In all likelihood, you pay a ton of condo fees every month, and that makes you think, “My maintenance is covered, I don’t have to do anything!” This may be a dangerous and incorrect assumption. Like everything else in your Condo life, what is and is not covered is completely dependent on what is in your Bylaws. You may, in fact, not need to worry about anything. On the other hand, you might need to worry about everything. Like everything in life, the answer is probably somewhere in between. Here’s how you identify what maintenance you are responsible for in a condo.
Ask Management First, then Check the Paperwork
First, I’d skip the Bylaws in this case (at first) and just call your management office and find out what you’re on the hook for. A good Association willkeep a list of what you need to worry about versus what the Condo covers. If they don’t, you might consider dropping them the helpful suggestion that they do keep such a list (and CC your Board while you email it in). If they don’t, you’ll then need to read the Bylaws to figure out what is and isn’t yours to maintain. You also might skim the Bylaws anyway to double check Management isn’t giving you bad information. If there is a dispute later on, the bad information from Management may not be enough to save you – the Bylaws may be king.
Find Out Just How Much You Are Responsible For
In many cases, you are responsible for everything in your unit – including feeder pipes, ducting, etc., while the Association covers the “common” or “shared” infrastructure. As a practical example, you would be responsible for the small water pipes that supply your unit directly, whereas the Association maintains the big pipes that supply all the units. The problem is there can be some gray area on the boundaries, and poor maintenance by a unit Owner can lead to an Association problem – i.e., gunk in your pipes gunks up the big pipes. And guess what – the Association will gleefully go after you for expenses related to such an incident. So avoid the whole mess and just take care of your unit from the start. You should be taking care of your home anyway – you live there!
Some Big Items to Watch Out For
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things that you might need to maintain, and why:
- HVAC. You should have your HVAC inspected annually, particularly for older units. This goes for everyone who owns a home, but for some reason people in Condos are particularly dense about this. In particular, ask the inspector to confirm your ducting is well-connected. Older/poorly maintained units may have bad connections which lead to increased energy bills and poor heating/cooling.
- Pipes and plumbing. Make sure your drains aren’t backing up. Sometimes this can be the pipes from a unit below you being an issue. Consider snaking things out every so often or using the various commercially available pipe cleaners.
- Dryer vents. If you have an in-unit washer/dryer, your dryer vents the lint out to a bigger lint vent. These can get clogged, reducing the efficacy of your dryer and even becoming a fire hazard. Plenty of commercial companies will take care of this for you.
- Pest Control. Your building likely provides coverage for this, but if your unit becomes a breeding ground for pests and vermin, it could spread to other units, and you better believe that the building is going to come after you for this (as could the health department) if this goes unchecked. Report any pest issues immediately to your Management and get on top of the situation before pests do what pests do… which is multiply.
Some of these items you may be able to do yourself. Others you definitely want to call a professional, particularly because you also then get warrantied work, which is helpful in the event something goes wrong. Remember, any time there’s a screw-up in a Condo, it can turn into a ripple effect – i.e., faulty work on your pipes can lead to damaging other pipes, which then has lots of people pointing their fingers at each other. Better to have a trained, licensed and bonded professional so you have someone someone else to blame and sue in case the whole thing goes south. If you DIY, the Association will come after you, so be aware of that risk.
The Bottom Line
Make sure you identify what maintenance you are responsible for in a condo and take care of your home! This goes for everyone, but in a Condo, you need to make sure you know who is responsible for what, and realize that in addition to hurting your home, poor maintenance has the potential to hurt the Association, and if that happens, the Association will hurt you back.