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Maintenance Planning

A Short Primer

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, March 2014

Maine has had a history of self-managed condominiums and HOAs. From high-rise towers on the coast to large-scale duplex suburban complexes inland, the Maine condominium community has a tradition of wanting to go it alone with mixed success. Though I have been an advocate of the advantages of having a professional property manager providing guidance and maintenance services to associations, I have come to realize self-management for some condos is here to stay. With this is mind, I wanted to provide a short primer on an organized approach to planning for future maintenance to our independent downeasters.
Maintenance planning, of course, falls into two general categories: annual operating expenses and long term capital repairs. Taking care of the everyday issues, such as snow plowing, landscape maintenance, and trash removal, is obvious to even the newest condo board. The long-term planning issues in the early days are less pressing because shiny new condo facades tend to have useful lives of  more than 20 years and it is comfortable to drift along in the fog of low assessments established by the developer to attract buyers. When the fog lifts, the planning begins. 

Developing a Policy

First, the board establishes a maintenance and repair committee hopefully made up of unit owners with the time and energy needed for this important responsibility. The committee should meet at least monthly to review repair needs and set priorities. The committee's first order of business is to develop a written maintenance and repair policy available to all unit owners.
This is important as it establishes a clear procedure for performing repairs and avoids future disputes of how the association's funds are used. This policy should include:
  1. Definition of priorities (i.e. emergency, preventive, cosmetic)
  2. Who will be responsible for regular repairs?
  3. Processing routine repair requests
  4. Process for hiring contractors
  5. Regular maintenance contracts (lawn, elevator, HVAC, snow plowing, etc)
  6. Need for a maintenance superintendant and who supervises
  7. Handling complaints
  8. Maintaining a planned maintenance schedule
  9. Maintaining records of past and present projects

To establish a firm foundation for a repair plan, a building condition survey should be conducted. This basement-to-roof review can be performed in-house or by a professional building inspector engaged to provide an informed, unbiased assessment of the physical condition of the various common building and site elements, including: siding, roof surface, structural framing, foundation, water infiltration, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, flooring, light fixtures, paving, etc. Providing a questionnaire to the unit owners during this process not only engages the unit owners in this important work but also may reveal common defects not readily known.

Scope of Work, Budget

When repair projects are approved, the committee is charged with creating a scope of work and a budget. The various projects should be sorted by priorities and timing as rarely can any community conduct all needed repairs at one time. These individual project budgets will form the annual budget for maintenance and capital repairs and, in turn, establish a long-term plan looking our no less than 10 years but often 20 years.
If the board decides a full- or part time maintenance superintendant is needed, the committee should be charged with the hiring  process, including defining job responsibilities; determining wages and benefits to be offered; contractual terms; and to whom the superintendant will report.
The committee will seek outside contractors when needed; solicit and evaluate bids; and recommend selection of a qualified contractor to the board. The policy may define how to handle jobs costing less than $500; $500 to $2,000; or greater than $2,000. This may further dictate the need for job specifications, payment schedules, contract documents, and construction monitoring and  administration. 
Needless to say, a maintenance and repair plan will be an evolving tool requiring adjustment as the board and committee discovers what works and what does not. The important thing is there is a plan and a path for the future well-being of the community.