April 23, 2020| Lester Yat
It seems that several homeowners noticed the cracked sidewalk. But no one brought it to the attention of the property manager — until an elderly resident tripped on it and broke her arm.
The finger-pointing began, with residents saying the manager should have seen the problem and fixed it, and the manager frustrated that no one had brought it to his attention. Of course he would have put it on a repair list if he had been alerted to the problem. And now everyone is upset — including board members facing a lawsuit against the association.
The familiar adage of “If you see something, say something” can easily be applied to the condition of your association’s property. Whether it’s a dark, wet spot on a lobby ceiling, a crack in the sidewalk, or a loose railing, small problems can easily blossom into large ones if not repaired promptly. And while associations hire property managers and expect them to be on top of every detail, the truth is that managers are human. They can’t be everywhere at every moment, and may simply not be aware of a problem if it’s not brought to their attention.
Of course, safety is always a concern; that sidewalk crack can become a tripping danger, and the loose railing could send a resident sprawling.
But even if safety isn’t the issue, these minor problems can lead to expensive repairs. That spot on the ceiling may be the visible manifestation of a leaky roof that, if not caught early, can wreak havoc with the building’s structure. The loose railing may be an isolated problem, or a symptom of decay that has been spreading without notice on all decks within the community.
So why don’t residents report small problems to management? Maybe they assume that the manager is always on top of everything, and already knows about the problem. Maybe they feel that management will be insulted, or irritated — or they’ll be considered “busy-bodies” for speaking up. Maybe they think it’s up to the elected board to stay on top of building issues.
Or maybe they figure that it’s the manager’s job to constantly examine the property — and, to an extent, they’re right; walking the property, keeping an eye out for trouble spots, is part of the job.
But no matter how often a manager walks the property, no matter how keenly he or she scans the building’s exterior, problems can crop up the day after a walk-through, or surface in an expected location.
It’s key, then, that managers and board encourage communication —preferably through a formal path, on the community’s website or other written system that creates a “paper trail” that can be followed from initial notice to its solution. Along with residents and staff, a variety of vendors can also be encouraged to report potential trouble spots or potential problems, adding to the likelihood of averting physical or financial catastrophes.
Small problems are usually easier — and less expensive — to fix than big ones. It’s to everyone’s advantage to catch them before small problems turn into large disasters. By working together, and keeping the lines of communication wide open, residential communities can remain attractive and safe havens year-round.