True Life Stories of Residential Breakdowns Maintenance Nightmares

Ask a veteran building manager about his scariest horror story and he may recount a freezing winter night when the heating system went kaput, leaving a 400-unit building ice cold, or the time the sprinklers decided to kick on for no reason and drench freshly remodeled hallways. Some maintenance problems are like lightning, seeming to strike at random. The truth is that city dwellers rely heavily upon various building systems for their physical comfort, and sometimes those systems fail. When they do, residents can be left hot (or cold) and angry, or wet and upset — often as much by the cost of repairs as the event itself.

Even highly dedicated associations sometimes experience maintenance nightmares—unforeseen maintenance problems that derail the everyday life of residents of the community. When these disasters happen, it's the responsibility of the management, board and staff to get things under control and back on track as quickly as possible.

Maintenance disasters aren't always unavoidable, though. With preparation, at least some of these problems can be avoided. Much of the planning for a maintenance emergency depends upon a property manager or board member knowing of potential problems. Knowing about the possibility of such problems often is a matter of knowing what areas of the property to be aware of, and also knowing what signs to look for.

Problems Could Be Out of Sight

The latent problem areas of a residential property may be hidden from view and nearly impossible to detect, as they were in the case of a maintenance problem that Tim Balitsos encountered. Balitsos, a property manager for Jersey City-based MEM Property Management, had a water problem with the downspouts and connecting underground pipes at several of his company's properties along the same street. All of the buildings were having problems with water around their foundations, when it was discovered that there were fractures in the underground pipes connected to the downspouts. The breaks in the pipes resulted in the rainwater being deposited underground, close to the building's foundation, rather than into the sewer system.

The drainage problem quickly put the buildings on increasingly soggy ground, leading to water in the basements and other problems. Balitsos says the quandary might have been avoided, even though outside circumstances were partly to blame for it.


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