Even boards that do their best to stay ahead of potential problems face challenges when dealing with aging pipes because they are in walls or, in some cases, underground — which means that to give them proper maintenance you have to tear up someone's property.
Better to patch as the leaks spring up, goes the logic, than shell out a huge sum to replace it. But add up the comparably smaller sums to make Band-Aid repairs, which can eventually lead to even more extensive damage. Better to have paid the sum to replace the roof than to pay to patch it up while also letting it get worse, and more expensive, to fix.
Boilers are also expensive, so many boards try to put off the replacement as long as possible. But good boiler and burner maintenance saves fuel and — perhaps more important — extends the longevity of your equipment, reduces overall equipment maintenance costs, minimizes air pollution, and prevents disruptions in service to tenants.
Sometimes, deferral is necessary. For instance, boilers should be repaired or replaced in the summer when no one is depending on them. And you don't want to start replacing your roof in the middle of winter, or perform pointing work when temperatures are below 32 degrees.
Boards have sought out money by refinancing the underlying mortgage, taking out a line of credit, or even using contractor financing, in which the contractor provides a loan.
Some have also increased maintenance/common charges consistently — say, by two or three percent a year — and passed special assessments. But even that may not be enough.
Ideally, however, the money boards use for preventative maintenance should come from a reserve fund. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the value of healthy reserves. Some boards are reluctant to take money out of their own pockets to put it into their co-op or condo's bank — namely because they don't want to leave their money behind if they move. At the end of the day, however, a home is an investment, and boards may want to consider saving for that rainy day — just in case the roof starts leaking.
Adapted from "Capital Planning" by Tom Soter (Habitat, May 2005)
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