While we may not get the full story of what exactly went wrong for a long time, the recent collapse of a Miami apartment block should be a wake-up call to Australian strata owners to get on top of their properties’ maintenance requirements, make steps to undertake any necessary repairs and deal with any known defects.
Miami building collapse
For anyone involved in a body corporate committee that tries to muster reluctant owners to pay out for expensive (but very necessary) maintenance, the goings on of the collapsed apartment building’s board (US equivalent of a body corporate committee) will be particular illuminating and subsequently quite alarming.
There were many detailed issues with the Miami building which some owners had been trying to address for years. The debate over the cost and scope of the work, along with turnover on the volunteer board, dragged out preparations for the repairs for three years, according to previously unpublished correspondence, condo board minutes and other records kept by the homeowners association.
Here are some quotes from the president of the board of the Florida condominium, Anette Goldstein in a Washington Post report before resigning from her role.
“We work for months to go in one direction and at the very last minute objections are raised that should have been discussed and resolved right in the beginning,” Goldstein wrote in a September 2019 resignation letter.
“This pattern has repeated itself over and over, ego battles, undermining the roles of fellow board members, circulation of gossip and mistruths. I am not presenting a very pretty picture of the functioning of our board and many before us, but it describes a board that works very hard but cannot for the reasons above accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.”
Despite increasingly dire warnings from the board, many apartment owners balked at paying for the extensive improvements, which ballooned in price from about $9 million to more than $15 million over three years as the building continued to deteriorate, records show.
Max Friedman, a former board member said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It took a lot of time to get the ball rolling…Nobody truly believed the building was in imminent danger.”
Why Maintenance and Repairs Can Sometimes Be Put on Hold
A lack of progress on dealing with maintenance and repair issues as well as building defects usually occurs a result of the points below and typically a combination of all.
- Lack of knowledge base/understanding
- Lack of communication
- Disagreement on action to take
- Financial concerns
- No perceived imminent danger
The process of body corporate repairs and maintenance is very reliant on the effectiveness of the Committee. Major problems tend to require a strata committee or body corporate meeting to be held to decide on the necessary action to take and approve the cost.
This process breaks down when Committees fail to act, fail to act quickly or if the Committee is not active.
Complexity can also be an issue in communicating to owners what the problem actually is and why it needs to be addressed. This is especially the case with building defects, which can be enormously complex and further hindered by the necessity to process requests through approved channels.
Lot owners, particularly those who are not intimately involved in the property, will often baulk at the idea of paying for what they consider to be ‘unnecessary repairs’ if they do not perceive danger to be imminent.
While overcoming these challenges can be difficult it is vital that you do so for the long-term safety and wellbeing of residents and property as well as to protect property values.
It is about understanding the nature of a project and knowing how to proceed not only the effect the correct outcome, but also to ensure that the correct legislative process is adhered to.
The Importance of Proper Maintenance
As a lot owner it’s to your benefit the scheme be regularly maintained and repaired, but even veteran strata property owners can forget the value and importance of proactive maintenance.
Buildings need to be maintained properly to stay protected and function efficiently.
Strata properties where maintenance is not attended to greatly increase the risk of an accident or safety hazard, as well as decreasing property values.
A lack of maintenance can also lead to or exacerbate existing defects that may not be covered under a scheme’s strata insurance policy, meaning that in the event of a claim owners can be left with large, unforeseen expenses. Furthermore, an ongoing lack of maintenance can lead to additional claims which can result in higher insurance premiums.
The best way to ensure your strata property is being looked after is to check that your building’s maintenance is up to date and repairs are being carried out regularly.
Each body corporate should have a detailed maintenance plan in place to prevent serious damage and safety hazards arising in the future. Avoiding those short-term problems like a blocked drain or burst pipe can lead to long-term larger problems which can become more expensive and harder to fix.
Understanding the assets and installations of the Body Corporate and what the service requirements are for these installations.
What is the Body Corporate responsible for?
It is vital that bodies corporate are aware of their statutory obligations to repair and maintain common property. Damage that occurs as a result of a failure to fulfil these obligations can result in serious liability.
Bodies corporate should employ stringent strategies to avoid preventable liability, particularly by regularly distributing information to all lot owners including details like:
- Identification of the difference between common property and individual lots;
- Body corporate obligations; and
- Lot owners’ responsibilities.
While it will depend on the structure of your scheme’s registered plan and which format plan it operates under, the body corporate is generally responsible for:
- Painting the building exterior
- Gardens & lawns
- Pest control
- Common areas
- Essential structural elements
Short term maintenance will include items budgeted for in the Administration Fund and usually reoccur on an annual or shorter term basis.
Long term maintenance
For long term maintenance of capital expense items, it is a legally required for a body corporate to have a Sinking Fund Forecast in place projecting a minimum of 10 years capital expenditure.
The forecast informs the body corporate of maintenance works that will be required for completion in the years ahead and the levies that need to be raised to accumulate adequate funds for the listed works
Find out more about body corporate funds here.
Have regular inspection checks
Once maintenance plans and budget are determined, a body corporate should develop a maintenance cycle to inspect common property, carry out maintenance requirements, regularly survey residents about maintenance issues, and ensure maintenance is an agenda item at every annual general meeting.
Ensure you are engaging with the correct contractors who are suitably licensed, qualified and insured.
Some examples of routine maintenance
- Cleaning of gutters and valleys to prevent water ingress
- Pressure testing of pipes to prevent burst pipes and water damage within walls
- Roof inspections to check for cracked roof tiles and loose flashings.
Advantages of a proactive maintenance schedule
- Reduced costs – By scheduling maintenance work on a regular basis, you can reduce costs by preventing damage or decay from even occurring.
- Superior budget planning– When managing a sinking fund, it is important to plan ahead, as well as budget for the unexpected. Painting, for example, is typically done every 7–10 years, and often comes at a large expense, but by spreading this cost out into smaller jobs, you can plan ahead and ensure there are funds left over for a rainy day.
- Better organisation – Proactive maintenance means one less thing on your plate, as maintenance is regularly scheduled without you having to think about it.
- Peace of mind – more frequent inspections mean potential issues like water damage or rust are detected and addressed early, before they develop into much more significant problems.
What can you do?
It is to all lot owners benefit for the scheme to be regularly maintained and repaired.
If you come across maintenance or repair issues that you believe haven’t been addressed write to your Committee discussing the matter and ask for action to be taken.
The Committee will table the correspondence and discuss it at the next meeting. The actions may not be undertaken, however the reasons why and other considerations should be noted in the meeting minutes.
If repair and maintenance issues are lagging because the committee processes have broken down, think about what you can do to help.
Can you join the Committee? Do you know some tradespeople? Do you have particular skills that may help?
It is important to remember that the Committee are just regular people and you may have skills or knowledge that is valuable.
Get ahead early
A well-maintained building with a short-term and long-term maintenance schedule will reduce the risk of property damage, retain the building’s value and keep residents safe and happy.
We see time and time again body corporate’s putting off scheduling maintenance work. Get ahead of your maintenance now and ensure that your building’s minor problems today don’t become major problems tomorrow.
Speak to your body corporate manager
To get a better understanding of the types of improvements that can be made or to find the best companies for repair and maintenance work, get in touch with your body corporate manager.