Building maintenance is a critical process if you want your real estate to continue to function as intended, and to deliver an uninterrupted steady stream of revenues in the foreseeable future. A good maintenance program also helps you avoid certain lawsuits, for several reasons.
First of all, a properly maintained building generally means the grounds are also well-kept and cleared of debris. Common areas are functioning as they should, and are free of unnecessary machinery and equipment. This translates to a reduced chance the public will be injured by clutter or malfunction. Most tenants and visitors are careful for their own safety and don’t want to frequent areas that appear unkempt. Your added effort to maintain the property well will add to their willingness to visit.
Second, a commitment to good building maintenance can protect you from frivolous lawsuits. For example, typical occupants and visitors will notice the “wet floor” signs or the “caution tape” roping off an unsafe area on the floor. Your efforts to help protect the public will instill a “maintenance-consciousness” in your clientele who, ideally will appreciate your diligence and follow lead.
Furthermore, think of how a judge is likely to view your culpability in a personal injury “slip and fall” case, when you present your well-documented history of maintenance. This might include snow removal schedules, photos showing your use of “wet floor” signs and areas roped off for safety. Records of your efforts to do the right thing will not necessarily absolve you completely, but chances are the evidence will not fall on deaf ears in the courts of justice. Judges know how frivolous some cases can be, including con artists who make up stories and fake injuries. If your building is constantly well-maintained, you have a buffer against bogus or frivolous claims. Even the ne’er-do-well who would scope out your facility as a potential “target” for such a scam may think twice when confronted with this level of diligence.
To summarize, the value of good building maintenance should be clear. Getting this important area of property ownership right should:
- Create an atmosphere of “maintenance consciousness” among your visitors and tenants.
- Result in fewer hazards as well as fewer opportunities to “play the injury card.”
- Help reduce your financial risk.
But… how much building maintenance is enough?
Hiring an On-Site Superintendent
Nothing can help meet your needs for observing and protecting your properties from disrepair better than an on-site superintendent. However, be wary of the use of a “live-in” superintendent when you own residential multifamily properties, like apartment buildings. This is because a super’s value and effectiveness is significantly enhanced if he or she must get a “fresh look” at the property every day, and if the super has a clear line of demarcation between work and non-work hours. While it’s nice having someone there around the clock, the downside of a live-in super is that it’s common for some hazards or unsightly condition to be left untended because they become “familiar aspects of the scenery.”
Needs vary, but don’t assume that all you need is someone with a tool chest and handyman skills. These days, a building superintendent can be a very sophisticated job with great responsibility, especially in a high-end commercial building. If you choose well, a superintendent can coordinate and oversee licensed contractors if building repair or renovation work is more extensive than what he or she can handle alone.
Lower Your Risk and Overall Cost of Building Ownership
Every dollar you invest to maintain your building in a safe, working condition and to quickly repair breakdowns is a dollar you’ve spent wisely. These expenses can lower your risk of financial liability and increase the marketability of your property to new — and possibly even higher paying — tenants.
As the saying goes, “You’re either taking the stairway to the top or you’re taking the escalator to the basement.” For you, this means if you want to build value into your real estate investment, command higher and higher rents, and minimize your vacancy rates… you’re going to have to put in some money and some time.
Calls to Action
1. Ask your real estate consultant or attorney to provide you with a customized detailed risk assessment of each of your properties.
2. Also consult your tax adviser who can help you understand the tax implications of building maintenance expenses.
You will become aware of many ways you can save money in the long run, by playing smarter now and hedging your risk with some carefully planned, current expenditures.
Please contact Tom Bailey via our online contact form for more information.
Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell (CBM) is a professional services firm delivering tax, accounting and business advisory expertise throughout the Mid-Atlantic region from offices in Bethesda, MD and Washington, DC.