our client properties include unit owners who vacate during the cold season. A lot of the association’s business—through the winter—is done with email or conference calls.
“The biggest risk,” he continues, “is when you have a cluster of these empty units” where winter problems can compound. He points out that “some residents may have family or caretakers checking their unit during the winter.” That may not be enough, he says. “Association boards can and should develop policies on winterizing… set up procedures, and then enforce them.”
For instance, “If an owner does not really winterize, and drain all pipes in the unit,” Martin explains, “then the temperature must stay at 55 degrees minimum. Neighbors in the community often step up and check on empty units, or we sometimes rely on ‘winter watch’ services. We send out a fall reminder that if a resident does not drain their unit, we want to make sure their boiler or heat is operating.”
“We’ve seen situations,” Martin notes, “where pipes froze and split in December, but everything stayed frozen until a warm day late in the season… then all of a sudden a neighbor noted water leaking” out of the unit. Even leaving the heat on is no guarantee, he reports. “We had a property where the owner left for the winter, with the thermostat set at 55, and they had a friend lined up who was supposed to check on the unit periodically. Well, the thermostat was the digital type that is programmable, and it operates with a battery. .. and the battery ran out. The system won’t work with a dead battery; it won’t turn on the boiler. So the temperature dropped and the pipes froze and burst, ultimately causing about $25,000 in damage to the building.”