Dec 02, 2010
By J. Travers Hartnett CEBS, BC-HSP
Water is a number one cause of property damage for community associations. Once water finds its way into an association building you can expect to experience a lot of problems including costly repairs and maintenance, mold, poor indoor air quality, increased insurance costs and lower property values. Here are some ways to lower your risk to water damage.
A good place to start is to have a meeting with all your maintenance and service professionals who work on your building. You should also consider inviting any volunteers or unit owners with construction related experience. The goal of the meeting is to identify and document all the foreseeable ways water can get into your building(s). Regardless of how new or old your buildings are, all buildings have their weak points. Your list will probably include things like water pipes, leaves and debris accumulating on the roofs and blocking the drains, AC maintenance, sliding door tracks, water pooling at entryways, water heaters and toilet seals etc.
The next step is to research and document all prior water events whether insured or not in association and owner history. Your primary interest should be what exactly caused the event. Unless something has been done to prevent the previous damage from ever happening again, it needs to be added to the list of what can go wrong.
Most of the things on your list will be avoidable by inspecting them at least once a month. Create a custom checklist so you don’t miss anything. Most inspections start on the roof top where you will inspect your AC systems, cooling tower, rooftop systems and drainage. The more detail you put into your check list, the more valuable your inspection will be. Parts of your building needing special attention include windows, doors, foundations and exterior walls. Common area bathrooms and kitchens are frequent sources of water leaks. Inspections should be retained in a notebook to monitor changes in conditions.
Don’t overlook your owner’s property. The principle culprits here are signs of negligence, old water heaters, refrigerator water lines, laundry hoses, dishwashers, vacancies, foreclosures and inattentive owners. Owner problems frequently become association problems. Depending upon the demographics of your community and the age of your buildings, interior unit owners’ inspections may be the only reliable way to control owner losses. For example, you may need to confirm with all that owners than the washing machine water lines meet current codes with metallic reinforcement.
Unfortunately every type of water damage event cannot be avoided. Water pipes enclosed underground or inside of walls frequently burst without warning. Some of the items on your list cannot be controlled by monitoring. That’s why you need to be prepared for every type of water emergency. The difference between experiencing a minor leak or a major one, is the response time. Clean drinking water turns to filthy black water in only 48 hours.
Association Officers, Directors and Volunteers need to know how to find and shut off association water supply lines in the event of an emergency. They need to know how the controls work and how to quickly shut down electric and other related supply lines like sprinklers and gas lines. If your supply system requires tools for a shut off, they need to know where the tools are and how to use them. Emergency contact information is also critical. Contact numbers for police, fire, and other emergency personnel should be strategically posted throughout the community. The time to decide which water extraction company, HVAC contractor and plumber to call in an emergency is before it happens.
While we recommend our associations purchase adequate water damage insurance we usually suggest a minimum deductible of $5,000 per occurrence or more. Associations with frequent water claims always end up paying a lot more for their property insurance than they should. This is because Insurers believe most claims are preventable by proper maintenance. A larger deductible encourages responsible association management and produces the lowest cost of insurance over the long run.
If you experience an association water damage event, be careful not take responsibility for it until after you have consulted a professional and determined exactly what happened and why. Water events that originate inside an owners unit are likely the responsibility of the owner. When an owner reports a leak of unknown origins, you should suggest they hire their own licensed contractor “to prove their loss” and determine who is responsible. We also recommend you contact your insurance agent as soon as possible after an event.
J. Travers Hartnett is Editor of CondoExec, a publication of Travers Hartnett PA. . Travers earned a BS in Economics with a Major in Business from the State University of New York, a Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) designation from the International Institute and Wharton School and is a Board Certified – Human Services Practitioner specializing in community association services. He has more than 24 years of commercial insurance experience including major account sales, marketing, underwriting & risk consulting. He has been President of his residential condominium association for 4 years and is the owner of Travers Hartnett PA, an insurance agency providing risk management services exclusively to community associations.