Tom Soter in Legal/Financial on May 15, 2015
Although most properties aren't as large as Penn South, the logistics of gaining access faced by the complex's ten high-rise buildings are played out — albeit on a smaller scale — by every co-op facing a capital improvement project that requires access to the residents' apartments.
"In [an] ideal world, you would hope that you can knock on the resident's door and say, 'I need access, I have got to take care of these things here,'" says Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management. "They'd work on a date that's convenient for everyone. But sometimes that's not always easy to arrange."
Informing and Inspecting
For Keany, the process began in 2009, when the Penn South board discussed with the shareholders the whys and wherefores of the work that needed doing. This was followed by an inspection of all the units so Keany and his crew could estimate the amount of time it would take for each trade to complete its work in each apartment.
Communicating and coordinating with residents and conducting preliminary inspections are standard operating procedure on most jobs. Shareholders or unit-owners should be given sufficient notice.
Typically, the building sends shareholders/unit-owners an e-mail or a letter informing them of the work that needs to be done and offering them a selection of dates and times when the building would like to gain entry. At Penn South, Keany and his team held town hall meetings to explain what they could expect. Before you begin any project, the contractor should meet with the residents in their apartments to review with them what the crew will be doing, how long the work is estimated to take, and how they can protect the interior of the unit from dust and debris with plastic coverings. The contractor may also want to take photos of each unit before work begins to protect himself as well as all the unit-owners/shareholders.
Housing the De-Housed
Sometimes when a major job is done — especially when there are a great number of elderly inhabitants — the board has to prepare an area where the residents can stay. That usually occurs, as it did with Penn South, when work is expected to take a full day or longer and when it requires central air-conditioning to be shut down. Penn South set up air-conditioned "comfort rooms" for its elderly residents when they did not have access to their homes. When the displacement went on for more than a day, the residents would be allowed back in their units to sleep, and would often be provided with portable air-conditioners on hot nights.
"The [residents] would leave [their apartments] at seven o'clock and would go down usually to the [communal] room," says Keany. "They would have breakfast, and then they'd plan their day accordingly." Some residents went to the movies or to visit friends or relatives in the building next door, while others just left a set of keys and took off for a week. "If we needed to call [one of them], we knew precisely where everybody was. We had a database that kept all the information."
On the Job
If you have a lot of trades doing work in the units — plumbers, carpenters, asbestos remediators — the project will take careful scheduling to keep the different workers from overlapping. Like a train stalled in a subway, if one contractor is delayed in an apartment, that could back up workers all the way down the line. The schedule also indicated how long residents would be kept from their apartments.
There may be security concerns that need to be addressed as well. Keany says that there should always be someone from the building staff present while work is under way. "We would have the security guard on the floor on the given day."
Delay and You Pay
If residents balk at or delay the project by not allowing access, most boards bill them for the extra costs caused by the disruption. "We try to put them on notice that this is a building-wide effort and specific to [their] area and any access that's denied is going to lead to delays or additional expense," says Mark Levine, vice president of business development at Excel Bradshaw Management Group. He adds that letting residents know they will be held responsible for any delays they cause usually gets results.
If that doesn't work, you can take them to court. "If they won't allow access," says Josh Koppel, president of HSC Management, "keep the pressure on — tell them you'll get a court order, and say, 'We've got to get access to your apartment to stop the damage to other apartments. Let us in.'"
But, finally, people are reasonable. At Penn South, Keany recalls: "The board voted to pass a new house rule in our occupancy agreement permitting us to go into apartments in the event that we weren't allowed. We fortunately never had to exercise that. Most people, at the very end, will cooperate."
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As if embarking on this massive project at Penn South weren't enough, early in the process, Keany encountered a hoarding problem that he had to resolve before moving forward. Click either the App Store or Google play icons below to download Week By Week and listen to Keany discuss planning for access and how he managed the hoarders.
Photo by Carol J. Ott
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