Association Property Maintenance — Working With a Building Contractor

Property maintenance is one of the most important responsibilities community association managers and board members must assume. Keeping the association’s physical components up to date and free of flaws not only ensures the safety of its residents, but maintains the value of the community and each unit as well. Given this, it is critical for community managers to possess good general knowledge of structural components and, more importantly, to establish trusted, ongoing relationships with reliable construction industry specialists. To gain insight into choosing contractors and addressing common property issues, we spoke with Ryan Arvola, Multi-Family Director of Hoffman Weber Construction in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Associations vary in shape and size, but many often face the same construction problems. Roofs in particular may prove susceptible to problems throughout the year, and Arvola stated that roof leak repairs are one of the most common types of repairs association contractors have to make.

How can associations stay on top of roof problems? According to Arvola, a quality asphalt shingle roof—the most common type in North America—should last about 20 to 25 years. “Roof leaks typically only re- veal themselves when there is a wet spot on the ceiling. This can be avoided by having the roofs inspected annually by a trusted contractor,” he said. During the annual inspection, the contractor should look for damaged or loose shingles, failed vent boots and chimney flashing, cracked caulk- ing, soft decking, and pooling water. If a roofing problem is discovered, Arvola recommended addressing it right away. Serious structural damage, mold growth and insect infestation can develop long before a problem is noticed. Associations should address small problems immediately and begin to budget for replacement well before the end of the roof’s lifespan approaches.

According to Arvola, other additional common repairs include win- dow and siding flashing improvements, deck repairs and attic vent cor-rections. Attic ventilation is particularly important. “When an attic lacks proper insulation and balanced ventilation, it heats the roof deck and can cause premature shingle failure and ice dams. Meanwhile, if moisture is allowed to rise into the attic from the living space below, it can freeze and rain down when it melts, and cause wood rot,” he said. Ideally, attic ventilation is balanced with equal amounts of fresh air intake at the eaves and warm air exhaust at the ridge.

What exactly is an ice dam? Arvola explained that ice dams occur when snow melts on the roof, over the relatively warmer attic, and refreezes over the cooler soffit at the eaves. This creates a ridge (or dam) that causes water to pool above it. If the water backs up beyond the ice and water shield membrane under the shingles, it can soak through the roof deck and down into the home. “It’s important to understand that leaks of- ten do not originate directly above the area where the water spot appears. Water can follow framing and appear some distance from where the roof or flashing require repair,” Arvola noted.

How should associations deal with ice dams? Arvola advised that ice dams should always be removed by a professional. “It is extremely important that anyone who gets up on a roof in the winter time is properly insured, has the knowledge and equipment to deal with the dangers of an icy, sloped roof and understands how to properly remove the ice dam without damaging the roof,” he said. Arvola noted that associations can take certain preventative steps that may help deter ice dams from forming, such as having proper attic insulation and ventilation, and having a professional remove excessive snow from the roof.

Lastly, all of these items could be addressed with a properly created Preventative Maintenance Plan (PMP), which most Minnesota community associations have been required to have since 2019. “Each association has many differences including size, age, types of materials and so on, so the PMP should be customized to each association’s needs,” Arvola noted. A comprehensive and well executed PMP should greatly help an association be more proactive than reactive. Reactive repairs are inherently more costly, time consuming and stressful for the contractor, the manager and the association.

It is very important for an association to select the appropriate con- tractors for their community. Arvola discussed what managers and board members should look for in a contractor: “Contractors that are knowledgeable on a particular issue will typically discuss the topic with confidence, can speak about past experiences and can also provide references of associations that they have done this type of work for in the past.”

Contractors should also have any insurance that may be required. A reputable contractor will keep his contractor’s insurance renewed and will even look into special insurance requirements for the project.
What are some recommendations for managers and board members to ensure proper quotes from contractors? Arvola explained that those handling the project should figure out which details are the most important to the association and to convey that to the contractors. Are drawings or renderings necessary or useful? What about the materials used? “What are the main reasons for doing this project, and what are your short term and long term goals? What are your concerns with the project?” Arvola stated. Other important details may include the timeframe, the budget, installation practices, references and the possibility of financing.

Detailed specifications are always important in a Request for Proposal (RFP), and Arvola said that given such details, an experienced contractor can often provide valuable insight on a project, instead of just providing a cost estimate. “Providing detailed specifications and expectations will also allow the board to get apples-to-apples bids,” he said. Doing so may help the association to avoid hiring a contractor at a lower price, only to discover that their proposal did not include critical components, which would then require change orders (additions to the contract). “They can often end up costing more in the long run, with much more hassle and frustration, than just selecting a contractor that was more up front and realistic with the proposal price,” Arvola said.

Once you have chosen a contractor, it is very important to have a contract that includes detailed project specifications, drawings and renderings (when necessary), timeframes, communication protocol, pricing and warranty information, and the logistics of deliveries and staging areas. To avoid conflicts, the association should try to address all expectations in writing beforehand. “However, none of this matters if the association is not 100% confident that the contractor will follow through with all these details and stand behind their work. Having worked with a contractor in the past, or getting solid references from other associations, is just as important as the contract itself,” Arvola stated.

While an association is addressing a repair or an ongoing project, it goes without saying that each project may come with a certain set of expectations. What standards should be expected from a contractor’s personnel while they are on the premises? “Any tradesman or supplier, or anyone else at a job site hired by the contractor for a project, represents the contractor and is expected to be respectful of the property and the owners,” Arvola stated.

What are some common reasons for delays on projects? While the contractor should reasonably commit to meet the agreed upon production schedule, even the most prepared contractor will run into delays. Arvola explained that reasons for delays may include the weather, material shortages, labor shortages or backups, delayed selections or changes made by the owners or association, miscommunication and additional work that could not have been anticipated, such as deteriorated wall sheath- ing. Regardless, the contractor should keep the association well informed about delays at every stage of the project.

What are some unreasonable expectations from a contractor’s perspective? Arvola explained that a homeowner’s or client’s expectations for project timing can sometimes be unrealistic and that he has learned how important it is to set proper expectations regarding this. “We find it much more beneficial to take the extra time to ensure all decisions and plans are ironed out before the start of the project, to help avoid complications and delays mid-project. With some projects there can be a lot of selections and specifications to make, and with association communities there are typi- cally quite a few more decision makers involved than with a single-family project. So this process can take quite a bit longer than most homeowners might think,” he said. There can be many moving parts to any given proj- ect, and allowing enough time before and after contract signing is vital for a project to run smoothly.

Lastly, safety is always important to consider during a project, for both the association’s residents and the contractor’s personnel. “The contractor holds the responsibility of ensuring a safe work environment throughout the project. This could include ensuring the job site is set up with proper scaffolding, having the crews dressed in required safety gear and following OSHA requirements in general,” Arvola said. Many reputable contractors also choose to partner with a professional safety consultant, to ensure that they are meeting all safety requirements.

Throughout the course of any project, proper communication should be maintained between the contractor, managers, board members, and residents. Since every situation is different, Arvola explained that the con- tractor should create a communication plan that’s based on what works best for everyone involved.

According to Arvola, the contractor may communicate various project details to the residents prior to beginning work, so that they know what to expect. “Before the project begins, it is vital to provide all home- owners with project information, such as the project timeline, when their home will be affected and a detailed list of homeowner expectations,” he noted. Doing so allows homeowners an opportunity to give feedback about the project before it occurs. Arvola finds that homeowners will also often provide any other pertinent information or requests that the contractor should know about, such as not using the outdoor electrical outlets on their unit. The project manager can then retain such details for future reference, if needed, and to make sure they plan accordingly for every unit they work on.

Once a project is underway, Arvola said that the contractor should assign an accessible and responsive central point of contact for the project and share that contact’s information with homeowners before work begins. “Since the contractor has the most up to date project information, they are best suited to respond to homeowner questions. We are then able to copy the board members and community managers, as desired,” he ex- plained. Doing so takes some of the burden off of the manager and board members. This also establishes one point of contact for the project, which allows for efficient communication while keeping the association managers and board members informed.

How often and in what format can managers, board members, and residents expect to be updated on the status of their projects? Arvola not- ed that contractors often use a variety of methods to keep everyone in the association well informed and updated on a project and communicate using everything from phone calls and emails, to social media and posting flyers to doors. “Homeowners typically feel very informed when they are provided project updates every day, or every other day, for the entire community via social media,” he stated. When working on specific units, Arvola said that the contractor may choose to communicate with those homeowners directly, often via email and phone calls. Not everyone communicates online, so prior to beginning a project, the residents of every unit should also receive a notice posted to their door.

Board members and managers, on the other hand, are typically very involved in the project from the start, during the planning phase. Once the project has begun, any urgent updates or items requiring board direction may be communicated to the board daily. Otherwise, updates on the project’s status should be expected weekly, at minimum.

What are common reasons for conflicts between board members, managers and contractors? Throughout Arvola’s years in the industry, he has heard plenty of homeowner construction stories. Conflicts often arise due to “not setting forth the right expectations, poor communication, poor quality of work, varying design or color opinions and timeline conflicts,” he said. But many such conflicts can be prevented with sufficient planning and proper communication.

Lastly, associations may encounter what’s known as a cost overrun during a project. It is not uncommon for contractors to miss something during the initial proposal, and it is also not uncommon for unexpected setbacks to occur. Prior to beginning a project, the contractor should edu- cate the association about the possibility of unknown expenses.
“If a cost overrun happens due to the contractor failing to properly figure all the details for a project, a reputable contractor would typically take responsibility for the error, absorb the expense and learn from the mistake,” Arvola said. Overruns can also be due to unanticipated work discovered after starting the project, such as rotted wood under roofing underlayment. The contractor should contact the association as soon as they become aware of potential additional expenses and even provide evidence of the necessary change, such as before and after pictures. Both par- ties would then sign a change order to confirm the additional work, the additional expense and the new contract total. This change order approval process, Arvola noted, should be outlined in the contract as well.

According to Arvola, it is necessary to confirm that the association either has the financial ability to cover the additional expense or the flexibility to make a change elsewhere within the project that would offset it. If the project is being financed, the lender typically needs to approve a change order as well. Because of the potential for change orders, it is wise for associations to maintain a contingency fund for cost overruns.

It is important that the association fully understand the reasons for a cost overrun so that the additional cost does not come as a surprise later on, and also to ensure that there are no payment delays. These unexpected change orders should be tracked and recorded so that the final invoice refers to those changes, and so that the association understands the final amount owed.