Out of Sight – Out of Mind

I’ve spent the past two days without electricity, heat, cell phone or internet.  A cold front, pushing wind gusts of up to 50 mph blew through and damaged some power lines.  This is the third time this year, and about the 60th time since I’ve lived here, that I’ve gone more than a day without power.  It’s easy to figure out why this is happening.  Just looking outside I can see the utility poles, leaning in all directions, overloaded with lines of all kinds.  They’re original poles, 60+ years, and many of the lines are no longer in use, but were simply left when new lines were run.  Someone driving by, sneezing out their car window, could take out one of the lines or poles.  This is basic, necessary infrastructure, and like too many things these days, has been ignored by everyone for years.  Given the growing economic need for electricity and communications, one would think more attention would be paid to this issue, but since that would cost money, utility companies have long figured out that its easier to put up with the aggravation of people who have lost power, than to correct the problem. As long as they are not held liable for the damages, they have no incentive to move the lines underground, where weather and other dangers can’t easily reach them.

Unfortunately, condo and homeowner associations don’t have that luxury.  The association is usually responsible for the utility infrastructure once it enters association controlled property.  Maybe not all of it, but certainly some of it.  What is even a greater problem, is that most associations have no idea of just what that entails.  What do I mean?  Let me ask a few questions:

  • Do you have accurate site plans detailing the actual placement of:
  1. Electrical lines
  2. Sewage lines
  3. Storm water lines
  4. Gas Lines
  5. Water lines
  6. Communication (phone/cable) lines
  • How do you know the site plans are accurate?
  • Do you know where the utility/municipal/association/owner responsibility points are?
  • Do you know what materials those lines are made of?
  • Do you know their life expectancy?
  • Do you know their current condition?
  • Are any of these items included in your reserve plan?

I’d be surprised if you could answer any of these questions, and yet, the association will bear some, if not all, of the responsibility for their maintenance and eventual replacement.  Reserve plans often don’t include those items that can’t be seen, such as underground systems.

Take a moment and think about what it would cost and what would be involved, to replace any of the above items.  The actual location would have to be found, common areas would be dug up, new lines run, connections made and grounds restored, not to mention the problems of owners without power/cable/heat/water, etc.

These items need to be a part of your reserve plan, and if they aren’t, then talk to the company that did your reserve study to see how it might be done.  Set up an infrastructure committee to find the original site plans, and then run some tests to see how accurate they might be.  In the process, work out the answers to those questions above, and then incorporate them into your reserve plan.  Don’t wait for a catastrophic failure to find out you really should have set some money aside for something you should have know was coming.

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