The winter of 2014-15 will go down as one of the harshest in many decades. And real estate properties of all types have certainly felt the impact. This month, we are going to discuss some of the most common issues that property owners, as well as their legal advisors, should be on the lookout for as we transition to spring.
Given the long stretches of frigid temperatures coupled with some heavy snows and high winds, one of the first things to come to mind is the impact on roofs. Cold temperature can play havoc on your roof, as the freeze/thaw cycle can quickly create a major crevice out of even the smallest crack. As ice accumulated on the roofs and gutters this season, additional weight was placed on the gutter system, often causing the system to pull away or completely fall. All of these issues will result directly in water penetration, which could ultimately impact the building occupants and lead to insurance claims for any resulting damages. Building owners should conduct a complete inspection of both the roofs and gutter systems as soon as practical in an effort to avoid costly issues later this spring.
Not all flooding issues start at the top. With the heavy snows this winter, we have already seen some early spring flooding. But higher water tables may result in additional problems later this spring, especially if we experience a long stretch of rainy weather. Cold weather came quickly last fall and many buildings did not have the opportunity to conduct a full fall cleanup. It is prudent that owners inspect all of the catch basins on their property to confirm that they are draining properly and do not have leaves, sticks and fall debris blocking your drainage. In addition, if the building has a detention basin, owners should inspect the intake and outflow areas to confirm they are also free of debris. Preventative maintenance in this area is often overlooked but water can also penetrate at the ground level, causing interior damages, and associated insurance claims, for first floor occupants.
As we transition from winter to spring, the word of the day has been potholes. Continued freeze/thaw cycles with greater snowplowing and salting activity this winter wreaked havoc on parking lots and driveways. Although we love our snowplow contractors, with all the snow we had it was sometimes difficult to find the curbs. These end up being damaged as well. It is important from a safety as well as liability concern that all potholes and curbing in parking lots are repaired as soon as practical. Similarly, with the use of added salt on the sidewalks over this extended winter, the possibility of broken concrete and raised sidewalk blocks from frost heaves all created trip hazards. The safety of tenants and their patrons should be of highest concern. You will certainly want to avoid any potential allegations or litigation for injuries associated with slips, trips and falls. Any damaged areas should be cordoned off until they can be repaired.
We are all anxious to see the green of spring return. Unfortunately, this winter of ice, cold and wind created problems for our landscaping. Now is the time to inspect your trees and bushes for ice and wind damage. Remove dead and broken branches or remove bushes that have been destroyed by the weight of the snow. The excessive roadway salt used this year can also play havoc on your plants as well as your grasses. Attention should be paid to the borders of your driveways with appropriate fertilizers and grass seeding this spring. In addition to helping with tenant retention, properly maintaining landscaping will reduce the chances of mud, vegetation and branches cluttering sidewalks and drives, all of which create potential slip/trip hazards.
While the exterior components certainly bore the brunt of the harsh elements, interiors also were impacted. We all tended to bring the salt into building lobbies and offices from our shoes and boots, creating issues for our cleaning staff. The salt tends to break down the coatings on hard floors (vinyl tile, terrazzo, wood) and tends to stain carpeted surfaces. Not only will this dramatically shorten the life of these surfaces but it could also result in a potential slip hazard as the surface traction wears off. Now is also a good time to have your heating, ventilation and air conditioning units serviced for preventative maintenance. Many of these systems worked 24/7 this winter, battling the frigid temperatures. Servicing now will prevent issues when you start up your air conditioning as well as continue to add life to these systems. Lastly, if there is any evidence of water penetration through the walls, spring is the time to address these issues. Once your exterior is repaired, remember to fix the damage caused inside. Water left untreated can turn into mold on your walls, creating substantially larger liability issues.