Habitat spoke recently with Arthur Schwartz, president of Norwax Associates.
Scheduling repair work is often a delicate balance between the needs of apartment owners and the needs of the building. Can you tell us about your experience?
A few years ago, we found that we were having tremendous water leaks stemming from the riser lines in a prewar building. The board opted to replace the risers going through every apartment’s bathroom – and not continue to spend money on repairing apartments because of leaks.
You were going to come into every bathroom on that riser line and rip it up?
Yes, that’s right. My office and the board had several shareholder meetings to discuss the reasons for doing so and what our future plans were in terms of protecting the building. We had contractors come, and once we selected the contractor, we had the contractor explain what was going to happen. By the time we started the job, everybody was comfortable that we were going to take as much care with their units as possible. And we would restore the walls and tiles, with the understanding some might be 50 years old and not necessarily replaceable.
Was this a scheduling challenge?
Yes, because there were 50 or so apartments, and we needed to access everybody in the line at the same time. Anybody who's not at home and doesn't provide access prevents the work from being completed in a timely fashion. In this particular case, I have run the building for many years, and I've developed an excellent rapport with the shareholders, so they trusted me and the building superintendent, who has also been there for a long time. And they generally have no issue with me going into their apartments if I promise to be there when the work is being done and to make sure their doors are properly opened or closed.
You added a bit of a sweetener, right?
Yes, to sweeten the pot a little bit, knowing the building was 50 years old and people had those old pink tiles which were the fashion back then, we created a shopping list of improvements for shareholders. Our plumbing contractor contracted with a subcontractor to offer shareholders the ability to have their bathrooms renovated – new tubs, new faucets, new sinks. Perhaps changing a tub into a shower enclosure, do all new tiling, reconfigure the bathroom, things like that. And we’d do this at a much lower price than somebody might contract for independently because it was potentially 50 apartments as opposed to just one resident or shareholder.
How many took you up on that?
About 30 apartments. Some did complete renovations, others just replaced toilets or sinks or tiling. A lot of people in the building took advantage of this deal.
Any advice for other boards who may be facing riser replacements in multiple apartments?
Communication is extremely important. Advance notice is extremely important. Having the shareholders meet with the contractors so they can ask their questions is extremely important, and it goes a long way toward minimizing or alleviating any concerns or worry. The more people are informed, the more they are going to be cooperative.
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