Write that Down! Tracking Maintenance and Pirchases and Purchases Can Help with Cost Control

Write that Down!

 On a given day, life is filled with so many things that you need to remember it’s almost impossible to retain it all. For example, can you remember the dates of  your car’s last oil changes or the mileage on your car? Or when you had your blood work  done? Do you remember how many times you fixed a particular appliance or how  much money you spent on the job?

 Log It!

 Most likely you’ll write this information down on a calendar or in a notebook so you can refer  to it when needed. For instance, you wouldn’t want to get blood work done again when you’ve already had it done or pay for an oil change when your car doesn’t need it. And knowing how much you’ve spent on appliances can actually save you money. If your washing machine has  broken down several times already and you’ve already invested hundreds of dollars on repairs, it might be worth buying a  new one instead.  

 It’s even more difficult trying to remember everything that goes on in a condo or  co-op association. Residents call in every day with maintenance requests.  Systems need to be maintained on a regular basis and supplies need to be  ordered. It’s important to maintain accurate and up-to-date maintenance logs in buildings  and HOAs.  

 A maintenance log is a written record of what repairs have been made and when,  including scheduled and unscheduled repairs. These records can cover major  items such as roof or boiler replacements, down to small stuff like how often  supplies are ordered. Keeping thorough records helps regulate maintenance,  identify trends and keep repairs timely and appropriate, according to Barbara  Drummond, PCAM, CMCA, president of Prime Management Inc. in Barnegat.  

 “Record-keeping is an important aspect of what good management should be doing,” Drummond says. “In order to properly maintain the building, you have to understand what the  maintenance history is to know when things will be coming due before they show  signs of wear. If you have a property with numerous buildings that need to be  painted or stained, that you have a schedule showing what buildings were  painted when and what materials were used so that history can be used in the  future for proper maintenance of the building.”  

 It’s important to keep an up-to-date list of supplies you need to run your building  community effectively and efficiently. If something breaks or leaks, having the  part on hand is vital to correcting the problem, especially if the problem  happens over the weekend or on a holiday. Not knowing how much you have left of  one item or another can leave you in a difficult bind should something go awry.  Property managers, accounting personnel and other office staff are typically  responsible for updating any logs, but it depends on the property, size of  staffing and type of equipment they have.  

 “We can always answer a question quickly from a homeowner if there's an issue as  to what was repaired and when,” Drummond says. “We would be able to identify the contractor that did a repair and be able to get  them to come back if there's a problem. Over the long-term, it would eliminate  the possibility of duplication of repairs and additional costs. Keep  information relative to the cost for any projects you're doing so in the future  you can include them when you update your capital reserve study. If you're  replacing roofs or siding you want to know what building were done when and  what the costs were. Without that information, you can't accurately predict  what your costs are going to be and how much money you should be putting into  your reserve fund.”  

 In New York City, Al Estrada has been the resident manager of 250 West 94th  Street, otherwise known as The Stanton, for 17 years. He says that the most  important part of his job is logging. “I keep logs for everything from the boiler to how much water the laundry room is  using,” he says. “Every morning I take numbers down. We use it to compare notes to see what the  building is being charged. It also tells me, for instance, how much water the  boiler is using in the wintertime and it can let me know where I'm losing  water.”  

 If you aren't already logging, Estrada suggests taking a union course if  available. “Logging is part of the job and it’s important to know how much stuff you're using.”  

 State Requirements

 While keeping record of things such as maintenance, ordered supplies and  financial records is highly encouraged by property managers, logging some of  this information is a legal requirement in the state of New Jersey. According  to Sean Herman, Esq. of the Princeton-based law firm of Lieberman & Blecher P.C., “The New Jersey Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:1, et seq., requires a condominium  association and its governing board to make available to every unit owner, at a  'reasonable time,' the association’s accounting records,” Herman says. “The Condominium Act only expressly requires an association to provide 1) a  record of all receipts and expenditures of the association and 2) a complete  accounting of the association’s common expense assessments.”  

 “Further,” Herman continues, “the association is also obligated to produce for inspection whatever remaining  documents are stated in the association’s governing documents. All accounting information concerning reserve funds and  assessments would be expressly required to be produced under the Act.”  

 Storage and Shredding

 Because of strict state requirements, property managers say it is essential to  keep a copy of every transaction, repair and order made. “I keep maintenance logs for the full length of time I'm managing a property—I keep it all,” Harry Fischer of Executive Quality Property Management in Marlboro, says.  

 “I have an obligation to turn over that information to anyone who asks for it as  far back as I'm involved. I wish I didn't—I have a storage facility filled with 100 boxes of information going back as far  as 14 years in some cases. I can say that I keep a log of every supply that is  ordered. A physical copy of every invoice is kept and scanned. A copy of every  check is kept and scanned. A copy of every repair is scanned. The archived  documents are kept in a locked storage facility. The current documents are kept  in lockable file cabinets within my office. If I do dispose of information, I  have it shredded by a professional shredding company,” he says.  

 For those who wish to avoid having to deal with storage units and filing bins  full of records, there is a new online service that can help retain  institutional memory. My Green Condo, Inc. (mygreencondo.net), which is based  out of Hightstown, is an online service that assists condos and HOAs with their  record-keeping and paper reduction. Co-founder and business development manager  Ranjan Sankarasivam said this service also promotes continuity, as all the  community documents, whether they are bylaws/house rules, administrative  operations, management forms, residential leases, etc., can be stored  digitally, and will be there for future generations. Although board members,  management companies and unit owners change, the building’s institutional memory and records will remain intact, he says.  

 Legal Woes

 A lack of diligent maintenance logging not only results in disorganization and  redundant repair fees, it can also lead to costly legal issues according to  experts. “If you keep poor records and fail to maintain something properly, it will likely  cost premature failure of some kind, and it's possible that such premature wear  and tear could result in additional expense to the homeowners that might foster  litigation,” Drummond warns.  

 “In the event an association is not maintaining required records, or is not  making the required records available to an association member entitled to such  an inspection, than the affected member may seek judicial assistance from their  local county Superior Court,” Herman explains. “Such relief would be in the form of an injunction or other order requiring the  association and the association’s governing board to produce or maintain the required records. In addition, the  Condominium Act also permits affected members to notify the Commissioner of the  New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) regarding the association’s failure to make the required records available. The DCA may then, after a  review of the circumstances, order the association to comply with the  Condominium Act, the association’s governing documents, and with the request.”  

 Playing Catch-Up

 If a property manager finds themselves in the dreaded situation of taking over a  multifamily building from someone who lagged on record-keeping, experts assure  there are ways to play catch-up.  

 “Start updating what information you have and fill in the blanks as you go. You  can look through any accounting information. Oftentimes it's helpful as to what  has actually been done. You can go through the accounting records and at least  get a starting point,” Drummond says.  

 Fischer recommends bringing in a professional to evaluate the building and  establish a starting ground. “You could potentially do an assessment of the condition of the building by a  professional contractor or engineer. Once you have a baseline of the condition,  you start by coming up with a plan to either schedule maintenance or future  repairs,” Fischer says.  

 Whether you use a binder, a notebook or a fancy database system, logging in your  maintenance information is vital to keeping your building running smoothly and  your residents happy. 

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the New Jersey  Cooperator. Pat Gale, associate editor of New England Condominium, a Yale  Robbins publication, and Editorial Assistant Enjolie Esteve also contributed to  this article.  


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