Can It Wait? Balancing Budgets and Priorities

A building or association's budget may very well be the bane of every board member’s existence. This is especially true when it relates to the prioritizing of repairs and maintenance tasks. Given the safety concerns involved, these are among the most important decisions a board makes. Also, while considering the structural integrity of the building, curb appeal, and consistent quality of life for residents, board members have to be strategic when deciding about what to repair and when.

When the board considers a priority list, the members must make sure no unit becomes uninhabitable. While no one can avoid a satellite crashing through the roof, most catastrophes can be avoided with some advance planning and management. In fact, building administrators often look for creative ways to save money, making tough decisions when determining the projects to undertake immediately, versus which ones to address later. Certainly, the process raises questions about liability, long-term planning, and how boards and managers can make decisions in tough times.

The Waiting Game

Certain routine maintenance projects absolutely cannot be skipped, including regularly checking the state of the building’s roof to take note of and address normal wear and tear; also, checking the roof drains, even in winter, when a clog up there could quickly prove disastrous. The building’s boiler requires a regular schedule for check-ups by boiler maintenance professionals, as well as--at least--weekly checks by building staff, who should be monitoring how the device is running and noting it in a logbook.

Naturally, physical issues that present a safety concern require immediate attention. If an issue is more cosmetic however, there is greater latitude in deferring repairs (although poorly maintained aesthetic elements can eventually take a toll on the perceived value of a building). Deferring maintenance on a building’s structural or mechanical elements will inevitably result in higher costs when repairs are eventually made.

While major issues may need some consultation and thought before appropriate action is taken, emergency-related equipment should always be handled immediately and made the top priority no matter what. For example, says Tom Boyd, a retired firefighter and project manager at Morris Engineering in Somerville, “If you know you have deficiencies in fire separation assemblies or firewalls, draft stopping...or any deficiencies as far as any life saving devices such as fire, carbon monoxide extinguishers, those things should never be put off.”

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