In our previous newsletter, discussion was had about a number of points to consider when completing repairs of issues that may arise. As winter turns into spring (hopefully!) it can often lead to other issues arising, including water leaks, ice dams, etc. It is important to consider the items listed in the previous newsletter regarding responsibility for repairs, selecting a contractor and timing. Once those items are dealt with there is another important item that many associations do not give adequate consideration to: the importance of keeping clear and adequate records of repairs. It is important for a number of different reasons that when a problem is reported, or otherwise arises in an association, that it is properly documented each step along the way so that in the event there is future legal action required, the timeline, the history and the outcome is traceable for reference purposes.
A formal system of logging issues that are reported or complaints that are received may be helpful in effectively managing the repair process. Such records can help in determining when a problem first arose thereby affecting potential legal issues for possible later claims. It is not always necessary to have a fancy or elaborate system of documenting reported issues but some means of tracking them can be helpful for future purposes.
When an issue is reported and ultimately results in a need for repairs, it is equally important to document the conditions observed prior to completing repairs. In many instances, it is necessary for a contractor or vendor to visit a unit or common areas before determining what the issues are and whether repairs are necessary. In doing so, the contractor/vendor should be instructed to take photos or provide other documentation as to what was observed so that in the event there is a future issue such documentation can be relied upon and provide insight into what happened. If possible, in addition to providing the photos, some sort of “report” or other description of the observations can also be helpful.
Once the initial conditions have been documented, and repairs are to be completed, a proposal should be generated for the work that is anticipated to be completed. The invoice should set forth a description of the work that is to be or was completed as well as the cost of that work. That proposal/invoice should be provided to the association and/or unit owner who is responsible for payment and an adequate record kept so that it can be located in the future for reference. That invoice could be provided with the initial observations and/or report documenting what was observed by the contractor/vendor.
Once repairs are started and completed, if there is any change to the work that is different from that which was outlined in the initial proposal/invoice, an updated invoice or change order should be provided documenting the change. If additional photos were able to be taken during the course of the actual repairs such as when walls were opened up or exterior siding or roofing removed, they should be included to document the conditions that were observed when the work was completed. In the event that new and significant issues are discovered during the course of repairs it may be necessary to provide temporary cover for the work while the need for further investigation may be necessary. This could result in the potential need for submission of a claim to an insurer if the damage is deemed to be significant and of a nature that may be covered by an insurance policy. If that is the case, before the conditions are changed at all, in the absence of necessary emergency repair work, consideration should be given to halting the work while that process can be undertaken.
Once repairs are completed, further evidence and documentation of the completed repairs should be provided. That could include additional photos of the repairs completed or some other description of what was done along with the final invoice if different from the first as well as record of payment of the invoice being completed. Depending on the size, scope and nature of the repair being undertaken, additional documentation may be necessary including, but not limited to, a formal report, inspection records, etc.
Although the above referenced steps may seem more than may be necessary depending on the situation, it is important to recognize the reasoning behind documenting repairs. In many instances, repairs of issues which may seem insignificant at an earlier point in time may ultimately prove to be the initial sign of a much more significant issue which warrants substantial investigation and evaluation of possible claims. In addition, if repairs are made for storm related damage and are not properly documented an insurance company may not pay for repairs even if they were done in an emergency nature. Having documentation of such repairs may assist in submitting a later insurance claim if the issues are proven to be involving larger areas of damage that may have initially been considered.
Documenting the repair process can also assist association’s counsel in a later evaluation of potential larger issues. Even if an issue may seem insignificant at the time it can often be a notice of potential larger issues which could affect an association’s legal rights in the future. Thus, it can be a good idea to discuss what may seem to be “abnormal” repairs in a unit or common area which may be the result of a construction related issue or other similar problem. Recognizing early when a repair may be a sign of a larger problem can avoid running into time-related issues for legal claims, which is a subject for further discussion. Having proper documentation of those issues can not only assist the association in later evaluating repair budgets for future years, insurance coverage, etc., but it can also provide helpful information in determining the history of a problem which may exist in a building.