It's a common enough story: the condominium was relatively new, but from the start its board of directors was stingy with maintenance and repair dollars. Then the recession struck, and the percentage of unpaid maintenance fees spiked. After several years of neglected physical facilities, half the condo's elevators weren’t working. Unpainted interior hallways and uncleaned carpeting and tile encouraged mold and mildew growth. Utility bills went unpaid for so long that the electric company threatened to cut off the power, and garbage collection was sporadic. Due to mismanaged collections and finances, the community is now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
Luckily, the economy has improved a bit but staying ahead financially has not gotten any easier, and that goes for associations as well. “It's the dollar figure. If associations have the money they're going to say: ‘Okay, let's get it repaired.’ If they don't they're going to say, 'No let's put it off, let's wait another six months, maybe we'll be in a better financial situation' than they are now,” says Dominick Frontera, president of World Wide Construction in Ridgefield Park. “Money is the reason why people don't want their maintenance raised because they say that can't afford it. And you can understand that, but the money has to come from somewhere to make those repairs,” he says. If you don't, the hole can only get deeper.
Industry experts believe that at the top of everyone’s maintenance list should be life-safety items for which code violations could prompt steep fines from a government inspector, or even closure of a building. This includes elevators, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and painting of curb corners to meet fire-marshal requirements. These tend to be less expensive, and they're huge liability issues as well, so getting them taken care of is a matter of necessity.
Safety items rarely pull you down a money pit. When it comes to the physical construction of the building, a bad roof can have the most disastrous consequences if neglected because it can cause a chain reaction. “If that roof is leaking, it's penetrating into the floor below that and maybe even the floors lower than that. It causes damage on the walls, mold, mildew, flooring gets destroyed, and the calking of your windows—it allows heat to escape,” says Frontera.
“And of course, your brick, your facades. During the winter time, if water's behind that brick, it freezes, and it causes those bricks to start popping. If that brick falls and hits someone in the sidewalk—big lawsuit,” he says. Of course, not everyone has a brick facade, but the point remains. A dilapidated roof can turn into a dilapidated building, and quickly.