Avoiding Contractor Renovation Pitfalls

So, you just received approval from your board of directors in your community for your bathroom renovation! Congrats! You leave a lockbox at your door for the contractors to enter your unit while you are away for business. Seems like a perfect scenario, right? You will leave for a 10-day business trip and will come back to a brand-new bathroom! Day 3 into the renovation, while you’re halfway across the country, you receive a panicked call from the community manager for your association. They’ve just informed you that your contractor flooded out your unit and the unit below yours as a result of improper shut down of the water to your building. The association has managed to turn off the water and begin mitigating the extensive water damage to avoid further damage to the unit below yours. You left for a business trip, left your unit in your contractors ‘capable hands’ and now you’ve ended up with a likely insurance claim, emergency mitigation bills, and angry neighbors!

How could this have been avoided? I always recommend the association partner up with trusted contractors to perform some of the, arguably, most important functions of any work performed in a community that affects common area or multiple units. In this particular case, I would recommend that the board partner with a trusted plumber that knows the property and knows how to properly turn on and off the water. The homeowners would be responsible for coordinating with this trusted contractor for the turning on and off of the water for the private contractors. This practice ensures the water is shut off correctly and the pipes properly drained before any work begins. It also helps to develop a ‘policy’ for homeowners to follow when scheduling a water shut off that outlines how much notice needs to be given to all parties affected/involved as well as when this service can be performed.

Another issue I see a lot of homeowners run into when renovating their unit is knowing which walls in their unit are structural and which are cosmetic. The long and short of it is… we don’t know for sure which walls are or are not ‘load-bearing’ (in that they exist to ‘hold a load’ in place) because homeowners aren’t dedicated architects, and neither are board members, management personnel, or even most contractors! It’s always highly recommended to obtain architectural drawings when considering the removal of a wall or the addition of significant weight in your home or unit.

Removing or compromising a load-bearing wall can cause structural damage to your home and in the case of a condominium community, the common elements and other units. Evidence of cracking walls or sagging floors may indicate that a load-bearing wall or structural component has been compromised. If that occurs, it may be necessary to engage an engineer to determine the extent of any structural damage and the proper way to restore the structural stability. If these structural issues were caused by an owner, the expense for the engineer and the cost of the repairs may be passed onto the homeowner. This type of situation may have been avoided if the owner engaged an architect or engineer before beginning work. Additionally, it is recommended that you (or a friend) be involved in the renovation project and periodically check in on the contractor. Confirming that the contractor is following the approved plan may also help prevent damage to your home.

Remember, the sole individual responsible for any and all renovations as well as whether a modification or renovation is performed in accordance with building codes and with proper permits, drawings, and procedure is the owner of the home/unit.

As managers, it’s our job and pleasure to help homeowners understand association governing documents and proper policy/procedure to aid the owner in implementing a successful renovation in their home. When in doubt, ask your management team!

By Kelli Lencioni, CMCA

Kelli is an Associate Community Manager for Legum and Norman and has been working in the Community Management industry for 5 years. She recently obtained her CMCA designation in November of 2019 and manages a portfolio of small to medium-sized Condominiums and HOA’s throughout Northern Virginia—primarily in Arlington County, VA.

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