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Three Tips for Surviving an Elevator Shutdown

Paula Chin in Building Operations on March 25, 2019

New York City

Elevator Agony
March 25, 2019

Elevator shutdowns are becoming more common as co-op and condo boards scramble to install mandatory door-lock monitors by January 1, 2020. The required work is leading many boards to replace aging elevators while they’re shut down for the door-lock installation, in the hope of saving money in the long run. Some of those boards go to great lengths to minimize inconvenience to residents during a shutdown. Some go too far. Here are three things all boards must keep in mind when an elevator is out of service: 

Deliberate. In buildings with more than one wing, and one elevator per wing, boards have been known to construct a walkway or bridge connecting the roofs of the different wings so people could take the elevator up one and cross from one wing to the other before going down the stairs to their apartments. Such ingenuity gets an A for effort, but there are potential drawbacks. 

Boards need to consider the possibility of being held liable if someone slips or falls. “In all likelihood, your insurance would cover accidents arising out of an elevator or any other kind of repair,” says Michael Spain, executive vice president at Brown & Brown Insurance. “Still, you should consult your lawyer to make sure you’re not putting people in a situation where they might be injured, which could tie you up in litigation for a long time.” 

Stephen Lasser, managing partner at the Lasser Law Group, which represents co-ops and condos, agrees that boards need to proceed with caution. “Even setting up something safe won’t necessarily protect you if your roof wasn’t equipped specifically for people to walk on, because they can deviate from the protocol and hurt themselves,” he says. “I’ve dealt with at least three boards who were contemplating a bridge walkway scenario but decided it just wasn’t worth the risk.” 

Communicate. Since modernizations involve months of planning, boards should take advantage of the long lead time to inform residents of what’s coming. “We gave people notice at our last annual meeting,” says Mandy L. Berry, secretary at the 4810 45 St. Owners co-op in Woodside, Queens, a six-story property that just signed a contract to modernize its single elevator late this year. 

The planning stage is the time to suggest that elderly or disabled residents arrange to live elsewhere, perhaps with family or friends. Shareholder requests for a maintenance abatement or other monetary compensation need to be handled firmly – and tactfully. “There’s always someone who broaches that subject,” says David Goodman, director of Mitchell Lama development at Tudor Realty, whose clients include a 10-story luxury property in Tribeca that replaced its single elevator in 2017. “We had someone on the top floor who, as soon as the project was announced, said the board had to pay to relocate him. We knew that he usually spends the summer out of town, so we suggested that a board member have a casual conversation with him and find out when he was going away. Then we scheduled the job and expedited it so it was all done by the time he came back.” Problem solved. 

Commiserate. Communication is a two-way street, which is why board should make themselves available to residents to hear their issues and get their suggestions. “You’ve got to let them air out their angst,” says Noelle Russell, president of a six-story co-op in Greenwich Village that will be modernizing its single elevator later this year. “If you don’t listen to people, that’s when the complaints can get ugly.” 

Shareholders and unit-owners want to know that boards feel their pain and are doing everything possible to make the process go smoothly. “You have to walk the walk,” says John Faldetta, resident manager at the 106-unit St. James Tower on Sutton Place. “And if things go as you said they would, that’s when a board looks stellar.”

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