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An Elevator Overhaul Is Both Headache and Opportunity

Paula Chin in Building Operations on March 12, 2019

New York City

Elevator Agony II
March 12, 2019

Two major elevator upgrades have been mandated by New York City. Elevators must have door-lock monitoring by January 1, 2020 and an extra emergency brake by January 1, 2027. Now is the time for co-op and condo boards to assess the condition of their elevator(s). If an elevator’s age and condition mean a full overhaul makes more sense than patchwork repairs, boards will face both headaches and opportunity. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Upgrades. Now’s the time to make practical improvements, such as pushing the cab ceilings as high as possible to make room for plus-size sofas and heavy-duty furniture. “Some boards are going for more security and installing key fobs for residents to get to their apartments, or putting a panel at the front desk so the concierge can control which floors the elevator goes to,” says Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations at AKAM Associates, a management company. “Another big thing we recommend when there isn’t emergency backup is installing a battery-operated apparatus on top of the cab so that it will lower to the next floor and open when there’s a power outage.” 

Schedules. Since modernization will put an elevator out of commission for anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks, boards in one-elevator buildings that want to pay extra to shave the timeline should choose a company that will agree to an expedited schedule by working a 60-hour instead of a 40-hour week. Joseph Caracappa, president of the Sierra Consulting Group, an elevator consulting company, says the speed-up will typically raise the bill by $7,500 to $10,000 a week

And first things first: properties with multiple elevators should always start by replacing the one that’s in the worst shape. “That way, you’ll have at least one car that’s in more optimum condition and less likely to break down,” Weinstein says. 

Penalties. Boards should be prepared for a long haul. “From choosing a vendor to deciding on the cab to ordering materials, it can take six months from start to finish if everything goes smoothly, and up to a year if it doesn’t,” says Kenneth Breglio, president of BP Elevator. Since delays are almost inevitable, he suggests building in a penalty clause to keep companies committed to a time frame. Boards also need to factor in the waiting period for an inspection by the city. “That can take a while, so you want to monitor the work closely and make an appointment a week or so before you anticipate completion,” Breglio says. 

Support system. There’s no way around it: shutting down an elevator for several weeks is a major headache, and boards have to brace themselves for shareholder complaints. When Le Havre in Queens – a 32-building co-op with one aging elevator in each – did an upgrade that required a shutdown in 2000, the complex hired extra staff to carry groceries, packages, and strollers upstairs. Chairs were placed on the landings between floors so that residents, especially the elderly, could stop and rest if needed.

Now Le Havre is gearing up for a massive $6 million modernization. “We plan to provide the same kind of help,” says board president Stanley Greenberg. “Except this time we’re going to have even more runners.” 

At the Western Houston Equities co-op, a six-story building in Greenwich Village that will be modernizing its single elevator later this year, the board is providing residents with a list of grocery stores and cleaners who deliver. “And we’re asking for people to volunteer as designated floor monitors and as emergency contacts to make sure any issue is addressed quickly, beyond a phone call to management,” says board president Noelle Russell. But the board has also come up with a list of forbiddens, including apartment renovations, furniture and appliance deliveries, and jobs such as carpet cleaning, which can cause traffic jams in the stairwell and lobby and create headaches and delays for elevator workmen. When an elevator is being overhauled, residents don’t need any added stress.

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