Maintaining Your Association and Construction

While there are many aspects of managing a community association, perhaps the most important one is maintaining its physical components. 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 essential for associations to use experienced and knowledgable contractors and for managers and board members to have a basic understanding of such maintenance. To learn more about selecting and working with a contractor, and the kinds of repairs associations may require, we spoke with Todd Vignola, owner of Add Ventures, Inc. Add Ventures, Inc. is a licensed and certified contracting company specializing in roofing, painting and construction services, in Hillburn, New York.

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 Vignola stated that roof leak repairs are one of the most common types of repairs he has to make.

How can associations stay on top of roof problems? “Roofs have a shelf life. You figure the average roof in the northeast will last 25 years. And so, you really don’t start to have problems until the end of that life, in the last 5 to 7 years,” Vignola explained. It is towards the end of a roof’s lifespan when it becomes the most expensive to fix and maintain. At some point during those remaining years, an association should choose to simply replace the roof rather than spending money on an old roof that is failing. “You want to try to stay ahead of it. Sometimes maintenance outweighs the cost of something new,” he said. If a roof problem is dis- covered, Vignola also recommends addressing it right away.

Annual roof inspections are very important, Vignola noted, and they can be done independently. “They’re not very expensive. They can be done by aerial, meaning by drone, or they can be done by physically inspecting the roof. Both are effective,” he said.
Another common repair includes fixing or replacing gutters. Generally, if the association is replacing its roof(s), Vignola also recommends replacing the gutters. “There’s always issues with gutters, especially as they get older. Ice and leaves eventually start to break down the integrity and the strength of the gutter, as well as the fasteners and all the other components,” he stated. Most roofs that are 25 years or older have a smaller sized gutter as well. If that is the case, they should be upgraded to current standards.

Lastly, snow and ice damming are often common problems during the winter. What exactly is an ice dam? “An ice dam is when the ice on the exterior of the home breaches through an exterior area of the home, such as a soffit or a roof-to-wall tie-in, generally along the bottom of the roof line, from the gutter up,” Vignola said. As the ice freezes, it breaks down the components, comes inside the unit and causes a leak. Typically, if there are large icicles present, there’s likely to be an ice dam as well.

According to Vignola, ice dams have the potential to cause immediate damage. And just because you’ve had harmless ice dams in the past doesn’t mean you won’t have roof damage from them in the future. “You could see serious damage within hours of the ice dam forming,” he said.

How should associations deal with ice dams? Problematic ice dams are not usually discovered until there is a leak, and Vignola advised that they should always be removed by a professional. The proper equipment and methods must be used in order to remove it safely and without further damage to the roof. As for preventative maintenance, he stated, “If you know there’s an active area susceptible to leaks, you should remove snow from that area safely and immediately.”

Lastly, should board members and managers perform basic inspections of their own if they can do so safely? When it comes to roofs, attics, and crawl spaces, Vignola recommended leaving inspections to professionals. “They should hire professionals; you never put yourself at risk. If you’re not sure you can do it, then you shouldn’t do it,” he explained.

It is very important for an association to select the appropriate con- tractors for their community. Vignola explained that the most important thing is for the association to develop a relationship with a contractor that they trust. “You need to have someone you can call in an emergency, who’s going to be able to respond and fulfill your needs. If you have a relationship with a quality contractor, you will be able to get someone out there quickly,” he said.

Contractors should also have any insurance that may be required, such as workman’s comp, general liability, etc. A reputable contractor will keep his contractor’s insurance renewed and will even ask the association about any special insurance that they may require for the project.

What are some recommendations for managers and board members to ensure proper quotes from contractors? Vignola 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. Is the design 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? Detailed specifications are always important when putting together a project proposal, and Vignola said that given such details, an experienced contractor can often provide valuable insight on a project. Additionally, the association should be providing the same information to each potential contractor when asking for quotes or bids. “You should always bid apples-to apples, which means you should have the same specifications for all potential contractors to bid on,” he said. Doing so may help the association to avoid hiring a contractor at a lower price, only to discover that their bid did not include critical components, which would then require change orders (additions to the contract). “Sometimes the contractor may look at something one way, and another contractor may look at it another way, and the manager and board members may see it in a third way. You need to interpret what you want from your contractors specifically, in order to get proper and fair quotes between contractors,” Vignola said.

Once you have chosen a contractor, it is very important to have a contract that includes detailed project specifications, drawings (when necessary), timeframes, communication protocol, pricing and warranty in- formation, and to make sure all expectations are set in writing beforehand in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. “For a full roof replacement, we strongly recommend an engineering report. For smaller repairs, you need to rely on your contractor for his knowledge on how to repair things,” Vignola stated.

While an association is addressing a repair or undergoing a 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? “The number one requirement is safety for the people who live there, as well as the people who are working there. You should expect consistent start and stop times, continuous work with- out interruption, exceptional customer service and cleanup and proper maintenance of the site while the project is taking place,” Vignola stated. Furthermore, contractor personnel should be dressed professionally and in company attire so that they and their company are easily identifiable.

What are some common reasons for delays on projects? Even the best contractors can run into delays, and the causes often fall outside of the contractor’s control. Vignola explained, “Weather is always a big reason. The biggest delays are always outside interference on the project, or non- management related interference on the project.” He also said that the contractor should keep the association well informed at every stage of the delay.

What would be considered some unreasonable expectations from a contractor’s perspective? A common problem that Vignola sees is when an association places too many managers and board members in charge of overseeing a project and communicating with the contractor. This often leads to the contractor receiving conflicting information about the association’s needs and concerns, as well as communication problems on the association’s end. “As a project commences in the community, there should be one person represented by the association who deals with the contractor, other than the manager. The manager’s job is to manage the property, but not to really manage the entire project that’s going on. If the board chooses to be involved, they need to only have one person involved,” Vignola said.

Lastly, safety is always important to consider during a project, for both the association’s residents and the contractor’s personnel. Everyone in the area where construction is taking place should be notified and aware of what is going on. Residents should be notified multiple times, through multiple means—be it phone calls, emails, or by posting notices on doors. It is also important for the contractor to leave the job site in a clean and safe condition. “No debris should be left out after the contractor leaves every day, not just at the end of the project,” Vignola emphasized.

Throughout the course of any project, proper communication should be maintained between the contractor, managers, board members, and residents. Above all, Vignola recommended having only one or two points of contact between the association and the contractor. The association should determine who should be the liaison between the contractor and their community, and this typically becomes the responsibility of the community manager. Alternatively, a board member may be assigned the the project, or both.

As for communicating with residents, Vignola also recommended having homeowners relay their questions to the determined liaison and not to the contractor directly. “There should be a person appointed in the community that residents can direct their questions to,” he noted. Individual homeowners should not be closely involved with the contractors. Instead, it is the responsibility of the manager, the selected board member, or both, to assume the duty of communicating with the contractor and relaying information regarding concerns between the contractor and the home- owners.

How often and in what format can managers, board members, and residents expect to be updated on the status of their projects? “As much as possible, we try to give the association a two week notice, a one week notice and a 24-hour notice,” Vignola stated. The contractor will generally take care of posting physical notices on every unit, while management will handle email blasts and robocalls.

What are common reasons for conflicts between board members, managers and contractors? Vignola explained, “It’s usually a miscommunication problem and the contractor having to deal with too many people in the association, by not having a designated liaison between the community and the contractor.”

Lastly, some 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. However, prior to beginning the project, the contractor should educate the association about the possibility of un- known expenses. “Any type of unforeseen circumstance, like wood rot or structural damage, generally causes a cost overrun. However, if a project is planned properly, a community usually has a small contingency set aside, as a percentage of the project costs, so that unforeseen cost overruns can be absorbed within their budget,” Vignola explained.

A cost overrun can occur even after a project has been carefully evaluated. According to Vignola, the contractor should contact the association as soon as they become aware of potential unknown expenses. Both par- ties would then sign a change order to confirm the additional work, and the contractor can provide evidence of the necessary change, such as be- fore and after pictures. “Everything must be in writing, and there should be documented pictures,” Vignola stated.

It is important that the manager and board members fully understand the reasons for a cost overrun, so that the additional cost does not come as a surprise, and also to ensure there are no payment delays. These unexpected work 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.

If a board member or manager feels that a contractor is not fulfilling their obligations, what procedures should they take to rectify the situation? Vignola said that the association should contact the project manager or principal within 24 hours of a new or unsolved problem. “A customer should never feel like they’re not getting what they want through that project manager. If they come to that point, where they’re disappointed, they should reach out to the principal and talk about meeting on the job immediately to address the concern,” he said.