One of the biggest perks of modern multifamily living is the all-inclusive, amenity-rich building or HOA. Depending on your own building’s offerings, you can go to the gym, swim, have a spa treatment, entertain your kids in the community playroom, or even take in a movie. When you add in food delivery services, work-from-home arrangements, and Netflix, you don’t really have to leave the building if you don’t want to.
Keeping amenities well maintained is crucial to retaining their value and protecting the safety of those who use them – but that maintenance goes beyond just keeping the floors swept and the lights on. What about hygiene? Is the spa as clean as you would like to believe? Is the children’s playroom a real-life petri dish? Is the screening room a stopover for bed bugs or roaches?
Insuring the Best Conditions
Gail Hamilton is the New York City director and partner with Professional Fitness Management, a firm that manages building amenities in the greater New York/New Jersey and Washington D.C. markets. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field and has worked all over the continental U.S. “For each facility,” she says, “you want to make sure there is adequate signage with the rules and regulations, disclaimers, emergency procedures and contact personnel displayed inside the facility. For instance, ‘slippery when wet’ around pool areas and in shower areas. Things that reduce risk to the property and personnel should be posted and clearly understandable. There should also be training in place for any on-site personnel.”
Vincent Rapolla, a property manager at 77 Hudson Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, a 420-unit high-rise condominium building, says: “The top priority is to maintain a safe, hygienic environment.” One of the means his team uses to accomplish that is a system of sign-offs to keep track of what’s going on in the association’s various amenity areas – particularly the pool and health club. Done by the maintenance staff, the sign-offs keep track of what safety and hygiene measures where completed, and at what time. “This way I can always tell our clients with certainty that we are keeping the facility in top shape,” he says.
Pools and Spas
“Pools, saunas, and so forth are known as ‘bathing establishments,’” in industry lingo, says Hamilton. “And a bathing establishment comes under the auspices of the Department of Health in New York City. There are approximately 15 signage bullet points pertaining to pool safety and hygiene. There are four [inspection] cycles per year, and city inspectors come around unannounced. A pool has to be permitted, and once the pool is permitted, the permit goes to the Department of Health, which then comes and does an inspection. If you don’t have any violations, they come back about every three months or so. If you do have a violation, and you can correct it on the spot, they don’t close you down – but if you can’t, they will close you down on the spot. When you rectify the issue, they will return and re-inspect within a few weeks.”
In Nevada, where the weather is favorable to outdoor pool facilities, a slightly different approach must be taken to keeping conditions hygienic. “Indoor pools need ventilation,” says Anthony Cox, a representative for Summer Time Pools of Henderson, Nevada. “Obviously, outdoor pools don’t.” This has mainly to do with the smell of chemicals used to treat the water, Cox explains. Often indoor pools will use bromine for antibacterial protection, and outside pools will use chlorine. “The main contaminant in either case is from users,” says Cox. “It’s from people – things like suntan lotion – and not from the environment. There are two contaminants though that are more common in outdoor pools: algae, and sand and dust. Outdoor pools must be cleaned with filtering systems to eliminate the dust. These filtering systems should be changed every two to five years.”
Saunas and Steam Rooms
Hamilton cautions that the issue in steam rooms and saunas is more about safety than cleanliness, in most situations. Inspectors are seeking to make sure that temperature controls are working properly – because heat can kill. If the controls aren’t accurate, that’s a major risk – both to anyone using the facility, and to the building or association in terms of liability. Alarms have to be functioning and fully operational. Signage is required, as are working temperature gauges. You don’t want anyone to roast, poach or steam to death.
Gyms and Fitness Rooms
Dan Wollman, CEO of Gumley-Haft, a co-op and condo management firm located in Manhattan, says they have gyms in about 25 of the buildings they manage. “In small gyms in residential buildings,” he says, “with say, less than 12 pieces of equipment, there aren’t any regular inspections.” The gyms in his buildings are also unstaffed, as they are neither large nor busy enough to require full-time attendants. “The gyms are cleaned twice a day by the buildings’ maintenance staff,” he says. “Gyms tend to be busy early in the morning, from say 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., then not again till late in the afternoon into the evening. We clean once in the late morning, and once in the later evening. We have a machine called a Duprey machine, which is a ‘green’ product. It cleans and disinfects at the same time with superheated water which reaches 212 degrees. As one of my supers says, ‘No one is allergic to water.’ These facilities often have security cameras as well, not to spy on the residents, but rather for security and emergencies, to alert the front desk in the event of a problem.”
Children’s Play Spaces
Kids are a blessing, but they’re also kind of messy. Fun as they are, it doesn’t take long for a children’s play area to quickly become a petri dish of bacteria and other biohazards. To prevent the spread of illness and infection among young residents (and their adult caregivers), “all toys should be wiped down every day with disinfecting and sanitizing solution,” says Hamilton. This should be done by the building staff, but parents should do it, too. “There should be sanitizing wipes all over the playroom as well,” she adds. “Changing tables should be set off at the far end of the rooms.” Buildings can adopt a policy of not allowing sick children to enter common play areas, but these policies are determined on a building-by-building basis.
“There are general rules,” says Wollman, “but we don’t tell parents how to raise their children. At 1125 Park, for instance, they have both gym and playroom rules. We ask that residents clean up after their children and that they not have parties in the playroom. We also use the Duprey machine in the playroom. It cleans everything and anything.”
Rapolla says that while they don’t have a specific policy to keep sick kids out of the playroom at 77 Hudson, they do what they can to keep the playroom hygienic. They got rid of all the small toys, and wipe down everything a couple of times a day. He relates a story of one resident who accused them of keeping a dirty playroom after her grandchild became sick following a visit. Rapolla showed her the sign-off logs building staff uses to keep track of cleaning and hygiene, as well as the products they used. That satisfied the resident, who backed off her accusations.
Rapolla says his building allows light snacking in its movie screening room, and that maintenance staff does a thorough cleaning of the space every week. An exterminator visits once a month. The local fire department does a walk through once a year, and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) also inspects once every five years to make sure all the smoke alarms are working.
However, Hamilton says: “The trend is away from screening rooms.” That said, she recommends that if your building has one – or wants to put one in – give a great deal of thought to the materials used, from flooring to seat upholstery. Install anti-bacterial and anti-fungal products on the floors, and walls and seat covers can make it significantly easier to maintain a clean, hygienic environment.
Liability or Amenity?
Jeff Turk is a partner in the law firm of Turk & Quijano, located in Braintree, Massachusetts. According to him: “Associations are not the guarantors of the unit owners’ health and safety on the property. Rather, they are bound by the standards of negligence for most claims. In other words, they are required to exercise a reasonable degree of care to persons lawfully on the property. In relation to pools, spas, and other such amenities, they have an obligation to use reasonable care to ensure that the systems are safe and properly maintained. This standard is usually met by retaining a professional company to test and care for the amenity. It is also a good idea to be sure that your contract with such providers contains an indemnity to the association in the event there is any violation of law or unsafe condition which causes damages.
“Maintaining good records on maintenance and service is also crucial,” Turk continues. “Such records will often assist in defeating claims by either showing that the association had no knowledge of a defect, or that the system was in compliance with all laws and regulations. Finally, a recurring claim we are seeing is for mold-related injuries from air quality and, more recently, from humid areas such as pools and hot tubs. Since one of the primary issues in such cases is to prove that the alleged damages arose from our equipment rather than from other sources, maintaining good records relating to cleaning and treatment is extremely important to defeat such claims.”
Finally, if your association is considering putting in a gym, spa, or other amenity package, here is some expert advice: “If you’re going to put in a gym,” says Wollman, “put in one with adequate equipment. The space has to be well equipped enough for the residents to actually use it.”
Hamilton adds: “Be careful. Hire a professional to design the facility and plan it out.” In the end, there’s no point in spending the money if it won’t improve your residents’ lives and raise the values of their units.
A J Sidransky is a staff writer/reporter with The Nevada Cooperator, and a published novelist.