Bill Morris in Building Operations on June 25, 2020
As Phase Two of New York City’s reopening picks up steam, co-op and condo boards and their property managers are finding themselves cast in the unfamiliar role of traffic cops. They have to decide which apartment renovations and alterations can move ahead first, and how those projects can proceed with a minimum of risk and inconvenience to residents, building staffs and construction workers.
“Just because the city says it's OK, that doesn't necessarily mean that the building has to let everybody do everything at the same time,” says Mark Levine, a principal at the management company EBMG. “We want to manage it proactively and make sure that we do it in such a way that everybody stays safe. Because each alteration requires elevator usage, with multiple people coming in and out of the building, you have to schedule it in such a way that you're not affecting the overall health of the building.”
Levine and other property managers agree that in buildings with multiple projects on hold, it’s necessary to establish priorities on which ones get to reboot first in order to avoid traffic jams. From that point of agreement, however, differences of opinion arise.
“The projects that are closest to completion – they’re the ones that get to go ahead first,” says Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management. “With more difficult projects, we might have to take into consideration when the contractor needs to shut off the electricity, and how they’re going to sanitize the areas they’re in. All this has to be made a part of their scope of work.”
Levine, on the other hand, takes the view that big jobs should move to the front of the line. “Priorities are put into place based on the job’s necessity,” he says. “For example, replacing the bathroom tile is not as important as finishing a half-done gut renovation that has rendered an apartment uninhabitable. Habitation takes place over cosmetic issues.”
Numerous management companies and attorneys have prepared riders and addenda to alteration agreements, which apartment owners and contractors must sign before beginning alteration projects – or before they’re allowed to reboot projects that were halted during the statewide pause. EBMG’s rider touches on such issues as allowable work hours, elevator usage, building access, hand-washing facilities and daily temperature checks for crews.
Another consideration on moving projects to the front of the line is the level of inconvenience for neighbors. “With so many people now working at home, we need to be cognizant of noise,” Levine says. “We’re looking at projects case by case and taking a holistic approach.”
There is, however, virtually unanimous agreement that boards and property managers must reserve the right to shut down a job if an apartment owner or contractor fails to observe safety protocols, including house rules and state and city construction guidelines.
“Our COVID-19 addendum to the alteration agreement outlines that they're required to follow all the safety and social distancing protocols,” says Mark Hoffman, president of Hoffman Management. “And it provides protection to the boards to stop any job at any time, to control the jobs. The boards pretty much have unilateral control over the entire process. If there are any issues or problems, the job gets shut down and can't restart until the board says so.”
Property managers and boards, like all effective traffic cops, need to have the power to write tickets. “If the contractor takes on the responsibility of taking every worker’s temperature every day and he misses one day, he hasn’t lived up to his obligation,” Lehr says. “If a worker fails to wear a mask, you need to decide who’s going to pay the fine, the apartment owner or the contractor?”
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