Constructed as they are out of materials like brick, concrete, or even stone, the exterior walls of an apartment building or row of townhomes might seem nearly indestructible. But despite their hardiness, walls are not immune to assaults from the elements, and it’s up to their owners to ensure that they’re maintained properly and can perform their intended function. Boards of condominium and cooperative properties, in fact, have a fiduciary duty to look after their building’s envelope, not only to maintain the quality of life within the building, but to preserve residents’ investment in it. To this end, it’s essential to conduct regular inspections of your building’s perimeter, whether that means several times a year in-house, or less frequently and in the presence of a certified professional. Cracks in the facade are not just a metaphor, after all – they’re a real problem that can cost thousands in damages if not caught and fixed.
The Frequency Question
How and when to take a closer look at the outside of your building depends on several factors, including the age, location, and material makeup of the structure. Ideally, a board will enlist the help of a bona fide property manager to help ease the burden of keeping up with this grind.
James Cervelli, a principal with Cervelli Real Estate & Property Management in North Bergen, New Jersey, says that despite there not being specific regulations as to when inspections must take place in his area, his firm assigns a manager to walk around the property once per month. “They’ll look for anything that could be perceived as awry or out of place,” he says. “They’ll engage in preventative maintenance to ensure that everything is attached where it needs to be, that there’s no cracking, no loose or protruding cement. It’s a basic overview in order to keep up with any maintenance that may need be scheduled. More intensive inspections, involving an architect or another outside vendor, may take place every seven to 10 years.”
“No matter where a building is located, its facade–and I’ll include roofs as well, which I refer to as the exterior envelope – should be inspected on an ongoing basis,” says Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations at Project Management Group, part of AKAM Living Services, Inc. which has offices in Florida and New York. “Different municipalities will have different regulations as to when and by whom facades need to be inspected. Florida, believe it or not, only requires a 40-year inspection. But regardless of municipal requirements, the exterior envelope should be part of a building’s normal inspection criteria. And depending on the components of the facade —whether it has balconies, terraces, cornices, decorative stonework – the more elaborate its presentation, the more frequently it should be looked at.”
While routine check-ups by in-house staff or management personnel are part and parcel of the maintenance of a building, a spontaneous issue may suddenly arise, giving a board occasion to call in specialists to look at or work on the property. As architects, engineers, contractors and the like can prove costly, it’s important to know when to get in touch, and what to expect.