Archives for June 2024

Top 10 Condo Do Overs to Avoid

Over the last twenty years I have had the privilege of meeting with many condominium and HOA boards and leaders. Some were seasoned and experienced while others were new and exposed to the culture of community living for the first time. All wanted to do their best, yet failings and mistakes were acknowledged. With the hope of being forewarned is being forearmed, I thought I would share with you some of my observations of the ten most common condo board mistakes to avoid future do overs.

Not Understanding the Governing Documents: It is so basic. New board members are asked to read all the governing documents, but long-time members should also periodically review the association’s rules and regulations, especially when an important matter is to be considered. And of course, the corollary to this recommendation is these governing documents must be consistently followed and fairly administered. Erratic enforcement of the rules will never foster harmony in the community.

No Confidence in Your Management Company: This problem can be avoided from the start by hiring the right firm for your community. Interview the best candidates; ensure their proposed scope of services meets the specific needs of your community; and periodically review the selected firm’s performance and share your concerns. Once the board sets the goals and policies it should step aside and let the management firm enforce them without micromanaging the daily operations.

Not Maintaining Accurate and Timely Financial Statements: Loss of control over your financial statements is a guaranteed path to chaos in the community’s future. Good financial statements promote confidence amongst the unit owners; good relationships with your bankers and insurance representatives; and accurate information for reserve and operational planning and budgets. Up to date financial information is the engine driving revenue collections; trouble-free payables; and payroll processing.

Unreliable Reserve Fund Studies: If your reserve fund study is over seven years old, it is almost useless. Having the study sitting in someone’s bottom drawer and not referring to in that time is almost worse. Reserve studies are living documents whose basis is always changing. Construction and repair costs have skyrocketed. Inflation over the last two years has made most budgetary schedules obsolete and underfunded. A board does not want to be in the position of releasing the start of a major project only to discover more money needs to be raised.

Contribution Shortfalls to the Reserve Fund: The source of this problem is a failure within the management team. Either your accountant has not billed the proper assessments; your engineer has not estimated the necessary capital repair budget; or your property management firm has allowed deferred maintenance to get out of hand. Underfunded reserve budgets can damage the community’s image; impact unit owners’ future sale plans; and require future special assessments. The board is ultimately responsible for maintaining adequate operational and reserve fund balances. Not facing the need to raise assessments or delaying the decisions for necessary capital expenditures are classic board mistakes.

Communication Failures: Condo communities not only must be transparent in their communications with the unit owners but must be perceived to be transparent. Confidence in the board is built over time and will be called upon when difficult decisions need to be made. When everyone has the same set of facts, common decisions are much more likely. Today the media to get the word out is vast including bulletin board postings; community websites; email bursts; postal flyers; texting; etc. A well-run community has its members fully engaged as much as possible. Good and bad news should be dealt with on a timely basis. The community motto should be: “When it hits the fan, run at the fan.”

Uninformed Team Members: We Yankees like to fix things ourselves. However, in community living this can get a board in trouble. When a problem arises, there may be a tendency to save some money by not calling the condo’s lawyer, engineer, or insurance agent. The other Yankee saying is ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. If a liability issue arises or a conflict over the interpretation of a bylaw phrase, a quick phone call to your condo attorney might avoid unpleasant future consequences. The same is true for building safety issues or the discovery of water infiltration in the condo complex. Building problems rarely improve on their own.

Board Disunity: Disagreement among board members is bound to happen. Everyone’ opinion matters but everyone can’t be right all the time. The board members must follow established decision-making protocols and once a decision has been made each board member must stand behind the consensus. Anger and lack of respect have no place in community governance.

Not Following the Chain of Command: In general board members and committee chairs want to do the right thing. Sometimes in their enthusiasm to get things done in a timely manner they may take matters into their own hands and act without authority. Condo leaders must be reminded from time to time that they are dealing with community money, and they should not direct on-site contractors and vendors to supply services or make repairs without specific direction from the board. This type of lack of discipline can create unnecessary liability or costs easily avoided.

Improper Vendor Selection: Perceived vender service dissatisfaction is often the reason for a new member joining the board. All should be reminded before terminating a vendor service an exit interview should be held to determine all the facts. With a bit of due diligence, the true problem can be revealed resulting in better service with less trouble.

Community living require forbearance and respect for volunteer efforts. All things are possible with village unity.

Written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Senior Consultant Criterium Engineers

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Be Prepared – Emergency Response Best Practices

Emergency Response Plan

You don’t have to be a weatherman to notice storms are more frequent and fierce. Nor do you have to be a news broadcaster to recall all of the reported residential damage from fire, floods, and wind. Nor do you have to be an accountant to recognize the cost of building repairs are skyrocketing up. What you do have to do is …be prepared.

Being prepared means your community has an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) in place. Disaster planning is all about saving lives; reducing suffering; and minimizing damage. These ERP plans are a group of strategies to protect both community members and their property. Key elements of the plan are Mitigation; Preparedness; Response; and Recovery:

  • Mitigation includes identifying threats and eliminating potential danger with preventative maintenance to reduce vulnerabilities.
  • Preparedness requires well documented and trained evacuation routes; established muster points; and a system to account for everyone with an emergency contact system.
  • Successful Response in an emergency is greatly improved with a quick and decisive response requiring knowing the location of the key shut-off valves and safety features both within and outside of the units. It also includes updated lists of qualified repair contractors.
  • The Recovery element of post-disaster management is often overlooked yet vital to the overall success of the community’s future. Recovery is not simply the clean-up after the disaster but a pro-active real estate marketing plan.  Whether the disaster issue is a simple sprinkler pipe leak causing flooding and mold in an empty unit or a fire destroying a wing of a complex; the planning is critical knowing what should be done after the final repair contractor’s truck is off the site.

ERP Planning Steps

So how do you start? The board should create and appoint a disaster team made up at a minimum a member of the property management staff and a board member. Residents with skills in insurance; legal matters; electrical systems; HVAC; plumbing; emergency response should be sought to join the team. There are many sources for general outline for an ERP. Your insurance company may have pre-prepared templates of these types of plans for easy customization for your community’s needs. This is very important as we all know every condo community is unique in its own way. High-rise communities will require a more detailed evacuation plan than a community with duplexes or townhouses. Urban condominiums will have different needs than rural or suburban communities. Amenities, special equipment, and landscaping may be important issues in the ERP. Demographics must always be considered as a community of young professionals may not present the same safety challenges as an association with a more senior population.

The written plan needs to be approved by the board. The plan should be easy to access in multiple locations. It should be periodically reviewed and rehearsed. A good plan will have a checklist of steps to be taken; procedures to follow; and basic supplies to have on hand. Your insurance carrier or property manager may also be able to provide disaster training guidance and other resources. Just ask. You may also want to consider seeking training grants or funding through CERT (Community Emergency Response Training).

The basic Emergency Response Plan outline should consider the following:

1. Assessment of disaster risks – both experience and potential
2. Planning – budget and financing
3. Property management coordination
4. Safeguarding important condo documents
5. Ledger of assets – written and digital
6. Communication plan – elderly and special needs; absentees; etc
7. Emergency equipment available – condo and resident owned
8. Lines of authority
9. Evacuation plan
10. Insurance audit
11. Vendor and contractor call list
12. Recovery plan

Future storms will not reduce in intensity. Weather related power outages will increase. Unit owners are becoming more reliant on reliable power for medical safety, home business needs, and family education. If emergency power sources are not currently available, the association should consider how emergency generators might be introduced into the community. Providing suggestions for unit owners’ personal protection during severe weather events can be in the ERP including recommendations for maintaining an inventory of flashlights; batteries; charged phones; a supply of food; and medical supplies/ prescription drug availability.

Post-Disaster Market Value Perception

The common denominator need of all condo unit owners is protection of their net worth. Therefore, it must be repeated, after any disaster, the impact on market value and sale potential must be considered. It should never be assumed just because everything has been brought back to ‘as good as it was’ before the disaster, that the real estate market perceives this to be the case. The association may need to take very positive steps to approach the local real estate professionals to clearly demonstrate the physical state of the current condo complex. This could include certified inspection reports or lab test results or whatever it takes to make market perception the reality.

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Sound Off: Noise in Communities


Good friends of mine just retired and decided to move into an upscale condominium community. I asked if it was difficult to adjust to downsizing after leaving the “big” house, and interestingly enough, I was told the size of the living space was not the problem, it was difficult to adjust to the surrounding sounds. They would wake up to the adjacent unit’s alarm clock and kept up at night to the neighbor’s stereo speakers. During the day, they could even hear upstairs neighbors’ dog’s nails on the hardwood floors above.

Community living in Maine has many benefits. It also involves certain compromises. One of the more challenging aspects for owners to come to grips with is noise pollution. Residents, often moving from single family homes, are not used to hearing their neighbors. Sound transmitted between units, or sound from outdoors, can be extremely annoying and disruptive. And while many features of the unit can be appreciated during a walk through, the amount of sound transmission is not always apparent.

Identify Noise Problems

If there is a perceived noise problem in your community, one of the first questions to ask is where is that noise coming from? Is the noise coming from the outside? Examples would be transportation related noise such as highways, airplanes or rail noise. It might also be transitory, like construction noise. And it might be seasonal, like outdoor activity, especially when windows are open.

Internal noises may be transferred between units or from common areas into each unit. Transmission between units may be via walls, ceilings, or floors. It may also occur as a result of mechanical chases or through the actual piping or ductwork itself.

When addressing noise issues, it is important to determine whether the problem is localized or omnipresent. Certain orientations may be more susceptible to noise issues than others. Certain parts of a building–those near fans or mechanical equipment, recreational areas, etc.–may be more prone than others to experience problems. We have even found a variation between units due to construction inconsistencies. Field modifications in another area of the same building created a problem.

Any building may experience sound transmission issues, but the biggest determining factors are the physical location, type and quality of construction, and the age of the building. If a development is built near a highway or a flight path, the resulting potential problems may be obvious and hopefully were addressed during the design stages. Older buildings, especially ones that were conversions from factories or warehouses, can present particularly difficult problems. Structural components may abet sound transfer allowing it to pass unobstructed from unit to unit.

While some wall and ceiling assemblies are more effective than others, all must be assembled correctly with plenty of attention to detail. Care must be exercised to avoid “flanking paths” that allow sound to get around sound deadening assemblies.

Measure Noise Level

In a world where perception is reality, the first task is to define the problem. Is the noise that is causing complaints louder or more frequent than the occupants might reasonably expect? It is important to recognize that much of this is subjective. Different people will have different tolerances. The type of noise is also a concern – music, conversation, toilets flushing – each carry with it a relative level of acceptability.

There are, however, some relatively objective standards that have been developed by engineers and scientists to both quantify sound transmission and define acceptable levels.

The Sound Transmission Class (STC) is a value derived from creating and measuring the sound attenuation at various frequencies and comparing that to a standard reference. Whereas the STC measures sound transmission between areas separated by a common surface (walls, windows, etc.), the Apparent Sound Transmission Class (ASTC) is a more comprehensive measure in that it incorporates other pathways of sound transmission such as beams, columns, and chases for mechanical and electrical equipment, and is generally the basis for field testing.

The STC and the IIC (Impact Insulation Class) have been incorporated into local codes. Typically, the code specifies values of 50 (or 45 if field tested). However, codes are typically minimum levels and may not be high enough to produce comfortable noise control in many attached residential units

Address Noise Concerns

Sound energy, like thermal energy, is best disrupted by creating breaks between spaces. Mass also plays a role in overall comfort.  Generally, to improve Transmission Loss (the ratio of the sound energy striking the wall to the transmitted sound energy, as expressed in decibels), designers should seek to increase the weight of the surface layers and/or increase the distance between the surfaces.

Fiberglass insulation is often used, even in interior walls, to reduce sound transmission. Caulks and sealants are often used as well. Building walls in which the studs are offset and penetrations like electrical boxes and medicine cabinets are sealed can go a long way to improve the conditions. Drywall can be attached with resilient channels.

Dampening the source should also be considered. Many associations are beginning to establish minimum coverage of hard floors with carpeting, restrictions on hard soled shoes, and setting limits for sound levels from audio equipment. Other, more sophisticated strategies like baffling can be employed.

Reducing sound transmission in an existing building, whether old or new, is much more difficult than including good sound transmission practice as part of new construction. Reduction of sound transmission in wood framed buildings is generally more difficult than masonry or steel structures.

If problems arise, the first steps are to determine the existence of a real problem, attempt to quantify it, inspect to ensure that components were actually built as planned, and, then, hire a qualified consultant to recommend improvements. Most irritating noise issues can be resolved with some sound evaluation and thinking.


Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers

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