Maintenance – A Team Effort

Published in the ECHO Journal, April 2008

Many articles have been written over the past few years regarding different aspects of maintenance— maintenance programs, how to, where to, who to and who pays. Only this past month we saw two articles in the Journal discussing some of these aspects of maintenance.

There is a reason behind this prolific outpouring of knowledge on this topic. One of the most daunting tasks for associations and boards is maintaining the common property. It is a fiduciary responsibility; and, lacking good judgement and appropriate advice, the board may be sued for failing to perform this function properly.

Let’s start at the beginning. Think about forming a maintenance committee made up of perhaps one board member and two or three owners similar to your landscape committee. You have a reserve study. Using this as a guide, let’s take a walk. It’s spring, and before the planting really gets going, take a look around your association. Many of the items that require maintenance can be seen from the ground. Take notes on what you see and question any items that look like they need attention.

This committee can be the core of your maintenance team. You may want to include your reserve analyst as a team member. How long has it been since he/she actually did a site investigation? Is it time for an update of your study?

You may want to include an expert on your team, one who has the qualifications to put together and manage a maintenance program. Select an expert who understands the components and construction of the building systems, can make an analysis of the conditions of your community and knows construction and maintenance costs.

A qualified Construction Manager (CM) can act as the team leader for you. One of the primary functions of a CM is to act as facilitator and provide team leadership and communication. He or she understands the various building systems, life expectancy and replacement cost of such items as deck waterproofing, roofing systems, gutters and downspouts, paint, wood siding and trim, fencing, gates, drainage and pavements. Many associations have more sophisticated elements such as elevators, heating and air conditioning systems, boiler plants, alarm systems, smoke and fire suppression systems and the like. As the team’s expert, he/she can help in developing a plan for maintenance, planned up-grading and replacement of these critical systems.

Working together with your reserve analyst and the maintenance committee, you can develop a plan that will outline the time frames for performing maintenance, repairing, replacing or upgrading all the components for which the association is responsible. This plan should include target dates for accomplishing these items, the anticipated costs of the work and a guide for managing the plan. Together with your reserve analyst and the committee, the reserve budget can be structured to accomplish the goals of the plan.

The next challenge is to manage the plan. Whether your association is small or large, whether it is in the city or in the “burbs,” whether luxury or more modest, it deserves the best in expert advice available. This is where the CM can play the pivotal role. Guiding the association through the planning, bidding, contracting and oversight of these services is beyond most manager’s expertise or responsibilities. The skills and experience offered by the CM relieves the board and the manager of this responsibility and places the program with an experienced, licensed, insured and knowledgeable organization.

Continuing with our team approach, we now go into the action stage. Working with the plan, the CM, with the direction from the board and the other team members, assembles the documents for repair or reconstruction of the immediate (“hot”) items in your association that need attention.

Let’s take the example of decks that are starting to show signs of surface deterioration. Some residents are complaining about leaks around their sliding doors or in the ceilings below. This issue tops the list of “hot items”. Using the reserve study as the basis for the determination of funding, and the plan as the basis for implementation, the CM has plans and specifications drawn up and advertises the project for bid. The plan may call for the reconstruction of a percentage of the decks in a multi-year program. In this case, the CM may get bids based on this multi-year approach.

Part of this plan may be to obtain a long-term maintenance and warranty agreement with the contractor or applicator that will assure the association that this particular element is going to be inspected and maintained on a regular basis. There may be specific instructions built into the program making the owners responsible for the proper care of the balcony, once the repairs are complete.

Once the bids are in and a contractor selected, a contract is signed and the work begins. The CM will now manage every aspect of the construction program including quality control, administration of the schedule, payments to the contractor and notification and liaison with the residents.

Upon completion of the particular phase of work undertaken, the CM will document all the areas of completed work and ensure that the maintenance and warranty plan is started. There may be a reason to bond or insure these programs. Each circumstance is unique and cost may be one of the determining factors. Determining the criticality of the element and the likelihood that it would be difficult (or not) to replace the agreement if the contractor fails, for whatever reason, to implement the agreement, are some of the factors to consider. You may also want to underwrite the warranty by having the supplier of the materials (in the case of our deck example) and/or the certified applicator, co-sign the warranty. This improves the chances for the agreement to be maintained.

Finally, make the agreement for maintenance and warranty automatically renewable. The board would then have to vote to not renew it rather than vote to renew it every year. This renewal should be unilateral with the association and the contractor paid after the maintenance and inspection has been completed satisfactorily.

Let the CM review the work. This can be accomplished for a very small yearly fee and you have used the advice of an expert to make that judgement. Ask the reserve analyst to build the program into your reserve study. This makes the funding of it palatable for the owners each year the budget comes up for approval. You now have an ongoing plan for every component of the property and because the plan is being implemented there is little room for surprises as all the components are maintained to last a lifetime.   

Frank Arms is the principal at F. L. Arms & Associates, a construction management firm and member of ECHO. He is a member and past chair of the Maintenance Resource Panel and participates in several other ECHO resource panels.