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What You Should Know About Going Green - December 2016

You may have thought about incorporating green components into renovation or new construction projects, as green building is a growing trend. Many property owners are joining the green movement as a way to lower energy costs and make their buildings more attractive to potential tenants. In addition, green building is becoming increasingly more difficult to avoid because federal, state and municipal governments are starting to mandate it for new residential construction.

Beyond green construction initiatives, there are several smaller but meaningful ways that you can incorporate efficiency and sustainability into the properties you manage.

Green Construction Standards

If you are thinking of updating your buildings or beginning new construction with green techniques, it is important that you are aware of federal green building standards.

In the United States, the dominant standard is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating, which is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. Commercial buildings that are LEED certified not only have lower operating costs and provide a healthier, safer environment for occupants, they also allow the owner to qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives. In addition, owners of LEED-certified green buildings receive a reputational boost, as they are publically demonstrating their commitment to the environment and their social responsibility.

The interesting thing to note about LEED ratings is that contractors and builders have a large amount of latitude on how they reach the certification. LEED does not specify what kinds of technologies or green components must be used to reach each level, and aside from the established prerequisites, points need not be attained in certain combinations. That means two buildings with identical point totals and LEED status may use completely different strategies, techniques and technologies to attain unique green results. One may excel in innovation and the other may focus on sustainability, but they both could ultimately achieve the same status.

Hiring a Builder

LEED ratings are important to understand so that you ensure you are getting what you expect when engaging in a green building project. The contracting company you hire should have experience designing and building up to LEED standards. Ask for references and examples of past work that is similar to what you are requesting.

Be wary of a contractor who promises something that seems impossible to deliver on given your budget and time restraints. A common problem in the green building arena is that the end result may not actually meet LEED standards or provide the energy efficiency and savings that was expected. This is due to the newer nature of the green construction field, and contractors who think they can deliver something that turns out to be unreasonable or impossible. Do plenty of research before choosing a contractor.

Protect Yourself

This may seem obvious, but it is essential that everything is put in contractual form when working with a contractor. That way, if the job is not completed according to your specifications or up to the standards promised by the contractor, you can hold that contractor liable. Green building is quite expensive, so you want to be sure you get the proper return on your investment. You may want to also make sure your contractor and sub-contractors are properly insured in case of a future problem.

Other Green Initiatives

If you are not ready to commit to a green construction project, or even if you are, there are also other ways that you can promote green strategies in the properties you manage:

  • Make recycling the standard at your property. Simply providing recycling bins for residents isn’t enough—you need to educate and encourage their use. Educate your tenants about the different materials that can be recycled and provide bins for each separate material. You may also consider providing an area to recycle batteries and ink cartridges.
  • Education should go beyond what is and isn’t recyclable and focus on the importance of being environmentally friendly.
  • Consider offering areas for tenants to recycle other unwanted items, like clothing or shoes. You can then donate those items to a local charity.
  • Install energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances in your buildings, whenever feasible.
  • Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products.
  • If you control the heating and air conditioning in your buildings, keep it at a more moderate temperature and be sure to replace filters regularly.
  • Run lawn sprinklers for less time each day, and use automatic lighting systems for community areas.
  • Switch to a paperless billing system and offer online services for paying rent.

Conducting a Condo or HOA Site Inspection - November 2016

Regular property inspections are an important part of managing condominium or homeowners association (HOA) risks. Thorough inspections increase the safety and well-being of homeowners, protect property values, and reduce the risk of costly repairs and lawsuits.

Why should HOAs conduct regular inspections?

Conducting inspections regularly keeps an HOA on top of security risks, as well as maintenance and building problems. A thorough inspection should do the following:

  • Increases the safety, health and welfare of all association members and guests: Regular inspections ensure your HOA community is a safe place to live. One significant area of liability for HOAs is slip-and-fall accidents, which indicate the need for frequent inspections of sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and roadways throughout the property. Surfaces should be inspected for uneven and free of snow and ice during cold weather.
  • Identifies problem areas before they get worse: If deterioration of common amenities is detected early, it could save the HOA money if repairs are made before the damage becomes even more costly.

Different seasons bring different property risks. Season-specific inspections—such as checking chlorine levels in an outdoor pool during summer, leaf buildup in eaves and gutters in the fall and sidewalks for ice in winter—should be done along with regular inspections. Inspections show an HOA’s insurance carrier that it is proactive in addressing exposures and reducing loss.

Can an HOA inspect a homeowner’s unit?

Shared amenities—parking lots, pools and the clubhouse—are the usual places to inspect, but there may be instances where homeowners are violating rules on their individual properties. Sometimes the rule violation simply has to do with maintaining the aesthetics of the property as stated in the bylaws; but other violations pose serious health and wellness issues or other costly risks to the HOA. For example, if the condominium is a nonsmoking building and some residents choose to smoke in their units, they create a potential fire hazard for all homeowners.

The media has recently drawn increased attention to hoarding behaviors and the dangerous health and environmental problems hoarders can pose for themselves and those around them. This may also be an issue of concern for your HOA.

However, an HOA cannot enter a homeowner’s private unit to investigate potential violations or conduct inspections without his or her permission, unless due to an emergency. In some cases, the HOA may have to obtain a court order, which could be difficult, as the HOA must show probable cause as to why the residence must be entered.

What is the property manager’s role in inspections?

An HOA property manager is responsible for carrying out site inspections according to a schedule determined by the bylaws or the HOA board. Not only do they conduct formal inspections, but they serve as the HOA’s eyes and ears, finding and correcting hazards, and ensuring members and their guests follow the rules for both individual properties and shared amenities.

If your HOA does not have a property manager, the board or another appointed person should conduct the inspections. Keep in mind that inspections should always be fair, especially when it comes to individual homeowners’ properties.

Six HOA Site Inspection Steps

Whether inspecting communal areas of the HOA or a homeowners’ properties, take a comprehensive approach to examine all areas of risk. This may take extra time and effort in the beginning, but will become easier and routine over time:

1.       Check the HOA’s bylaws and state statues: The HOA’s bylaws may have inspection requirements, including the minimum for what should be inspected and how often. Also, look at state statutes regarding inspections; for example, HOAs should check local fire codes and conduct inspections of fire alarms and extinguishers a certain number of times per year, depending on the state. An HOA’s insurance company may also have recommendations for what to inspect and how often. 

2.       Document the inspection: Documenting the inspection results is critical, as it serves as a written record of problems, issues and violations. As with any HOA document, the inspection documentation should be clearly written and professional, as it may serve as evidence in case of a claim against the HOA.

3.       Create an inspection checklist: List all areas and amenities of the association’s property and define the items to check in each area. It’s important to revise or add to the checklist as new issues emerge; but the same checklist should be used for every inspection.

4.       Update the checklist with corrective measures: It’s important to identify problems, but it’s just as important to fix them—either on the spot or in a timely manner. Serious problems should be addressed immediately, but there should also be a timetable for correcting problems of other varying priority levels.

5.       Present site inspection results to the board: Outcomes from site inspections should always be communicated to the board, as the results may require action from the HOA’s leadership and or affect the annual budget. For example, if the inspector notes that the pool is beginning to deteriorate and will need repair, the board should keep this in mind when they discuss the annual budget.

6.       File the checklist with the HOA’s records: Inspection checklists should become a permanent record of the HOA. They serve as a record of maintenance, how problems were addressed and when, and may serve as evidence in a lawsuit.

Inspections are a major component of an HOA’s risk management plan. For more information on inspection basics and insurance for your HOA, contact CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today.

Avoiding Premise Security Liability - October 2016

Security can be a scary prospect for property managers. While you want to provide your tenants with a safe location to live or work, the level of security you need to provide is not always clear cut, and if it is lacking could potentially make you liable for damages in the event of a crime. Whether you deal in commercial or residential rentals, premise security claims are on the rise and you need to do what you can now to avoid costly litigation in the future.

Increasingly, tenants are looking to receive compensation from their property managers after they fall victim to a crime on leased property, and more and more often courts are ruling in favor of the tenants. While property managers are not responsible for the damages caused by every criminal act, they do have a duty to provide tenants and their guests or customers with reasonable measures of security. When managers fail to do this, they can potentially be held liable for some or all of the damages.

Providing Security

Providing reasonable security measures does not mean that you have to guarantee your tenants 100 percent protection from criminal activity. Even the most elaborate security systems can be beaten by criminals who are properly motivated. The simplest way to avoid liability is to reduce opportunity by eliminating conditions that attracted criminals. Some of the best security features are those that deter criminals from ever attempting to commit a crime. In the event of a premise security claim, it is important to be able to show the court that you have taken the proper steps to eliminate any security concerns that could encourage criminal activity around your property.

Deter Criminal Activity

Consider the following measures as you try to increase security 

  • Lighting: It may seem simple, but lighting can have a big impact on site security, as criminals prefer to target places where their actions can be easily concealed by darkness. Make sure entrance ways, walking paths and parking lots are adequately lit.
  • Locks: Both commercial and residential tenants need a way to properly secure their own spaces. In residential properties, keyed entry should be in place for common areas as well as individual units. Laundry rooms, exercise facilities and lobbies or entrance ways should have automatic locks that prevent unauthorized access.

After locks are installed, they must be checked regularly to make sure they stay in working order. Also, keep an eye on the condition of doors. If they fall into disrepair, their effectiveness as a method of protection will be weakened.

  • Landscaping: A well landscaped property can be an attractive selling point, and if done properly can also improve security. A well-maintained property gives the impression that the premise is under the supervision of attentive management, so show your presence by keeping the grounds well groomed. Additionally, an overgrowth of bushes or trees can create blind spots that can be used to conceal criminal activity. When choosing plants to be placed around windows and doors, pick ones that will remain relatively short, and trim them regularly.
  • Security cameras or on-site security personnel: The decision to employ security guards or install security cameras depends on each individual situation. Often times, such measures are not needed to provide the reasonable amount of security required of property managers, but they can be beneficial in situations where a specific security concern may need extra attention. If the property is located in a high-crime area, security cameras or on-site personnel may be necessary.

Set Expectations

Security can be a big concern for prospective tenants, and the security features of a property can be the incentive needed to close a deal. It should be noted that you should never promise more security than you can actually provide. If you make an exaggerated claim about the security features of a premise, you raise the standard of security a tenant can reasonably expect, even though you are not actually making the property any safer. If a crime were to occur, you would be at an increased risk for legal action. Consult with the experts at CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. for more security strategies.

Potential Environmental and Regulatory Liabilities at Real Estate Entities – Commercial, Industrial and Habitational - September 2016

The most common environmental and regulatory exposures encountered by real estate entities include:

  • Contaminants from known and unknown historical usage/operations or neighboring properties.
  • Investigation and defense due to local and regional soil and groundwater contamination.
  • Air emissions from ammonia-based refrigeration systems.
  • Construction debris containing hazardous materials (e.g. paint cans, tars, etc.)
  • Sick Building Syndrome (i.e. carbon monoxide, mold or bacterial air releases from faulty heating, ventilation or air conditioning systems).
  • Hazardous chemical storage including laboratory chemicals, medical wastes from doctor and dentist offices, dry cleaning solvents, pesticides and herbicides used both indoors and outdoors, etc.
  • Inadequate containment at loading/unloading areas.
  • Inadequate containment for hazardous materials, waste and process areas.
  • Lead, asbestos, PCBs and radioactive material.
  • Methane contamination from buried tree stumps and construction debris.
  • "Midnight dumping" on vacant land parcels.
  • Past landfills, lagoons and other solid waste disposal areas.

This is not an exhaustive list of environmental exposures. It represents the most common environmental exposures for this industry. [Bc_Fname] [Bc_Lname] will work with you to identify environmental exposures that are unique to your business to help you reduce risk. 

Property Management Professional Liability Insurance - August 2016

Property managers wear many different hats in the course of their jobs. In addition to overseeing the maintenance, security and overall welfare of the properties they manage, at times they may also function as leasing agents, real estate agents, appraisers, consultants or construction managers. To do so, they must be knowledgeable and up to date on zoning regulations, tenant laws, tax information and property values. In addition, they are responsible for making sure lease agreements, purchase and sale agreements, and work orders are complete, accurate and submitted to the proper authorities when necessary.

Due to the wide array of duties and responsibilities they have and the tight deadlines they operate under, even the most thorough and meticulous property managers inevitably make errors. Whether it’s an error of commission, such as entering the wrong information into a purchase agreement, or an error of omission, such as failing to disclose known pollutants, the result is often the same—a lawsuit.

Without the right type of insurance, the cost of defending a lawsuit can be financially devastating for a property management company. Property managers often mistakenly believe their Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies will protect them from lawsuits stemming from a negligent act, error or omission, but a typical CGL policy only covers bodily injury, property damage, personal injury and advertising injury claims. To protect themselves from claim—such as negligence, misrepresentation, inaccurate advice, and violation of good faith and fair dealing—property managers must instead turn to property management professional liability insurance.

What is Property Management Professional Liability Insurance?

Property management professional liability insurance, also known as Errors & Omission (E&O) insurance, is supplementary liability insurance designed to safeguard a business against a catastrophic loss in the event of a lawsuit due to a negligent act, error or omission by the property manager or someone in his or her employ. The policy covers the sizable legal defense costs incurred during the course of a lawsuit as well as the final judgment if the business owner does not win the lawsuit. In addition to claims of error, omission or negligence, this type of coverage can also be designed to protect against slander, libel and breach of contract. Policies typically do not provide coverage for non-financial losses or for intentional or dishonest acts. 

Property management professional liability insurance policies generally have both a claim limit and an annual limit, which is based on the insured’s exposure. The claim limit is the maximum amount that will be paid for any single event, and the annual limit is the maximum that will be paid in any one year. Typical limits range from $250,000/$500,000 to $2,000,000/$4,000,000 and differ depending on the individual business. Because there isn’t a standard policy, an experienced agent who understands your needs is invaluable.

Call us today at [B_Phone] to learn how property management professional liability insurance fits into your unique risk management portfolio.

Owners and Contractors Protective Liability - July 2016

During construction projects, project owners and general contractors can often face a significant amount of liability from the actions, omissions and general supervision of others—such as contractors and subcontractors. If they cause an injury or other damage to a third party, owners and contractors can often also be held liable.

In many cases, these liabilities can be covered by obtaining an owners and contractors protective (OCP) liability policy. However, it’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages of OCP policies, as well as other coverage options that may provide more protection.

The Basics of OCP Policies

Obtaining an OCP policy is similar to being added as an additional insured to a commercial general liability (CGL) policy, but with some important distinctions.

For example, if a project owner wants to obtain an OCP policy to be covered for the actions of a contractor, the contractor would purchase the policy with the owner as the named and primary insured. The OCP policy would then provide coverage for the owner separate from the contractor’s CGL policy, and the two policies would have separate insurance premiums and limits.

OCP and CGL policies also have different coverages. While CGL policies are designed to cover a wide variety of liabilities, OCP policies instead have a more limited scope and are designed to supplement other policies in certain cases. Specifically, OCP policies cover the named insured for the following:

  • The vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of contractors or subcontractors
  • The liability for acts or omissions in the general supervision of the operations of contractors or subcontractors

The Pros and Cons of OCP Policies

As a separate insurance policy, OCP plans offer a number of advantages:

  • OCP policies offer separate limits that are unaffected by the liability policies of contractors or subcontractors.
  • Triggered losses under an OCP policy usually do not lead to increased premiums for CGL policies.
  • The named insured enjoys additional benefits, such as advanced notice of plan cancellations.

Unfortunately, the limited coverage of OCP policies can also have some disadvantages:

  • OCP policies will not provide coverage if the named insured is found to be solely at fault for a loss involving a contractor or subcontractor.
  • The coverage for “general supervision” in OCP policies is usually left undefined and can lead to a lack of coverage.

Additional Considerations

Before you obtain an OCP policy or are added as an additional insured to a CGL policy, you should ensure that your coverage meets the insurance requirements and provisions of your construction contract. Call us today at [B_Phone]; we can help you find the coverage you need to ensure your success. 

Focus on Safety When Using Pesticides - June 2016

As part of your job, you handle, use and work around herbicides and pesticides. While these products are very effective in repelling pests, they can also pose serious health hazards. The good news is you can prevent exposure to yourself and others by following these simple safety guidelines.

Read the Label

If a chemical is new to you, always read the full product label to learn about safe and proper use.  

  • If the label warns against exposure to the eyes, lungs, skin or clothing, wear the right gear to protect your body.
  • Follow the directions on the label regarding how to apply the product and what equipment must be used.
  • Notice the first-aid instructions in case of an accidental poisoning.
  • Follow directions regarding how to store and dispose of the product after usage.

Protect Yourself and Others

Your best line of defense against exposure to chemicals is wearing the right protective clothing for the job. This typically includes a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, non-absorbent gloves (no leather or fabric), rubber boots (no canvas or leather), a hat, eye protection, a mask, an apron, face respirators and/or dust mist filters. Also:

  • Check your clothing for defects and holes before wearing it while handling chemicals. Do not smoke, eat, drink, apply cosmetics or use the restroom directly following or while you are using herbicides and pesticides.
  • Be mindful of where other people are located when applying chemicals.
  • Do not use herbicides and pesticides when winds are stronger than 10 mph to avoid blowing the chemicals to unwanted areas or onto other workers or passersby.
  • Post signs when you spray an area, so others who visit the building are aware.

Cleanup Procedures

  • After application, rinse your tools and equipment three times. Then pour the rinse water into the pesticide container.
  • During application, chemicals may settle on you and your clothing, and can be carried into your vehicle and your home. Immediately wash areas of your body that came in contact with the product, and shower promptly after completing cleanup and storage procedures.
  • Assume that clothing used while working with pesticides and herbicides has been contaminated, so take the following precautions:
  1. Always remove contaminated gear prior to leaving the worksite.
  2. Place clothing in a plastic bag and wash it separately from your street clothes.
  3. Boots, gloves and goggles used at the application site also need to be cleaned prior to leaving the site.

Storage and Disposal

  • Keep all chemicals in the original manufacturer’s container.
  • When chemicals are not in use, store them in designated areas only.
  • Disposal requires special handling. Check the label and follow our safe handling procedures. If you don’t know how to dispose of something safely, ask before you toss it! Improper handling is bad for the environment, and poses fire and health hazards.

Above all, always be smart as you apply or spray. Employee safety is [C_Officialname]’s top priority, so we expect you to do your part in following all safety procedures when working with herbicides and pesticides.

Secure Parking Facilities - May 2016

Whether an organization owns a parking structure or provides parking facilities to employees through a third party, there are a number of associated risks that must be addressed. In addition to slip and fall hazards, those utilizing a parking structure could be vulnerable to auto accidents, theft, harassment and assault. To compound the issue, parking lots and structures typically have lax security, which can make protecting employees and patrons all the more difficult. Thankfully, there are a number of measures parking structure owners and property managers can implement to mitigate the above risks—measures that employers should also look for when utilizing a third party for their parking needs.

Design

Reducing the risks associated with parking structures and parking lots can begin as early as the initial design phase. There are a number of elements to consider to promote overall safety.

For instance, stairwells and elevators should be located in areas where they are readily visible to an attendant, on-site security officer or the general public. If possible, elevators and stairwells should have glass incorporated into their construction for improved visibility. That way, in the event of an incident, onlookers can easily assess the situation and provide the appropriate help.

In addition, installing cylindrical concrete supports instead of square ones allows drivers to more easily see around corners, thus reducing the number of auto accidents. Speed bumps placed on long straightaways can prevent drivers from accelerating to dangerous speeds.

Overall, a strong parking structure design will encourage a pedestrian’s natural surveillance—one’s ability to observe and assess his or her surroundings. Ensuring that patrons and the general public can easily view everything that’s going on in the structure can help prevent auto accidents and deter potential criminals.

While full visibility is generally easier to achieve in open parking lots, there are a number of tactics that can improve natural surveillance in a parking structure. Some strategies include constructing high ceilings, trimming back any shrubbery that obstructs views, creating sightlines from the parking structure to the street, and limiting the number of entrances and exits to the parking structure.

Signage

Posting different types of signage in and around a parking structure can bolster overall safety in a variety of ways. For instance, stop signs that are strategically placed around turns or long straightaways can limit accidents by slowing down drivers.

In addition, signage can help clearly direct pedestrians to important safety items—exits, elevators, emergency phones, fire extinguishers, etc.—or away from the path of vehicles. It’s important for each floor of a parking structure to be clearly labeled to further direct pedestrians, allowing them to move in and out of the structure quickly and safely.

In general, signage should utilize a large font and bold colors. This ensures that signs will catch the eye and be easy to read.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of parking structure and lot safety. This is because proper lighting practices can reduce the risk of theft, harassment and assault, as it eliminates potential hiding places from security or passersby.

In general, parking facilities should have no major dark spots, and heavily trafficked areas should be well-lit. Most experts suggest that areas in the structure or lot be illuminated by at least two sources of light.

Specifically, lighting in a structure or lot should take into account the following:

Intensity. Avoid soft lighting whenever possible. Most parking facilities utilize metal halide lighting, as it is both bright and easy on the human eye.

Uniformity. When lighting a parking facility, keep in mind that overlapping areas of light is recommended. This will help ensure that there are no major shadows. For added safety, the perimeters of garages and lots should also be illuminated.

Access Control

Many employers look for access control measures—automatic gates, card access, etc.—when considering parking structure and lot safety.

Commonly, parking facilities utilize a ticketing system that requires patrons to purchase access to parking. While this does not completely eliminate access of the parking facility to the general public, it does provide a paper trail that law enforcement officials can follow in the event of an incident.

Fencing placed around the perimeter of a lot or in private areas of a structure can also be a particularly useful access control measure, as it reduces the potential for trespassing. It may also be a good idea to fence off potential hiding areas, like gaps under stairwells or dark corners in elevator lobbies, for would-be attackers. These barriers typically consist of concrete blocks or chain-link fencing.

In general, the above measures are best implemented in the initial design and building of the lot or structure.

Surveillance and Security Measures

For ongoing, 24-hour safety, active security systems are often the best option—especially for parking structures. There are a number of surveillance and security measures to consider, all with their own unique benefits, including the following:

• Security personnel. Simply having a uniformed security officer on site can be enough to deter potential criminals. To be effective, patrol officers will have to vary their routes and schedules to avoid creating predictable gaps in security coverage.

• Closed circuit television (CCTV). CCTV is a strong method of surveillance, as it creates an instant record of incidents such as theft, assault or auto accidents. Because CCTV is dependent on visibility, appropriate lighting measures will need to be in place in order for the surveillance to be effective. In addition, without a proper response plan in place, CCTV could be a wasted expense. Ensure that your staff is trained on what to do when an incident occurs.

• Emergency phones and intercoms. Easy access to emergency phones and intercoms can be critical if a patron is under attack or if there is another emergency. These systems are best installed in well-lit and easy-to-reach areas near elevators, lobbies, stairs and parking spots.

For added safety, consider including signage that clearly states that the area is under surveillance. This can be a strong deterrent for criminals.

General Upkeep

Ongoing housekeeping is important for continued safety. When a parking facility is littered with garbage, it can appear as though no one is responsible for the area and that surveillance is lax. Regularly inspect the facility, cleaning debris and removing abandoned vehicles when applicable.

Maintenance crews should also be responsible for trimming back any shrubbery. In general, it’s important that things like bushes and tree branches do not block any sightlines in and out of the parking structure. Doing so will promote natural surveillance and eliminate potential hiding spots for criminals.

Snow Removal

Prompt removal of ice and snow can greatly reduce the risks of slips and falls. When removing snow and ice from a parking garage, keep in mind the following:

• Snow should never be piled on top of a parking structure, as this can put too much strain on the supports, which, in turn, could lead to collapse. Experts suggest safely dumping the snow over the sides of the parking structure or loading it into trucks and moving it off the premises.

• Be careful when using snowplows, as their sharp blades can damage concrete. Experts suggest leaving the blade at least half of an inch above the concrete surface.

• Plowing should never be done near any of the parking garage’s joints or curbs, as damage to these supports can lead to structural issues. As such, it’s important to clearly and prominently label these areas, especially if you utilize a third party for snow removal.

• When removing ice, sand is generally preferred over road salt. This is because many de-icing agents and chemicals are rendered useless during times of extreme cold.

As snow and ice melts, utilize “wet floor” signage in areas where fall hazards are especially prevalent. To further decrease the risk of falls, immediately repair any cracks in the concrete caused by wintery conditions.

Mitigating Risk Starts Early On

In order to implement the preventive safety and maintenance measures listed above, many parking structure and lot owners have professional risk assessments done. These assessments can help identify major risk areas, providing businesses with strategies on how to address potential hazards. Risk assessments should be done early on to ensure that parking structure and lot owners are proactive instead of reactive.

It should be noted that risk management for parking structures and lots is an ongoing process. The key to keeping patrons safe is knowing what hazards to anticipate and how to address them.

For insight into more industry-specific risks, contact CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today.

Be on the Alert to Prevent Violence - April 2016

Workplace violence includes any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. Whether it stems from work-related disputes or domestic abuse or personal issues, violence can occur inside or outside the workplace, and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide.

Identifying Your Risk

Those working in real estate and property management are at particular risk because of certain characteristics of workplaces:

  • Mobile workplaces
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late hours of the night or early hours of the morning
  • Working in isolated or low-traffic areas
  • Working near businesses or buildings that are at risk of violent crime
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Working with the public

Workplace violence can include actions or words that endanger or harm you or your co-workers, including:

  • Verbal or physical harassment
  • Verbal or physical threats
  • Assaults or other violence
  • Any other behavior that causes you to feel unsafe (bullying or sexual harassment)

Staying Safe

At [C_Officialname], we’ve taken steps to keep you safe on the job. As we emphasize in our Workplace Violence Prevention Program, we do not tolerate threats, bullying, harassment or any other form of violence. However, keeping our workplace as safe as possible requires the commitment of all employees, including you.

Although nothing can guarantee that you will never be a victim of workplace violence, many incidents are preventable. Contribute to the safety measures and other efforts that we have in place by following these guidelines:

  • Be aware of and report threatening behavior, and be alert for other signs of aggression or violent behavior.
  • Take all threats seriously.
  • Follow procedures established by our Workplace Violence Prevention Program, including those for reporting incidents.
  • Learn how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.
  • Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security, and report all incidents immediately in writing.
  • Avoid traveling alone to unfamiliar locations whenever possible.

Be Aware!

The most important thing you can do is stay alert and aware of potentially dangerous situations or threatening behavior. Make sure that you are effectively trained in conflict resolution and methods of handling dangerous or violent situations.

We will do our best to protect you from workplace violence. Be aware of the risks of your surroundings in order to help protect yourself.

The Role of an HOA and Condo President - March 2016

Similar to the CEO of a company, the president of a homeowners association (HOA) plays the primary role in decision-making and overseeing the day-to-day administration of the association. Some HOA presidents receive compensation, but most are unpaid volunteers, filling a role that can be rewarding, but often unappreciated.

Whether you’re compensated or not, your role as president should not be taken lightly. Accepting an HOA board position is serious, as you are charged with safeguarding the personal investments of all HOA members. Care must be taken to ensure homeowners’ concerns and matters are resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Understanding the responsibilities of an HOA president—and the risks related to the role—is important for anyone serving in the position.

The President’s Responsibilities

Being an HOA president requires a great deal of interacting with people—homeowners, the property manager, other board members and the outside community. Patience and flexibility are key qualities for the position. You must make every decision in a fair and just manner, avoiding favoritism and making decisions in self-interest.

The HOA’s bylaws usually dictate how often a new president should be elected. If not, it’s a best practice to re-elect a new president every few years to get a fresh perspective and also to avoid the potential for embezzlement of the association’s funds.

The bylaws also outline the president’s responsibilities, which can vary from one association to the next. As HOA president, some major responsibilities include:

• Presiding over board meetings. Develop the agenda before the meeting and keep the meetings on track.

• Maintaining accurate records. This is mainly the responsibility of the board secretary, but the president is ultimately responsible.

• Reviewing local laws before passing rules. HOAs are dictated by state laws; the president is responsible for understanding the laws that apply to the association.

• Communicating frequently and consistently with the association. This includes distributing copies of board meeting minutes and keeping all homeowners informed of changes.

• Monitoring the association’s activities on a daily basis. Carry out day-to-day administration of association policies set by the board, and ensure that projects are completed.

• Working with the board to develop a budget and a plan for reserve funds. This is mainly the responsibility of the board treasurer, but the president is ultimately responsible.

• Executing contracts, bank documents and other legal documents on behalf of the association as its agent. As a best practice, obtain three bids for every contract to ensure that you receive a fair price.

Outside the Scope of a President’s Role

While HOA presidents have many responsibilities, there are some matters that fall outside of their scope. Presidents are not property managers. An HOA usually hires a property management company or a property manager to monitor the day-to-day activities of the association. In fact, it’s unwise to have the president also serve as the property manager, as it increases the chance of fraud or inaccurate bookkeeping. An HOA president interacts with property managers, acting as a liaison between the property management company and the HOA’s board.

Presidents are also not “property police,” and should not be responsible for enforcing swimming pool hours, removing children from the fitness center, etc.

Risks of the HOA President’s Role

As president of your HOA, you must identify and address the risks of your position. You will be the person that homeowners go to when they have a problem; and with owning property, problems are inevitable. Since homeowners have a high personal stake in their investments, it’s natural to assume they will be frustrated if their concerns and issues are not resolved in a timely manner or in their favor. Your role may come with more liability than you expected. Lawsuits can result from homeowners who aren’t satisfied or think their concerns haven’t been properly addressed by the board.

Similar to the director or officer of a corporation, an HOA president also has fiduciary responsibilities. This means that a good faith effort must be made to make decisions in the best interest of the association. Presidents breach their fiduciary duties when they act negligently, commit a crime or benefit personally at the expense of the HOA.

Poor and infrequent communication can lead to additional problems when homeowners are uninformed of decisions or changes. You must ensure that communication between the homeowners, the property manager and the other board members keeps all parties up to date of the happenings in the association.

How to Mitigate the Risks

One of the primary ways to mitigate the risks of your position is to build a solid, knowledge base of the HOA’s governing documents and applicable local laws. Even if you are fairly new to the position, you will still be expected to make informed decisions in the best interest of the association.

Also, familiarize yourself with the history of the HOA, including past plans by the board and how issues were previously handled. Make sure you are consistent with handling issues as they’ve been handled in the past and don’t spring drastic, despotic changes on members. Know your fiduciary duties and make sure every decision the board makes is made in good faith and in the members’ best interest.

When working with the board focus on creating and setting policies, but leave the implementation and enforcement of those policies to the property management company. As president, you oversee the administration of the association, but you should not be monitoring day-to-day activities.

You can also mitigate risks in the following ways:

• Foster team spirit in the association and encourage team building.

• Communicate consistently between the property manager and the board.

• Consult an attorney before getting involved in legal disputes.

• Avoid letting personality differences with other board members prevent the board from getting work done.

• Spend money prudently and build a sound financial future for the community. Obtain advice from a financial advisor, if necessary.

• Preserve and enhance all common areas, which is one of the reasons people want to join HOAs.

If you have additional questions about the risks of serving as an HOA president or as an association board member, contact CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today.

Avoid Lawsuits with Good Tenant Relationships - February 2016

Investing the time and money required to maintain and cultivate a positive working relationship with your tenants can be the difference between amicably settling differences and a costly lawsuit. Working on the relationship also creates value by maximizing tenant cooperation with timely rent payments, property upkeep and longer lease terms.

Screening Potential Tenants

Conducting a background check on prospective tenants is a wise way to ensure a mutually successful experience for you and the applicant, and it is an effective risk management tool. Background checks do present some costs, but the risk of not performing the screening on tenants could have more serious financial consequences, resulting in lost income, property damage and litigation costs. Elements of a thorough background check include the following:

  • Criminal history
  • Credit check
  • Previous landlord verification
  • Identity verification
  • Employment verification

Take Care of Your Property

Taking measures to properly maintain the premises sends a powerful message to tenants. It proves that you take your role as building manager seriously and encourages them to take pride in the condition of their rented space. Better, it could bolster relationships and lessen the probability that they will take legal action in the event of an incident or dispute. Take these measures to be prepared for maintenance issues:

  • Establish a procedure for dealing with maintenance requests that guarantees prompt service to tenant requests and maintenance issues.
  • Create, clearly communicate and promptly enforce policies regarding shared spaces.

A good working relationship with tenants minimizes the likelihood of costly lawsuits and maximizes cooperation with timely rent payments, property upkeep and longer lease terms.

Security Measures

States and municipalities have differing legislation regarding the duties of building owners and managers. Although you may not be expected to guarantee the safety of tenants, visitors and guests, you must exercise reasonable care to protect them from foreseeable events. What’s more, security measures make tenants feel safe, strengthening your relationship with them and lowering the likelihood of a lawsuit. They can also potentially lower your insurance premiums.

Focus on Customer Service

Taking extra steps to make tenants feel welcome helps to create a cooperative relationship that is unlikely to end in legal litigation. Small gestures such as the following can dramatically improve the relationship you have with tenants:

  • Prompt, polite responses to requests
  • Support during moves
  • Clearly outlined policies and swift enforcement for all tenants

Transferring Risk

Even with positive landlord-tenant relationships, there are potential exposures that must be addressed with well-designed property and liability insurance policies. For more information, contact the insurance professionals at CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today.

Keeping Minutes at Condo or HOA Board Meetings - January 2016

Productive board meetings—where important homeowner matters are discussed and decisions are made—contribute to the success of a condo or homeowners association (HOA).

Since HOA board meetings result in significant decisions that impact community members, it is necessary to record decisions in official board meeting minutes, which serve as both a historical record and provide pertinent information to the HOA community.

Investing the time to record accurate and detailed board meeting minutes can reduce potential litigation risks for HOA board members, as minutes could be used as evidence in the event of a legal claim.

What are Board Meeting Minutes?

Board meeting minutes are a written record of the official actions taken by the HOA directors and officers during scheduled meetings. The minutes document the topics discussed and record the decisions voted on during meetings. The minutes can also contribute to the efficiency of future board meetings by serving as a reminder of what was previously discussed to avoid rehashing old business.

There are two main purposes of board meeting minutes:

  1. The minutes inform members of decisions made that impact their living community. All HOA members have the right to access non-confidential meeting minutes.
  2. Meeting minutes could serve as evidence in the case of a lawsuit. In the event that someone, such as a member, sues the HOA, the minutes are proof of decisions that were made.

For officers and directors on the HOA board, meeting minutes are valuable evidence that the board made decisions in good faith and fulfilled its fiduciary duties to the association. On the other hand, the minutes can also serve as evidence that a director did not fulfill his or her fiduciary duties.  


Recording accurate board meeting minutes can prevent potential litigation risks for HOA directors and officers.


What Should the Board Meeting Minutes Include?

Board meeting minutes should be easy to read and include only essential information. Most importantly, members should be able to understand what board actions were taken and approved.

While board meeting minutes can be handwritten during the meeting, the final version should be transcribed into a typed format. At a minimum, the minutes should include the following:

  • Name of the HOA
  • Date, time and location of the meeting
  • Names of directors and officers present at the meeting, and the names of those not present
  • Names of guests in attendance, including those invited to speak at the meeting
  • Whether or not a quorum was present
  • All board actions
  • The signature of the board secretary or another official designated to sign HOA documents
  • Supporting documentation (attached to the minutes), as applicable

It is the board secretary’s responsibility to record and certify the minutes, unless another person is designated. Keep in mind that all of the board directors and officers may be held liable if the minutes are falsified or embellished.

After the meeting, the minutes should be made available to all HOA members. Some HOAs choose to mail or email the minutes to members after the meeting.

A printed copy of the meeting minutes should be kept in the HOA’s “board minutes book,” and an electronic copy should be also be stored.

What Should the Meeting Minutes NOT Include?

The minutes should include substantial details on the board’s actions; however, minutes with too much detail could be evidence for unwanted lawsuits, such as defamation claims. Minutes do not need to be a transcript of all interactions.

Avoid recording the following information:

  • Names of HOA members present at the meeting
  • All the conversations and discussions that took place during the meeting
  • Owner comments during the meeting
  • Confidential or sensitive information

 HOA boards should discuss confidential or sensitive information in a separate meeting. Minutes that contain sensitive information should be kept in a different file from the regular meeting minutes book. Members should not be able to access confidential minutes.

General Recordkeeping Tips

Meeting minutes are a valuable communication tool and may be used as evidence during a lawsuit. Board meeting minutes—and all HOA communications—should be:

  • Typed
  • Neat and organized
  • Easy to read
  • Free of undefined acronyms and jargon
  • Free of spelling and grammatical errors

Contact CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today for additional resources to manage and protect your HOA.