Keeping residents in a Community Association safe isn’t just the considerate and responsible thing for a board to do — in many cases, it’s often required by law, whether at a federal or local level. One of the best ways to ensure that a board is both law-abiding and protective of all residents and property is by conducting a thorough safety inspection of both building components and any outside vendors that the Association relies upon for services. Rather than making these inspections a one-off behavior, the board should aim to keep a regular schedule of safety inspections, which can be advantageous in keeping property values up, reducing the risk of liability litigation, and catching any issues before they become more costly or dangerous.
What to Inspect
With different landscape and structural elements in every community, it might be difficult to determine which features the Association is responsible for maintaining and repairing. However, there are some basic, shared elements within most communities that should be included in any regular inspections.
First and foremost, an inspection should cover the entire exterior of a building. While materials like stone, brick, or concrete might seem strong and enduring, everything from the age of the materials in question to placement of the materials themselves could threaten the integrity of walls, roofs, and other exterior elements. In this case, a good, thorough inspection should uncover signs of deterioration, such as staining or water damage, as well as any major cracks or gaps in the structure or materials.
Although Associations in urban areas might be more concerned about injuries caused by falling exterior elements, all Associations should be attuned to anything within a building’s exterior structure that poses a risk to the health and safety of all residents.
In addition to the major exterior elements of a property, a thorough inspection should also include vital internal features, as well, such as the heating and cooling systems. Components like boilers can pose a significant risk to the health and safety of the entire community if not properly maintained and the rules and regulations surrounding boiler inspection and maintenance in New Jersey in particular are stringent and specific.
Interior elements can also include proper fire prevention measures, such as working smoke alarms and sprinklers, as well as common use features like the community pool, elevators, and other components that are available to the entire community at large.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Association is strictly limited to inspecting only common areas and shared amenities. If the board suspects that a resident is smoking in their individual unit despite the community’s non-smoking policy, for example, they might feel as though this issue is worth investigating, as this poses a significant fire hazard to the entire community. However, unless there is an emergency, the Association must receive permission from the unit owner to enter their private property or, failing that, obtain a court order to gain entrance.
For further guidance on what elements within the community have an inspection requirement, as well as other regulations dictating what that inspection should look for and how it should be recorded, consult the Association’s bylaws and statues as stated in the governing documents.
After getting familiarized with the governing documents in order to get a better understanding of the inspection rules and guidelines, it’s equally important to get organized before embarking on an inspection. Creating a checklist with each major amenity or feature throughout the community, then detailing the specific things that need to be checked when it comes to that element, will ensure that the inspection will be appropriately all encompassing.
While conducting the inspection, be sure to document anything that seems amiss — even if it doesn’t seem like a major health or safety threat at the moment, catching something like a small crack in a window could save the Association from having to sink more time and money into fixing the water damage or addressing the liability claim that could occur if the window were to shatter. Using a digital camera or a smartphone to keep visual records, in addition to written accounts, of these issues could also prove useful.
After all of the issues have been noted, the next step is to bring the entire inspection report to the board in order to develop an appropriate remediation plan, whether the issue needs immediate attention or it’s something less urgent that nevertheless might need to be worked into the upcoming annual budget. Filing all of the inspection documentation in a neat and orderly manner with the Association’s other important records, even after the issues in question have been addressed, will help the Association maintain a robust maintenance record, and can come in handy if maintenance-related litigation were to arise.
Every Community Association wants to keep their residents safe, and maintaining a regular schedule of appropriately thorough safety inspections is key in reducing resident injury or distress, saving on repair-related costs, and decreasing the likelihood of liability litigation against the board. Embarking on a safety inspection with a well-formulated and detailed plan, as well as with appropriate industry professionals, such as property managers, will keep a community running smoothly, no matter what.