Exterior maintenance and repair are some of the most extensive—and expensive—work that a condo, HOA, or co-op will undertake; they’re also unavoidable. So when planning such a project, two important factors should be considered: The first is the scope of the work, and the second is who should do it. These are really two sides of the same coin, since the scope of the work may actually determine who should do it. Safety is another key consideration. The inherent dangers involved with certain types of maintenance — roof work for example, or anything else done on a scaffold—warrant particular planning and expertise. No association, board, or management organization wants to put someone’s life or safety at risk for the sake of window cleaning or repointing some brickwork, and no one wants to increase possible liability for the association — so let’s look at how these kinds of projects are best handled from the start to maximize efficiency while minimizing risk.
Qualifications Are Key
“I just had this conversation this week with the board members of a condominium property we manage,” says Scott Wolf, CEO of Brigs LLC, a property management firm based in Massachusetts. Maintenance employees in a given building or association have varying levels of experience and qualification, he stresses, and “if they are qualified to do the specific work,” says Wolf, “they should do it. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t. In this specific case, the association wanted someone to do a roof inspection. The person they chose was a maintenance guy — but he wasn’t qualified, so it wasn’t safe for him to be on the roof.”
Wolf explains that different job titles indicate respective levels of expertise with exterior and building systems maintenance. For example, generally speaking, a facilities manager is qualified to carry out an array of inspections, repairs, and other tasks that may require specialized education or training that a maintenance worker isn’t necessarily qualified to do, while “a building custodian or cleaner is just that: someone who keeps the property clean and orderly.” In other words, you don’t send the guy who cleans the lobby to inspect—much less repair—the roof. Doing so isn’t just dangerous for the worker; it can void warranties, cause problems to be missed (leading to more costly repairs), and even raise issues of liability.
Inspections and Reporting
As to who can or should do an inspection of exterior or interior building systems, that really depends on what they’re inspecting. If management schedules a walk-around inspection of exterior lighting every three months, the maintenance person or cleaning person who is in charge of changing light bulbs is certainly qualified to do that inspection. Similarly, observational inspections of parking lots and community drives and roads should be completed three to four times a year and reported back to the board through management. Again, this type of observational inspection can be completed by almost anyone who can recognize a pothole. Roof and façade inspections, on the other hand —especially when they involve pitched roofs or multistory buildings—are complex undertakings, and should be carried out by outsourced professionals; preferably ones who are specialists in the field in question.
The next critical step for management is to report the results of physical inspections to the board for ultimate decision-making. Traditionally, inspectors took a clipboard, notepad, and pencil with them and delivered the findings of their inspections to management, who then delivered the results and appropriate comments and suggestions to the board. The advent and adoption of all types of electronic tools and methods has changed all that, however. Apps, tablets, and smartphones have replaced clipboards and handwritten notes. These apps can easily produce documents that can be delivered to board members by managers in a nanosecond electronically, saving time, reducing confusion, and lessening the environmental impact of endless paperwork.