New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Co-op and Condo Boards Need an Institutional Memory

James Blum in Building Operations on June 26, 2018

New York City

Institutional Memory
June 26, 2018

Co-op and condo boards who don’t keep good records are likely to repeat past mistakes. That’s why it’s important for new and veteran board members to know the history of their building. Knowing that history will help them understand which problems need to be addressed in the future.

I like to tell people on boards two things. First, the building’s problems are often not new. Many of the ones they hear about – leaks, noises, plumbing problems – have been looked at in the past. There are recommendations on how to address these if you could just dig into the files to find them. Second, most cooperatives are not looking to sell their building, so they’re going to have to address the needs for repair and maintenance at some point in the future. Boards should have a plan for how that’s going to be addressed.

One example I like to cite is when I was called to look at a structural problem in a building. A shareholder was suing the co-op because of the state of his apartment, so the board needed to hire an engineer. The question was whether another shareholder’s contractor had damaged the apartment or whether it was an inherent problem in the building. I told the managing agent that they didn’t need to hire me because I had already written a report 12 years earlier identifying this problem and suggesting what should be done to avoid damage during renovation. If they had known that, they could have avoided this lawsuit.

As this example shows, I’m occasionally asked about an old problem that I had addressed years ago of which the current board was simply unaware. The best advice I can give to boards is to digitize their records, including past capital projects, plans, and reports from engineers. Somebody on the board should then try to organize them so they form an archive that will be a resource to both the current and future boards.

I also suggest that boards digitize old drawings of the building construction. Many times these are sitting in the super’s office or sometimes in the boiler room and they’re not in good condition, or somebody has walked off with them. Every building should have a digital archive of the original drawings. Those who don’t remember the past are destined to waste money.

James Blum is a partner at the engineering firm Joseph K. Blum.

Ask the Experts

learn more

Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

Source Guide

see the guide

Looking for a vendor?