If you live in a state that has all four seasons, you know that each one brings unique beauty…and unique challenges.
For example, in the Midwest, ice and frigid temperatures can cause ice dams and frozen pipes in condominium, homeowner (HOA), and townhome community associations.
Rather than waiting for temperatures to drop or the first snowfall, board members, property managers, and community leaders should establish proactive winter maintenance plans.
Below are nine components that should be included on your winter preparation list.
1. Autumn pre-work
A busy fall means a less hectic winter and spring. Maintaining landscaping beds, cleaning leaves out of drainage areas and gutters, and draining irrigation equipment should be checked off before the ground freezes and gets covered in snow.
If your association has a community pool, assess the condition of the motors and pumps. Also drain the water to the manufacturer-recommended level.
Earlier sunsets make adequate lighting even more important. Replace any broken bulbs or faulty lighting fixtures and inspect emergency lighting. Remember that winterization starts in autumn…not when you start seeing snow!
2. Interior common area inspection
Keep tabs on heaters, thermostats, and furnaces. Create an inspection schedule so regular maintenance tasks and any necessary repairs can be completed before winter.
Heaters in baseboards, entryways, common hallways, basements, and utility rooms ensure that residents stay warm and that pipes don’t freeze. Heaters near fire sprinkler lines play an important role in emergency preparedness.
3. Check mechanical systems
A heating venting and air-conditioning (HVAC) vendor can check common furnaces and change filters before cold weather hits. Air ducts and hot water heaters that were heavily used in the summer may need extra attention and repairs before winter.
When considering association budgets, any expenses that come with replacements and inspections are reasonable in comparison to the steep prices and panic of a winter emergency repair!
4. Exterior common area inspection
Roof maintenance is critical in the winter months. A professional can inspect the roof and report back on missing shingles, cracks, and other structural damage in need of repair. Any weak spots in the roof can become a big problem when heavy snow settles on top. Cracks allow water to seep in and pests to enter the building, which poses a serious detriment to its structural integrity.
Look for cracks and fractures including in walkways, courts, doors, and windows. Treating a crack in the sidewalk or road early can prevent a pothole from forming. Addressing cracks near entryways can prevent drafts and a steep heating bill.
If your community association stores any landscaping equipment outdoors, like lawnmowers or watering hoses, store them in a sheltered area for the winter to prevent damage from exposure.
5. Snow removal company experience and reputation
Hiring a snow removal company with a good reputation will help ensure that your association will be taken care of promptly and appropriately. Since you are welcoming these individuals into your neighborhood, take the time to vet and hire the right company for your community.
Additionally, consider the experience each company offers. Some of the best snow removal companies put their drivers through training to ensure they are safe and efficient.
6. Review your snow removal agreement
Before hiring a snow removal company, have the association’s attorney review the contract. Contractors and vendors often write their own contracts or have their attorney draft the agreement for their benefit. The association’s attorney can ensure the contract protects the community.
A snow removal contract should contain:
- A specific start and end date
- Detailed areas that are to be plowed, shovelled, and/or blown
- When snow should be removed from the association
- Insurance requirements
- Provisions for keeping a snow log
- Contact info and availability to address issues such as melting snow and ice formation
- Language requiring that the contractor is responsible for property damage done to any part of the association due to negligence
7. Avoid frozen pipes
Scheduling regular inspections and routine maintenance can ensure that pipes are in optimal shape and prevent winter pipe emergencies down the road. However, it is almost inevitable that associations will have to deal with pipe bursts, leaks, and the resulting property damage during a cold winter.
When dealing with a burst pipe:
- Identify the specific location of the burst pipe/s and the resulting damage
- Determine if the damaged pipe/s service one unit, multiple units, and/or common areas
- Ascertain the reason for the pipe burst (ex. failure to maintain heat, malfunctioning appliance)
- Consider filing an insurance claim if the loss is covered
A damaged pipe can also be the unit owner’s responsibility. The association’s governing documents will further determine the repair responsibility between the association and owner. Review by legal counsel can provide a roadmap on how to navigate a burst pipe issue.
8. Communicate with residents
Even with the highest level of preparation, things can still go awry. Power outages, frozen pipes, and heating issues are not completely preventable. If something does go wrong, residents need to know so they can respond accordingly and stay safe.
For example, board members and property managers can help residents avoid damage to their unit and repair bills by educating them about the preventative measures they can take to keep pipes in working order year-round.
9. Minimize liability
Snow and ice can expose the association to a great deal of liability. A slip-and-fall can occur in an area that was neglected or has unnatural accumulation. Or a lawsuit can originate due to property damage caused by snow removal services. Accordingly, it is vital to confirm that your snow removal contractor carries the correct type and amount of liability insurance.
Conducting regularly scheduled inspections and promptly addressing small problems can prevent big emergencies in the future.
If your association has legal concerns regarding your snow removal contract, slip and falls, or other liability concerns, do not hesitate to contact our law firm. Call 855-537-0500 or visit www.ksnlaw.com.
Since 1983, KSN has been a legal resource for condominium, homeowner, and townhome associations. Additionally, we represent clients in real estate transactions, collections, landlord/tenant issues, and property tax appeals. We have four office locations, serving hundreds of clients and thousands of communities throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Our attorneys are also licensed in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri.
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