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Steel Porches, Building Maintenance and Condominium Assessments

Today, while riding the Red Line L into work, I was struck by how many steel porches are rusting on Condominium Buildings.  About ten years ago, a porch collapsed in Lincoln Park.  The porch was in adequate condition by porch standards of the day, but it was pushed past its limit with nearly 100 people crammed on a porch designed for about 5 people.  Unfortunately for the owners of the building, several people were killled…and guess what, they were wealthy and politically connected.  The result: the new Chicago Porch Ordinance and the witch hunt against landlords and condominium associations to upgrade their porches.

The good news: Chicago has some great porches that are much safer than ordinarily found.  The bad news: many of the condominium conversions of the housing boom now have strong but rusty steel porches.  I remember the ballyhoo of developers discussing how great these “premium”steel porches would be.  Practically no maintenance, incredibly strong and panacea for anyone wishing to avoid the costly replacement of wood porches.

Well, think again.  Steel rusts.  And it rusts really well.  In fact, rust typically starts forming immediately after a painted steel surface is exposed to moisture.  So guess what? – you need to do regular maintenance on these porches, such a sanding, painting and testing the integrity of rusting areas.

Example:

In 1999, Developer converted 12 unit apartment building to 6 condominiums.  Each unit has “miraculously” only paid $150 per month for their assessments which are to cover primarily condominium association insurance and miscellaneous expenses.  The association does not reserve money and has not ever had an increase in assessments.  Since 1999, all of the original owners have sold and moved out with only second or third generation owners present.  The “new” roof is now over 10 years old, there have been reports of small leaks onto the ceilings of the top floor units.  Also, the “deluxe” steel porches prominently featured in the original advertisement for the condominium development have worked out well for 3 units and poorly for the other 3 units.  Apparently the porches don’t all drain outward, leaving puddles after rainstorms.  After ten years, 3 units have consistently rusty areas that really need to be fixed.  The owners are angry but can’t get the association to fix these rusty spots as this is “unnecessary.”

Solution:

Automatically raise assessment 15% each year in the budget regardless of whether the membership thinks this is a good idea to get assessments more in line passively over the next few years.   Propose a modest one-time special assessment for porch maintenance involving sanding and painting and, if the areas are significantly corroded, have an engineer prepare a report indicating that now replacement of the deck is necessary.  Then increase reserves to at least 10% of budget for the current year – this will make the association FHA compliant.  With good maintenance a steel porch can last indefinitely, but unlike treated wood, constant small amounts of maintenance are necessary.

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