Thursday, January 6, 2011

Your Management Company’s Role

If your association employs a highly-qualified professional community manager, residents should know what the manager has—and has not—been hired to do. The manager has two primary responsibilities: to carry out policies set by the board and to manage the association's daily operations.

Some residents expect the manager to perform certain tasks that just aren’t part of the job. When the manager doesn’t meet those expectations, residents naturally are unhappy. Since your happiness is important, here are a few clarifications to give a better understanding of what the manager does.

• The manager is trained to deal with conflict, but he or she will not get involved in quarrels you might be having with your neighbor. However, if association rules are being violated, the manager is the right person to call.

• While the manager works closely with the board, he or she is an advisor—not a member of the board. Also, the manager is not your advocate with or conduit to the board. If you have a concern, send a letter or e-mail directly to the board.

• Although the manager works for the board, he or she is available to residents. That doesn’t mean the manager will drop everything to take your call. If you need to see the manager, call and arrange a meeting. If a matter is so urgent that you need an immediate response, call the association emergency number or 911.

• The manager is always happy to answer questions, but he or she is not the information officer. For routine inquiries, like the date of the next meeting, you should read the newsletter, check the association website and/or bulletin board or contact a board member.

• The manager is responsible for monitoring contractors’ performance, but not supervising them. Contractors are responsible for supervising their own personnel. If you have a problem with a contractor, notify the manager, who will forward your concerns to the board. The board will decide how to proceed under the terms of the contract.

• The manager inspects the community regularly, but even an experienced manager won’t catch everything. Your help is essential. If you know about a potential maintenance issue, report it to the manager.

• The manager does not set policy. If you disagree with a policy or rule, you’ll get better results sending a letter or e-mail to the board than arguing with the manager.

• The manager has a broad range of expertise, but he or she is not a consultant to the residents. Neither is he or she an engineer, architect, attorney or accountant. The manager may offer opinions, but don’t expect technical advice in areas where he or she is not qualified.

• Although the manager is a great resource to the association, he or she is not available 24 hours a day—except for emergencies. Getting locked out of your home may be an emergency to you, but it isn’t an association emergency. An association emergency is defined as a threat to life or property.

Dowling Properties has been managing condo properties in the Near-West Chicago Suburbs for over 25 years. We understand the frustrations and concerns that can arise in a condo community and we are dedicated to helping board members achieve a smoothly operating and successful condominium association. We can help any association through increased communication, guidance and experience. Call us at: 708-771-0880 or visit our website at and see how we can help.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is it Possible for a Board Member to Have a Happy New Year?

As we look at the start of a new year, one can only wonder what life has in store. Nobody has been demonstrably successful at predicting the future but of one thing you can be sure…things will change. There will be some good changes coming and some bad changes coming and how you adapt to them will reflect in how successful you will be in whatever endeavor you are pursuing.

If you are a condo board member, you will be facing some changes that will not only affect you but all of the association members who have chosen you to be their fearless leader. With this in mind, I would venture to guess that some of the changes are going to require you to make decisions that you’d just rather not have responsibility for. You know that some of the residents are not going to be happy and will be wondering “What was the Board thinking?”

Well, I’ve heard said that the key to success is making more correct decisions than wrong ones. The problem is how can you be sure, that in the end, you meet this criterion? One way is to consult with your other board members but if none of you has ever been faced with this particular problem before; your decision might as well be the flip of a coin.

Luckily this is one of those times when an experienced management company can save the day. There are only so many things that can happen in a condo association and if you are looking to solve a problem, there is little doubt that sometime, somewhere, that same problem presented itself to a different association before now. So, consult with your management company, present the problem and listen to what your manager has to say. The manager is not going to make the decision for you because that’s your job but he or she can offer advice based on experiences that you and the other board members haven’t had.

Dowling Properties has been serving condo associations in the Near-West Suburbs for over 25 years. If you are thinking about using a management company or considering a change, let our experience be your guide. Call us at 708-771-0880 and let one of our management specialists assist you and your board with those tough decisions you will no doubt be facing this coming New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Is My Unit so Cold? / Hot?

By Jim Digre

Winter officially arrived today but all of us who live in Chicago know that Ol' Man Winter always comes to the party early and stays longer than appreciated. He's like an obnoxious relative that comes to visit during the Holidays. You know he's coming and you dread his untimely arrival but after a few visits, you learn how to deal with him. Just like your annoying relative though, winter does have some good aspects if you look for them. I mean who can say that a fresh snowfall isn't pretty or that skiing, sledding and ice skating aren't fun activities? However, the primary problem with winter is that it's COLD!

Because many of you condo owners live in buildings that are 60 to 90 years old you run into the problem of keeping a warm and cozy home when the Ol' Man decides to send out Jack Frost to demonstrate how cold he can make it. The building's heating plant and how it works isn't something the average condo resident gives much thought to until it gets seriously cold. Because many of the old condo buildings in the Chicago area still employ steam radiant heating systems and even if there is a new boiler in the building, the problem of proper heat distribution to the various units can be a problem for the association and its residents. Some owners complain of inadequate heat and, when the system is adjusted to better heat their units, others complain that it is too hot. What do you do?

If you've experienced living in a building with a central steam heating plant, you are no doubt familiar with the various noises that this type of system makes. The comforting hiss of air escaping the relief valve (that silver thing mounted on the side of the radiator) and the occasional clanking of the pipes from their expansion and contraction is your indication that the system is running and heating your unit. But, when the clanking of the pipes sounds like someone is beating on them with a hammer or hot water starts to spit and sputter out of the relief valve, the sounds aren't so comforting and something needs to be done. Very loud banging in the pipes is indicative of problems in the system that should be addressed by a qualified and experienced heating expert that knows the ins and outs of steam systems.

As a unit owner though, there are some things that you can do to help yourself if your unit is too hot or cold. If your unit is too hot, there is a simple solution...turn one or two radiators off. Just remember that steam radiators can not be adjusted by turning the valve partially on or off. If you want to create the above mentioned problems partially closing the valve to your radiator will do it! This happens because the steam condenses in the radiator while it is heating your unit and the water needs to flow back out the pipe (in a single pipe system) that the steam came up. A partially closed valve will not allow the water to properly drain from the radiator back to the boiler. When the steam comes back on it has to force its way past the collected water causing those clanking noises. Water collected in the radiator may then be forced out the air relief valve and on to your floors. If water is spitting out the relief valve and the supply valve is completely open then water is collecting in the radiator either because the radiator it clogged or it is tilted away from the supply pipe. Put a level on the top of the radiator and check to see that it is level or slightly tilted towards the supply pipe. If not, put some shims under the legs of the radiator opposite the supply pipe and that should solve the problem. If not, you may need to have the radiator flushed out or replaced.

Radiators that are not heating up when the system is running present a whole different problem. If the air relief valve is not working properly, the air pressure in the radiator will not allow the steam to enter. That is the first thing a unit owner should check after making sure the supply valve is turned on all the way. If you know the boiler has been running for a while and you don't hear the air hissing out of the valve or the valve isn't clicking open and closed, then it needs to be replaced. The valves are easily obtained at companies that service steam systems or your local hardware store. They are not expensive and easy to replace. Just make sure the supply valve is off when you change it or you could receive a serious burn from escaping steam when you remove the valve.

Rather than go into the complexities of a steam system and all the other reasons that a particular unit is not heating properly, I would suggest that the association of any building with a steam plant search out and find a reputable HVAC company that is experienced and knowledgeable in the operation and engineering of steam systems. There are many air vents in a steam system besides the ones on the radiators themselves and checking for their proper operation and sizing can go a long way towards making your steam heat system operate at maximum efficiency and keep everyone warm.

Dowling Properties is in the business of helping condo associations solve day to day operational problems and have been doing so in the near-west suburbs for over 25 years. For information about our services and how we might be of help to your association, please call 708-771-0880 or visit our web site at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Understanding Common Area Drains and Vent Pipes

By: Jim Digre

Hidden behind the walls of every condo owner's unit is a myriad of plumbing pipes. They consist of supply, drain and vent pipes. The supply pipes are the source of hot and cold water to each unit, the drains obviously take away the waste water and the vent pipes serve, in combination with fixture traps, to allow sewer gasses to be vented outside (vents) and keep the gasses from entering the units (traps).

Today I want to talk about common area drains and vents. These pipes typically run vertically and serve the needs of multiple units. They are common area systems and fall under the responsibility of the Association to repair. Keep in mind however, that if the problem is in a pipe branching off of the common pipe and serving only your unit, the repairs are your responsibility.

Since these pipes serve multiple units in any given tier of a building, when there is a problem with either a common vent or drain, it will most likely cause symptoms in more than one unit in the tier. So, if you and your neighbor(s) are both or all experiencing the same problem (slow drains, backups, sewer gas smells, unusual sounds coming from drains), you can be relatively sure that it is a common area pipe or vent that is causing the problem. If this is the case you should contact your board or management company to explain the problem and seek help in getting it fixed.

A clogged common drain will usually cause sink, shower or toilet backups in the units nearest to and above the point of the clog when water is used on the floors above them. If a main drain is clogged below the first floor, the first floor units can sustain serious backup problems when water is in use by multiple units above them. Common area blockages can be caused by many things but are usually the result of non-soluble particulates being put in the drainage system. Rags, construction materials (paint, plaster, etc.), children's toys and anything else you can imagine are the type of things that can cause these clogs. Be aware that although these common pipes are the responsibility of the Association and a shared repair expense for all unit owners, if it is determined that you caused the problem through your own negligence, you may get stuck with a very costly repair bill. Never letting little children play around the toilet nor allowing construction materials to be put into any drain can save you and your neighbors plumbing problems that can be expensive and complicated to repair.

A blocked vent is a relatively common problem caused by anything from leaves, to dead squirrels and birds, to ice dams in very cold weather. Symptoms range from bubbles in the toilet bowl when it is flushed, to slow drainage, and all the way to siphoned (empty) traps and sewer gases entering the building. This happens because vents also serve to balance air pressure in the drain system. A bad vent blockage can cause a vacuum to develop in the drain and some or all of the water in your sink traps and or toilet to be sucked out when someone uses the toilet or fixtures above you. Should you notice fluctuating water levels in your toilet or smell sewer gas in your unit, you should suspect the possibility of a vent problem in the building.

I hope this post has given you a little better understanding of what's going on in the pipes behind your walls.

Dowling Properties has been serving the needs of condo residents for over 25 years. When thinking about a management company consider our experience and expertise and let us guide your association smoothly to a successful future. Call 708-771-0880 or visit our website at:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is this Thing Called Fiduciary Duty?

From time to time you may hear that the board of the association operates in a fiduciary capacity for the homeowners. Or you may read about the board’s fiduciary responsibility in the governing documents. Just exactly what does this mean?

Fiduciary duty simply means the board has an ethical and legal obligation to make decisions in the best interests of the entire association. That’s a small explanation for a very big responsibility.

Fiduciary duty includes a duty of loyalty to the association, which means that board members should never use their position to take advantage of the association. They should never make decisions for the association that benefit themselves at the expense of the association and its members.

Fiduciary duty also includes the duty to exercise ordinary care. This means board members must perform their duties in good faith and in a manner they believe to be in the best interest of the association, with such care as an ordinary prudent person in a similar position under similar circumstances would use.

In short, boards must act in the best interests of the association and act reasonably.

Board members fulfill their fiduciary duty by:

 Developing and using a formal budgeting process

 Establishing and adhering to budgetary guidelines

 Making sure the budgeting process reflects the wishes of the association members

 Promoting understanding and acceptance of the reserve accounts among the members

 Collecting sufficient fees to adequately operate the association

 Soliciting bids and negotiating appropriate contracts

 Authorizing expenditures

Friday, December 3, 2010

Assessments as Important as Mortgages and Taxes

When you sit down to pay your bills each month, do you consider your association assessment a low priority? If so, think again.

According to the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) Guide to Surviving Debt, “Condo fees…should be considered a high priority.” In fact, NCLC considers community association assessments in the same category as mortgage payments and real estate taxes—a category ranked second only to feeding your family—according to the Guide’s “Sixteen Rules about Which Debts to Pay First.”

Assessments pay for services like building maintenance, snow removal, water & sewer, heat (in many cases), landscaping, refuse collection and cleaning that you would pay no matter where you lived—either as direct out-of-pocket expenses or indirectly in a higher rent payment. The association, however, has collective buying power, so when all services and utilities for everyone in the community are passed along to you as a monthly assessment, you’re actually getting a bargain.

So, next time you get out your checkbook, remember to put your assessment near the top of that stack of bills. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Running for the Board—Do You Have What it Takes?

If you’re considering running for your association board, take a few moments to ask yourself the following three questions:

Do I have the time?
As a board member, you will need to devote at least several hours of your time each month to association business. In addition to regular monthly board meetings, you will need to be active in email discussions and occasional special meetings. During special projects, you may need to spend a little extra time on association business. Some board members may also spend a little more time than others if they work with a committee

Can I make tough decisions when it’s required?
The primary role of the board is to conduct the business of the association. This doesn’t just mean approving the budget, but also developing and enforcing policies. Board members are required to step outside their immediate circle of family and neighbors and make decisions based on the greater good of the community.

Can I do all this and have fun, too?
It isn’t all about policies and tough decisions. Our community is only as good as we make it, and establishing and maintaining a sense of community is a part of a board member’s responsibility. Planning and attending functions such as our picnics and being a presence in the community are as important as any policy decisions you may make.

Being a board member can be frustrating at times, but it may also be one of the most rewarding ways you’ll find to volunteer your time. If you’re interested in running for the board or would like more details about board’s responsibilities, please contact the manager or a current board member.