Maintenance and Repairs

March 30, 2022 Published by London and Area Chapter - By Justin Tudor, Jennifer Dickenson

The Little Manager that Couldn’t

From the CCI Review 2021/2022-3 March 2022 issue of the CCI London Chapter

This is the fable of the well-intentioned Condominium Manager who made all the wrong choices in Project Management:

Once upon a time, there was a condominium manager, who awoke everyday with purpose and drive to make their communities run without the boards or the owners having to fret or fuss. This young Hero felt that condominium managers typically did not take enough of a hands-on role with their buildings and communities.

It all started when the board and our Hero discussed the corridor refurbishment planned in the upcoming Reserve Fund Study. The board wanted to paint the common walls red and replace the corridor wallpaper.

Never having done a project like this before, our Hero treated the painting and wallpaper replacement as the goal of the project and met with a couple of contractors on site to obtain pricing.

First mistake: Ignoring the vision of the project of corridor refurbishment and seeing only the tasks of painting and wallpaper replacement.

TIP: Consult (or hire) a designer. There are benefits.

The contractors were helpful for discussing potential scope. Responses varied from “Here’s your price” to “Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll price it”. In these discussions, it became apparent that the aging carpets should be replaced at the same time.

Second mistake: not realizing that the lights mounted in the corridor would have to come down to replace the wallpaper.

TIP: Create a scope of work with the help of a designer or manager who has completed this type of project before. Look at all of the elements as you stand in the location, with the contractors who are bidding, allowing questions to be asked by all parties.

When our Hero returned to the board with the scope of work, Jane Q. Boardmember asked if they could include the wallpaper they recently saw installed at the new condo down the street. “Of course,” said our Hero, who then diligently sourced the wallpaper for inclusion in the scope of work.

Third mistake: not considering that this wallpaper was made of gold-plated rhinoceros’ horns and was 4 times the price of what was existing.

It’s at this point that the narrator decides to stop numbering our Hero’s mistakes and decides to let the train wreck unfold without judgment.

Our Hero sent out a 7-line email to multiple contractors to ask for pricing on the project. Timelines for providing the price or completing the work were not defined. Some material was specified (wallpaper) and some was left up to the contractor’s judgment (types and sheen of paint).

Our Hero reached out to their network and received various references for contractors to invite. The board also requested Joe Wallpaper (the building handyman) to submit a price. The contractors submitted pricing on different days, and our Hero, rather than collecting them all, sent them to the board as they arrived. Jane Q. Boardmember, casually mentioned to Joe Wallpaper that they were still waiting for his proposal, and that she hoped he would be cheaper than the bids they currently had.

TIP: It is more ethical and can even cause reason for legal challenge if you do not collect and distribute the quotes at the same time.

JW relied on an old staple that wasn’t in his bAs the scope of work was open to contractor proposals (rather than filing out a form for a set price), when all the quotes came in, they varied in formality from letters to 2-line emails. Our Hero made calls to all 5 bidders to ensure that the contractor had understood the scope. Similarly, the cost varied widely. The lowest bid was recognized as too low to have properly considered the fancy and more expensive wallpaper.

As Joe Wallpaper was the low quote (that we readers know was too low), our Hero recommended the board proceed with him for this work.

TIP: The lowest bid should not be accepted without confirming, in writing that the scope is properly accounted for.

Despite their lack of formality to this point, our Hero did not forget to issue a formal PO Instead of including the notes from their email scope of work, however, they issued the PO based on the wording of the 2-line email that Mr. Wallpaper provided in his quote (notable missing term: former rhinoceros-based wall coverings).

Joe Wallpaper accepted the PO and asked for a 20% deposit to get the project moving. This surprised our Hero, as a deposit was not considered as part of this project and they were forced to scramble to get the deposit paid. They asked for clarification from Joe Wallpaper as to why this was only being brought up after the PO was issued. Mr. Wallpaper did not provide any, and the manager did not follow up.

TIP: Define the payment schedule in either the Request for Quote or in the PO, if it is not defined in the quote.

Our Hero had worked with contractors before and knew some basics. They asked JW to submit all start up documents but JW submitted an expired WSIB insurance certificate and a liability certificate that did not name the condo or CM as additionally insured. Our Hero, unsurprisingly, did not notice.

TIP: Include required document list in PO and make them required for payment.

JW, knowing that he was going to perform demolition on an older building, and that some older plaster could contain asbestos, requested a Designated Substance Report. Through good luck, the corridors’ DSR came back as not containing asbestos, however obtaining the report delayed the start of the project by 2 weeks, because it wasn’t done in advance.

On the first day of the project, JW mentioned that the lights would have to be removed and reinstated to replace the wallpaper and indicated an electrician would be required to perform the work and that this was not included in their bid. Although our Hero felt that it should have been obvious that the lights needed to be removed and reinstated to replace the wallpaper, they did not explicitly ask for it in their documents. They capitulated to Mr. Wallpaper and asked for a price to remove and reinstate the lights.

Our narrator takes a deep sigh, a long sip of bourbon, knowing exactly what’s coming, and carries on.

The board freaked out at the price, frustrated that the lights were not included in the bid, and blamed our Hero for not including them. The Board immediately tried to control these costs and instructed our Hero to have the building electrical contractor, Shocks Inc. provide the work directly to the corporation to save on overhead mark-ups.

Unbeknownst to our Hero , the Ministry of Labour considered the Condominium the constructor in charge of health and safety whenever JW and Shocks Inc. worked in the same area. Our Hero avoided danger and fines this time, but an inspection from MOL or an injury on site could have led to fines and liability to our Hero and the Corporation.

TIP: It only takes a call from one owner to bring the MOL to site. Check requirements before starting projects with more than one contractor here.

Predictably, Joe Wallpaper installed the wrong wallpaper throughout the first floor. Our Hero had not arranged for a mock-up of a small area so that everyone could see what they were getting, and the incorrect material wasn’t noticed until JW started on the second floor. id (and not reflected in the PO). Despite this, our Hero begged, pleaded and referenced the original email where they asked for the fancy wallpaper to be included. JW relented begrudgingly.

TIP: Include the requirement for a mock-up in the RFQ and PO, as this is the easiest way to catch a mistake.

Joe Wallpaper continued with the project; however, the issues continued to multiply. Invoices were irregular and erratic, but they were under total project costs quoted. Our Hero forwarded them for payment to the Board, while committing the cardinal sin of construction payments in Ontario: they didn’t holdback 10% (Gasp!). Over the course of the project, our Hero missed that the contractor was front-end loading the project, leaving only 15% of contract value to complete the last half of the work.

TIP: Hold-backs not only protect the Corporation from construction liens, they provide leverage to ensure completion/performance.

Halfway through the project, the ground floor wallpaper started to peel off. JW touched up the seams, but the owners also started to point out that there were minor defects everywhere. The board sent out a notice to all owners, asking them to report any defects in the project to our Hero, who then spent the next several weeks reading through hundreds of pages of issues. Tired and worn out, our Hero began to forward the complaints to JW without reviewing them.

JW sent an email to all the board members, and started replying to owners directly, that their complaints were unreasonable. He stopped showing up to site as diligently, the project slowed considerably and no longer picked up the phone when our Hero called.

In a 3rd act twist, Joe Wallpaper didn’t actually install the wallpaper and had subcontracted that aspect of the work. JW’s wallpaperer, Jim’s Flooring, wasn’t paid for months and decided to lien the project. As a holdback fund was not created, there was no pot to deal with liens quickly. With the contractor not on site, overpaid, and non-responsive the board engaged a lawyer to wind up the contract. The limited PO was not very helpful to establish how the contract should have been cancelled and how the board could hold the Joe Wallpaper accountable.

TIP: Create a file for each project in your email or computer. Keep all correspondence easily accessible for reference and even rename subject lines for easy searching.

The board reached out to the second lowest bidder to finish the project and touch up JW’s work at a premium.

When the sun set on our project, our Hero learned that you truly “don’t know what you don’t know” and “the lowest bidder is not always the cheapest option”. Upon completion our corridor refurbishment project was 4 times over budget and a year behind schedule.

Set yourself up for success with steps we’ve learned from the mistakes above:
1. Be involved but hire a qualified consultant
2. Communicate frequently, in writing, with the consultant and the Board, focussing on timelines, budget and ensuring follow-ups completed.
3. Document, document, document. 

Justin Tudor, P.Eng., is President and Partner of Keller Engineering. His specialty is in building restoration design, building envelope design, and is a multi-discipline project coordinator, project management.

Jennifer Dickenson, BSC (Hons), RCM, LCCI is a condominium manager with Dickenson Condo Management.
She was elected to the CCI Board in 2016 and currently serves as the President of the London and Area Chapter.


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