Major projects within a Condo Association are a part of life. Over time, things break down and need to be rehabilitated and repaired. If you have strong reserves and don’t need a special assessment, the projects are somewhat straightforward. However, depending on the project, you’re going to have impacts to your Owners. Before starting any major project, here are Condo Association repair project questions you need to get answers to as a community – BEFORE you start work.
What Laws or Rules Affect This Project, and in What Way?
Your legal obligations are your first and most important of the Condo Association repair project questions to ask. Depending on the project, these might be relatively minor or completely game-changing. You’re inevitably going to have to deal with some permitting and the like, but that’s the easy part. You need to look out for environmental or other safety impacts that can dramatically affect the cost or execution of the project.
A great example of this is asbestos remediation. Asbestos is fairly well-understood, and most buildings know if they are on the hook for it or not. But this is just a tip of the iceberg example. Fire code when rehabbing a fire system or sprinkler system is another example you may be less familiar with. Any time a fire system is shut down, you generally need to institute a fire watch, which is extremely expensive. Make sure you are aware of when and if you need a fire watch. Utility shutoffs, particularly heating, are another example of major potential issues. If your Association loses heat in the winter due to a project, you could be deemed uninhabitable for safety reasons, and the cost of hotels would be borne by the Association.
There are many gradations, and local laws vary considerably. Always consult with your lawyer prior to any major project so you aren’t caught off guard.
What Might We Find That is the Owners’ Responsibility but They Don’t Know It?
Often when you’re doing a large project, such as roofing or facade work, the work impacts the inside of an Owner’s unit. While you are there, you might discover unit defects that weren’t previously identified. Unit defects are issues where a previously undiscovered construction defect affects a unit, but not the building. For example, you might find bad wiring, poorly installed piping, poor sealing of windows, etc. Because of how Bylaws are written, the defect may be the Owner’s responsibility, not the Association’s. This will not please the Owner, who will likely demand (regardless of legal liability) the Association repair the issue.
This is one of the tougher Condo Association repair project questions to get answers to, and you may get many hypotheticals from your technical representation. However, it’s a good question to at least float out there so your Board is ready if the issue arises.
What Might We Find That is the Association’s Responsibility and Could be Really Expensive?
The bottom line to this question is: What’s the worst-case scenario the Association could see? For example, say you’re replacing a wood roof due to moisture damage and poor maintenance. Could you find rot damage that has affected the integrity of the roof supports as well? What will that cost? While you need to be careful to not get into the overly hypothetical and unlikely, you do want to have a good idea of what the worst-case scenario is for budgeting and scheduling purposes. This is also a good time to ask questions about how systems are interrelated. For example, perhaps a leaking roof has gotten water into wiring conduits which also need to be replaced.
What Quality-of-Life Impacts Will Occur to the Association and Owners?
Quality of life is important, and being able to communicate effectively to Owners about what to expect during a project is imperative. Once you understand the quality of life impacts, you may be able to work with your contractor to mitigate them to some extent. Perhaps you can start work a bit later in the mornings to avoid waking up Owners. Understanding quality-of-life impacts is further helpful for the Board because you can do some advance leg work and prepare appropriate answers for the questions that Owners might have. For example, if you think Owners are going to demand (but are not legally entitled to) hotel rooms during a noisy project, you can pull the relevant legal citations for Owner responses.
Ask First, Work Later
Asking these Condo Association repair project questions is valuable not only for preparation purposes, but also to help get the Board into the right mindset. Every big project will lead to the unexpected. In a Condo Association you also have to look out for hundreds of people – you must do your homework. Having your Board start to think about the unexpected will enable you to respond nimbly and quickly in the event the unusual arises.