President, Merlot Management
Educate Owners on Who’s Responsible for What
Setting the Scene
There is an issue that is predominant in condominiums, particularly smaller ones that don’t have a full-time, on-site resident manager or building staff, where people don’t understand what they’re really buying. They think if you’ve bought a new property that nothing will ever need to be fixed or maintained. They’re under the misconception that if they write a check every month for common charges, this covers everything that could go wrong in their apartment and that somebody else will be responsible and fix it. Especially in condos where people buy for investment purposes and then put a tenant in there, there’s an expectation that management includes the management inside their apartment.
Following the Action
A number of our buildings have started putting together a handbook to point out the language in the bylaws and clearly delineate what the condo is responsible for, what the managing agent is responsible for, what employees are responsible for – and where that communal responsibility ends. The handbook also helps them understand in a little more detail the mechanical equipment and things in their apartment, how they work, and how they might need to be serviced or maintained. When something goes wrong or needs to be fixed, the handbook spells out who to call. In a building we manage, we had an owner who is not from the U.S. and spends most of her time outside the country. She has a tenant in the apartment. She called our office on a Friday afternoon and said that her tenant was complaining of a lack of heat. We were about to get a cold spell. Our office was very clear that we’d be happy to help and arrange for somebody to come and make a service call, but with the understanding that we were doing this as a courtesy, to assist them. Given that there are individual boilers that service each apartment, the odds were fairly good that this repair was going to be something for which the unit-owner would be responsible.
The repair took place. The tenant got heat. Everything was resolved. The bill came to our office, and we forwarded it to the owner. The owner then fired a series of emails back to us, saying that she only wanted somebody to come look at the problem. To which we said, “Nobody’s coming on a Saturday in the middle of winter to just look at a problem, and you had asked us to get your tenant’s heat back.” She said she hadn’t authorized the repair, and the vendor should have spoken with someone in her office. To which we said, “It’s your problem. We were very clear that we wanted to assist you with it, but we weren’t present when this was taking place. Your tenant was there. They could have communicated with you.” Even though we provided all of this education and information in the handbook, she’s still refusing to pay the bill.
Doing It Right
This illustrates that issues like these are going to be an ongoing challenge for boards and management companies. As units and equipment get older, more maintenance and repairs will be required. Boards and managing agents face the never-ending challenge of educating and communicating with unit-owners about where communal responsibility ends and individual owner responsibility begins. ____________________________