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HOA Emergencies: What to Do

HOA emergencies happen. Often, they are and non-dramatic– when was the last time Hollywood made a movie about a leaky bathtub?  Most HOAs and/or management companies maintain an emergency line, on-call to respond to urgent, pressing issues that cannot wait until business hours. We hope you never have to deal with a fire or water leak, but the following list can help you determine if what you are dealing with requires immediate attention, how to respond, and some insight into what management and vendors face on in serving HOAs.

  1. Stay Calm: We’ve all been there – emergencies are unexpected and stressful. Most, while urgent, are not so pressing that we can’t take that moment to calm down and take stock. Before I came to CAP, I worked for 10 years at a community beach and dealt with several emergency situations. With kids and parents involved, staying calm was the most important and hardest thing to do.  However, that panicked parent looking for their child needed someone to be calm and collected for them and to address the situation effectively.
  2. Know What an HOA Emergency Is: We think all HOA issues are important, which is why we dedicate working hours to solving them. Emergencies are events that need immediate attention – someone getting stuck in an elevator, a pipe pushing out gallons of water per second, heat not working while it is 10 degrees outside – situations like this rise to the level of needing emergency attention. Other issues fall into a grey area: can a small leak wait until Monday for an inspection or is it a larger issue inside the wall? These are judgment calls that don’t have a clear-cut answer.  A general rule is that if it is not going to cause immediate, irreparable damage or causing you to not be able to use your unit, or danger, it can probably wait for normal working hours. Emergencies mean spending many HOA resources and money to address: a water leak can be the most expensive cost of the year.
  3. Assess the situation: I frequently manage the emergency pager, and putting the situation together is always the first part of the challenge. The more info the caller has, the faster and more efficiently I can help. The first thing to assess is whether the situation is safe – are there live wires nearby? Is there potential for a fire? Is anybody injured or at risk of being injured? These are simple items but can easily get lost as you respond. The next thing to determine is what kind of issue you have on your hands: if it is a leak, where is it coming from? How long has the power been out? Is it localized or just affecting your unit? This type of info will help a responder assist the HOA and/or owners more quickly and more efficiently.
  1. Know Your HOA: As a homeowner, it’s not your responsibility to know where things like water shutoffs are located, but it is helpful. Consider familiarizing yourself with your home and surrounding common elements. If you live in a condo or townhome, familiarize yourself with the locations of things like water shutoffs, fuse boxes, crawlspaces, and more. These spaces are often access points to where work can be done or places that could indicate what kind of problem you are facing.
  2. Act: If you have a property emergency on your hands, such as a leak, it’s time to call the emergency line.  That’s what we’re here for. Even if it is not an HOA responsibility, we can point you in the right direction. How to know when to call management? A good rule to follow is – if it is inside the walls of your unit or is an item that serves your unit exclusively, it is probably your responsibility to manage.  Outside the walls or with items that serve multiple units, your HOA can most likely assist. If it is an immediate danger to life, such as a fire or a person looking to harm you or others, it’s time to call fire or police services.
  3. The Issue of Cost:  Another way to determine if an issue is either emergent or urgent is if you are thinking about the cost to repair. True emergencies need to be dealt with, cost aside.  Of course, cost and who pays are important issues but if the cost of a repair is coming up in the course of trying to get immediate help, it probably isn’t a true emergency and can be dealt with during regular business hours.  Basically, if you are haggling about the price and who is going to foot the bill, the emergency pager is not the place to have that conversation and indicates that perhaps this isn’t something that rises to the level of needing immediate, after hours, attention.  You can determine whose responsibility it is ultimately later on, after the emergency is addressed.