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Steps to Take When the Elevator Goes Down

Paula Chin in Building Operations on March 4, 2019

New York City

Elevator Agony
March 4, 2019

It’s the capital improvement every co-op and condo board dreads: elevator repair or replacement. And it can be especially dreadful in single-elevator buildings. Modernizing is not just expensive – costing anywhere from $175,000 to $350,000 per elevator – it’s also a long, complicated process that requires rigorous planning and puts serious stress on residents and staff. With two major upgrades being mandated by New York City – elevators must have door-lock monitoring by January 1, 2020 and an extra emergency brake by January 1, 2027 – many buildings are opting to bite the bullet and do a full overhaul now. Here is advice to help boards get the job done as painlessly as possible:

Hire Smart. The first step is spending a few thousand dollars to hire an elevator consultant, who will begin by assessing the condition and life expectancy of the elevator(s). If major work is called for, he or she will then write up specifications, send them out to four or five qualified bidders, and make a presentation to management. But boards shouldn’t sit on the sidelines. “You need to be as inquisitive as possible,” says John Faldetta, resident manager at the 106-unit, 32-story St. James Tower on Sutton Place, a co-op that recently replaced its service elevator. “Get all the nitty-gritty details, and not just from managing agents, who are at the mercy of what they’re told and are busy with other buildings. [Go to] the company itself – specifically the field supervisor in charge, since he really knows what’s involved.”

Due diligence, Faldetta adds, also includes inspecting other buildings with the same equipment and software you’re considering – so you can make an informed choice. 

Haggle. When you’re deciding on a contractor, don’t be afraid to negotiate, advises Jeffrey Heidings, president of Siren Management. “You can get companies to compete to offer you the best price and even ask them to throw in something extra, like six months or a year of free maintenance,” he says. “You’d be surprised at how much wiggle room there is.” 

Go generic. Avoid elevator systems that require proprietary equipment. While brands like Otis and Fujitec require using only their components – as well as technicians who know their special maintenance codes – non-proprietary elevators can be repaired by any properly trained technician using interchangeable parts. “Companies like Galaxy Manufacturing or Ultra 2000 make control panels that are durable and easier to get hold of because they’re made in America,” explains Faldetta. 

Avoid cab obsession. This is one of the most common mistakes boards make, according to Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations at AKAM Associates, which manages the Windsor Park co-op in Bayside, Queens, an 1,821-apartment complex now in the midst of a massive project replacing its 40-plus elevators. “They get too intricately involved selecting materials, wall finishes, and control panels,” he says. “That can cause problems when a managing agent has to step in and say something won’t work because it’s too easily scratched or not durable enough. After all, we’re the ones who will have to maintain it.” 

Another big hiccup is flooring, particularly in double-duty cabs that serve as both passenger and service elevators. “A building might want to replace vinyl tiles with something heavier,” Weinstein says, “but elevators are rated for a certain number of pounds they can carry, and going above that requires a whole technical upgrade. Boards have to be very conscious of the weight of all the cab materials.”

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