Preserving Institutional Memory Your Building's Past Provides Valuable Information

Preserving Institutional Memory

One of the most common problems in co-op and condo management is the failure of building boards and staff to maintain accurate and accessible records of the past performance and activities within the building. Recording the minutes of board meetings and maintaining financial records, a list of on-going contracts, a history of individual apartment repairs and a log of parts and equipment replacement can go a long way in facilitating any future changes in building personnel or management.

Lack of Records Can Cost Thousands

Too often, new board members and new managing agents come on board only to find no documentation and are forced to start all over again from square one. In many cases, this can mean a slow-down in operations and can even cost thousands of dollars in unnecessary repairs, project delays or redundant work.

Few co-ops and condos have an efficient system in place to record and file these types of information. As a result, incoming board members and managers rarely get the background they need. In some cases, they simply fail to examine existing documents, while in others the documentation does not exist at all or is so disorganized that it is too time-consuming to employ.

Transitions from one board or manager to another can be simplified enormously by passing on a documented building history at the time of the changeover. This institutional memory can play a very important role in how your building operates into the future. The main areas that require documentation are board and management actions, finances, contracts and warranties, individual apartment histories and parts and equipment.

A locked file cabinet in the building, accessible only by the super, the board president and the manager, is a good place to store these documents. (Copies should also be filed in the manager's office). At each board meeting, timely records should be pulled out and looked over to be sure that the manager is on top of things.

Don't Overlook Board Minutes

The most important document in a co-op or condo is the minutes taken at board meetings. These notes record every significant action taken by the board and every decision the board votes on. In short, the minutes are the key to what has transpired within the building in the past. All too often boards are not aware of significant decisions and/or precedents made years before because the minutes are too cumbersome to refer to and are therefore ignored.

One good way to organize past minutes is to set up an index alphabetized by topic. This quick, handy reference guide can be easily used by the present board and managing agent to find out if decisions have already been made on a matter of current interest, what precedents have been established, what policies have to be acted upon or reaffirmed periodically, and other significant historic data. Key titles would include apartment sales, sublets, complaints, contracts, legal actions, and so on.

Contracts and Warranties

In addition to referring to the minutes when it comes to contracts, a second set of records should be developed itemizing all major physical plant items and repair projects along with corresponding warranties and contracts. The log should list the job or installation, date of completion, company or individual employed, cost of contract, type and length of warranty. If an annual premium is paid towards an extended warranty or service contract, the service company, annual cost and date of renewal should be listed. Copies of this document should be in the hands of the superintendent, managing agent and the board president so they can verify that renewal premiums are paid.

Apartment History Log

A comprehensive apartment-by-apartment log should also be maintained, recording repairs and problems as well as any complaints received from, or made against, the occupant. This provides the present and future superintendent and managing agent with a history of each apartment, giving insight into any potential problems that may arise in the future. Repairs should be indicated with the date, a subcontractor if one was used, and a complete description of the repair.

This apartment history is important not only to track what has been done, but also to detect possible negligence on the part of the apartment owner. For example, if an extraordinary amount of snaking out plumbing pipes has to be done, a superintendent may relate it to carelessness on the part of the resident. In addition, noise or other complaints recorded against the resident might be significant for any future legal action.

Tracking Tools

Superintendents buy tools and equipment for their buildings, yet most do not keep proper inventory records of what they purchase or what was on hand when they first came on staff. When they leave, the cycle is repeated; the new superintendent comes in and there is no assurance that tools and equipment previously purchased are turned over to him. Collectively, co-ops and condos lose thousands of dollars each year through this lack of inventory control.

Step number one is for each building to take inventory of its tools and equipment, and record it in a property book. The entry should include what the item is, when it was purchased, the purchase price, the source of purchase, and a signature acknowledging it was received. The property book should only contain information about permanent tools and equipment and not disposable products such as cleansers and washers (which should be logged in a separate record book).

Initially, the superintendent should do a line-by-line inventory to certify that everything listed is on the premises. The managing agent should, on a regular basis, confirm that new items purchased are entered in the book. Once a year, a full inventory should take place to confirm that everything in the book is on hand. It should be conducted jointly by the superintendent and managing agent.

The key inventory, of course, would take place when there is a change of superintendents. The new superintendent would have to do a line-by-line inventory to confirm what is being turned over to him, and then sign off on its acceptance.

While keeping records does take time, in the long run it will actually save time and money. The board, managing agent and superintendent will be able to operate more efficiently because of the information on hand, and board members will have an easier time performing their oversight responsibilities. No longer will tools and equipment disappear and have to be reordered. And above all, when it comes time to switch managing agents or when a new board is elected, there will be a complete record on hand of the building's history, finances and equipment. Over all, such record-keeping stands to save your building a huge amount of time and money.

Edgar Falk, the former president of his Manhattan cooperative, has assisted cooperatives in developing information and communications programs. He is president of Ed Falk Communications.

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