Even if a building is designed and constructed according to code requirements, it will eventually need reparations. For example, pumps and air handlers gradually wear down due to friction, and lighting fixtures have internal components that deteriorate with heat. Condominiums and housing cooperatives in NYC are managed by boards, often composed of volunteers, and they decide how to proceed with building reparations. Construction is very expensive in NYC, and this also applies for building reparations. Ideally, the board should find a contractor who solves the issue at a hand for a reasonable price. When choosing how to proceed with a reparation, two mistakes are very common:
Paying more than necessary, due to overpriced or unnecessary work.
Selecting an offer that does not solve the problem.
Of course, both can happen at once: a condo board can end up paying for a job that is overpriced while not solving the main issue.
Since boards are composed of volunteers, there is no guarantee they will have members with a technical background. In addition, even if there are engineers or architects in the board, they may not have the time to give full attention to building issues - keep in mind they are responsible for projects elsewhere.
Detect urgent maintenance issues with a building inspection.
When reparations are conducted in single-family dwellings where the owner lives in the building, they are subject to more scrutiny because the owner is present and bears the full cost. On the other hand, reparations are diluted among all tenants as a maintenance fee in condominiums and cooperatives - the impact of a poor decision is not felt immediately.
The Role of Consulting Engineers
Consulting engineers represent a neutral third party in negotiations between condo boards and contractors. When the board is comparing several offers for a building reparation, consulting engineers can determine which ones have a suitable scope and price.
When there are offers from many contractors, it is tempting to choose the one with the lowest price. However, an under-priced project may be the result of poor communication or calculation errors, and the final price is much higher when you add the change orders required. Reducing the cost of building reparations is in the best interest of all tenants, but unreasonably low prices should be avoided.
The opposite can also happen: a condo board can end up paying more than necessary if they choose carelessly among the offers available. This is normally the result of an overpriced offer, or an offer that includes unnecessary work. Boards are more vulnerable to price gouging when a reparation is very urgent, since they may take the first offer available even if overpriced.
Meeting NYC Building Codes
The NYC Department of Buildings does not require a work permit for minor projects, but reparations in larger buildings often exceed the threshold established by the DOB. If a condo board does not get a work permit for a large reparation that requires it, they may soon be faced with a hefty fine from the DOB.
Engineering consultants are familiarized with NYC building codes and permitting requirements, so they can easily identify cases where a work permit is necessary. Although work permits involve paperwork, experienced professionals can complete it quickly, and the condo board can avoid hefty fines. With an informed professional opinion, boards can also ensure that even minor work is code-compliant.
Prioritizing Building Reparations and Upgrades
Building issues such as water infiltration, cracks in walls, damaged paint and noisy HVAC equipment are evident. However, many issues remain undetected until they cause a malfunction in a key building system, and they can only be discovered if the building is inspected by qualified professionals. Aesthetic problems get plenty of attention because they are evident, but the most urgent issues are often hidden.
After a detailed inspection of a building, consulting engineers can suggest a priority list of maintenance issues. Solving problems proactively is faster, less expensive and less disruptive than waiting for an equipment breakdown. For instance, you will want to avoid a boiler failure on the coldest days of winter - a much smarter option is to inspect space heating systems before winter arrives.
Managing building reparations without a professional third-party opinion is risky, since co-op and condo boards can end up paying overpriced or unnecessary work. Consulting engineers can also help boards change their maintenance approach from reactive to proactive - fixing issues before they occur reduces both their cost and disruption.
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