Now that community living has become mainstream, it is more essential than ever for the board of directors and the management company to run the operations of the association in a proactive manner. Of course, the term proactive could mean many different things to many different people. Proactive could mean ensuring that the building insurance gets paid so that it does not get cancelled or it could mean that the homeowners are sent an email reminding them to keep their heat above 55 degrees when leaving for their winter home in Florida. It could also mean that the management company reminds the board to set the next board meeting date and time at the end of each board meeting to proactively schedule the next board meeting. Of course, an even more proactive approach would be to request the board to schedule all the board meetings for the calendar year at the end of the prior calendar year.
But what about the building life and safety mechanical systems such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers? Or what about door closers, locks, lighting sensors, battery backup lighting and water spigot shutoffs? Does it make sense for the association take a proactive approach for these items? Or should the association let these items fail and then repair or replace them as necessary?
The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig is a great example of the pros and cons of proactive versus reactive maintenance. In this book, the author compared two motorcycle owners who were referred to as a “romanticist” and “classicist”. The “romantic” owner chose to not maintain his expensive motorcycle and took a “hope for the best” attitude. He didn’t want to know about the details of how the motorcycle worked and wanted to simply enjoy the ride. Not surprisingly, when his bike broke down, the romanticist became quite frustrated and had to rely on expensive reactive maintenance and mechanics to fix the motorcycle.
On the flip side, the “classical” motorcycle owner who owned an older and much less expensive motorcycle, took a very detailed and proactive approach to maintaining his motorcycle. His motorcycle was always well maintained and had very few unexpected mechanical failures. Although this approach required an investment in time and effort, the “classicist” enjoyed getting to know the inner workings of the motorcycle and truly enjoyed this symbiotic approach.
Similarly, when it comes to community association life safety, mechanical and security systems, the same two options apply. You can take a hands off approach and close your eyes and hope for the best or you can take the time to understand your building systems and develop a preventative maintenance program that will check the systems that are designed to keep the homeowners safe and comfortable while ensuring the systems are there and ready to activate in the event of a life/safety emergency.
For example, you can install smoke alarms that require battery changes every 6 months or you can install a smoke alarm with a sealed 10-year life battery. Regardless of which one you install, they should be tested on a regular basis to ensure they are working. For larger buildings, they should be tested monthly and for smaller buildings every 3 to 6 months. It goes without saying that smoke alarms save lives and to not check them on a regular basis is just a really BAD idea.
Fire extinguishers are also items that should be checked proactively. They should be inspected and certified by a qualified fire safety company on an annual basis and should be visually inspected on a more frequent basis. Coincidentally, one of our buildings just had a fire inside one of the units due to a malfunctioning dryer and the homeowner went out into the hallway, grabbed one of the fire extinguishers and used it to suppress the fire.
Battery backup lighting is another system that is often overlooked. These systems are designed to activate and illuminate stairwells and hallways in the event there is a power outage. However, the battery inside the unit typically lasts about 2 years and if you don’t check it regularly and/or replace the battery once it fails, the system will stop working. This may result in accidental homeowner injuries the next time there is a power outage and an evacuation as the stairwells and hallways could be pitch black.
Checking door closers and door locks is another classic example of the benefits of preventative maintenance. You can wait for the door knobs and door handles to fall off and wait for an emergency call from a homeowner saying that they can’t open the door and get inside the building or you can have a technician go around the association on a regular basis and inspect and tighten all loose door handles and door locks. Similarly, you can wait for door closers to slam doors shut or keep doors open as temperatures rise and fall or you can periodically adjust them to take into account effects of the changing seasons before homeowners file a complaint.
In the end, what approach do you want to take? Classicist or Romanticist? Do you want to spend a penny or a pound? The choice is up to you.