Insuring Your Spaces Coverage is Key to Protecting Amenities

 As sales of co-ops and condos continue to slow, developers, property managers  and building boards are looking for any possible incentive to attract buyers.  Any realtor will tell you that location is the first and primary consideration  when buying a property. Once a general area is selected the amenities that  enhance the property choice will strongly come into play. What amenities are  available can often be a deal maker or deal breaker for a prospective buyer.  And one size will not fit all in the search for any of the extras that put the “sweet” into home sweet home!  

 Co-op boards, condo associations and property management firms are well aware of  buyers’ preferences and often strive to upgrade or add amenities to a property in order  to be able to compete in today’s market. Typically referred to as a “common element” in condominium bylaws, pools, exercise rooms, meeting space, and recreational  facilities are examples of what is considered an amenity. In a co-op property,  the shareholders would probably list the same enhancements as “amenities.” Whatever those nice lifestyle additions are called, they add value to any  building community.  

 Luxury or Liability?

 A good rule of thumb is if an amenity is fixed, real property, or part of that  property, it must be insured under property insurance. If there is an increased  danger of an accident or injury associated with that amenity, then the  liability insurance will come under consideration. Whether amenities are in  place or added, until they are fully and properly insured they can just as  easily be an expensive liability.  

 Amenities will require both property and liability insurance coverage. Property  insurance protects the equipment owned by the association and will cover  replacement cost due to covered perils. Liability insurance will cover bodily  injury, or property damage claims brought by a third party due to use of the  amenities. A slip and fall on the pool deck, an injury using gym equipment, or  even a fall entering the newly remodeled lobby may have legal ramifications.  

 When seeking insurance for an amenity, one requirement is to adequately identify  the amenity from an insurance and exposure perspective to arrive at the total  insurable value (TIA). Existing policies should be reviewed on a regular basis  and always before, during, and after adding an amenity or upgrade.  

 Deciding what type of policy is needed may require some due diligence by the  board or association members. Since the board has fiduciary responsibility, the  board is charged with purchasing the broadest insurance coverage available.  General liability and property liability are two parts in the overall umbrella  insurance coverage; both are necessary to adequately protect the property, the  board and the homeowner, according to Barbara Strauss, executive vice president  of Manhattan-based York International Agency, LLC.  

 She also talks about limits on liability coverage. “In addition to the basic $1,000,000 each occurrence/$2,000,000 general aggregate  for liability insurance, associations are purchasing high limit umbrellas to  fulfill their obligations to the association members. Umbrellas are an inexpensive means of further protecting the association and its  members.”  

 An umbrella insurance policy is very helpful when the insured property is sued  and the dollar limit of the original policy has been exhausted. The added  coverage provided by the liability insurance umbrella can mean the difference  between being under-insured and being adequately covered.  

 According to Cathy Torres of Campbell Solberg Associates, an insurance brokerage  based in Manhattan, amenities coverage is a vital piece of any building’s protection package—but it’s still just one part of a larger network of coverage. “Loss assessment—which applies to any common areas or amenities in the building for which one is  assessed maintenance—constitutes another portion of the policy. According to Torres, liability is  also important. “The most liability you can get on a normal policy is $500,000—that's the max,” she says. “And I usually recommend [insuring for] the full $500,000.”  

 Torres says the cost of policies vary. “Let's say for instance you get a $50,000 personal property policy, $11,000 of  additions and alterations coverage, and $500,000 in liability and all the other  coverage. The most expensive part of that policy is the additions and  alterations and the dwelling amount.”  

 When it comes to insuring something as important as your association’s valuable amenities, Lori Long of Community Association Underwriters in  Newtown, Pennsylvania recommends buying as much as your association can afford.  

 “It depends on the size, the assets, the demographic living there,” she says. "A lot of associations will have $2 million in underlying coverage  and another $15 million in umbrella coverage. It runs the gamut though. If  people are going to procure true umbrella coverage, make sure those limits are  not linked to anyone else's limits. All carriers do different things. “The pool may be included in general liability package, or they may have to  specifically say, 'We have a pool and we need coverage for that pool,' in which  case it would require an endorsement.”  

 Remember the Basics

 Manhattan-based Argo Real Estate Controller Richard Apell has twenty years  experience in his field, the last eleven of them at Argo. His approach to  insuring amenities is straight forward. “All amenities fall under property insurance, it is built in,” he explains. Common areas of a building such as lobbies, hallways and amenities  are covered under basic liability insurance. How much insurance is enough for a  particular property depends and will vary with each location. Argo manages 90  buildings in various sizes ranging from ten units to 1,300 units. Coverage is  typically based on a property’s mortgage limits up to $100 million. Review of insurance should be a regular  agenda item for all boards.  

 Another potential add-on for amenities, insurance-wise, are coverage riders for  pollution or mold, Apell says. Coverage for pollution and pollution-related  damages or mold and mildew damages are an area many properties will want to  consider. Since mold is not only a destructive force, but also an environmental  hazard, treatment and removal can be both dangerous and expensive. Amenities  like swimming pools, hot tubs and supporting dressing rooms and bathrooms are  often prime magnets for mold and mildew making this topic definitely worth  investigating.  

 Pools, Tennis Courts, and Playgrounds

 While pools were once a headache to insure, most experts today agree that may  not be the case today. Pools are somewhat less of an issue since most diving  boards and slides have gone the way of the dinosaur. “You really don’t see diving boards any more. Pools generally aren’t that much of a problem unless you have the extra stuff,” says John Hegarty of Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Insurance Partners.  

 Of course, the experts say, proper signage should always be prominently  displayed, explaining the rules of the pool, and all town ordinances should be  followed. It's important to document everything and be honest about what the  rules are.  

 “If you're not supposed to be jumping and diving in the pool, make sure there are  signs that say 'no jumping' and 'no diving,'" says Long. “If there is a shallow area, have age restrictions. Don't let kids in unless  they're accompanied by an adult. If you have people signing in and out, keep  records of who is there and when they are there. Keep maintenance records as  well, because people can claim they got a rash or something from the chlorine—it's the simplest things that can take you down.”  

 While boards may be focused on potential disasters like drownings, liability  concerns facing community associations go beyond the pool. “Some community associations have playgrounds, or tennis courts,” says Jeffrey Cotto, a Massachusetts-based insurer. “They’re ‘attractive nuisances,’ and again, if possible you want to have locked gates and not allow kids that  don’t belong there going in to use them. You have to be proactive about it.”  

 Tennis courts alone, Hegarty adds, might not be too much of an ‘attractive nuisance’ to raise risk—but add a basketball hoop, and it’s a whole new ball game. “Pools too are a concern, but there are others,” Long agrees. “Depending upon the clubhouse and what amenities that clubhouse has, that can be  an issue. For instance, if they have areas for large commercial cooking and  large parties and gatherings for people coming in, that would be a concern. If  they have a tennis court and basketball court, from a premium standpoint,  that's not a big hit as long as they are maintained. A lot of people have a lot  of losses on unmaintained tennis courts and basketball courts because people  can trip and fall. When that happens, their premiums go up in general.”  

 Peace of Mind

 So the experts acknowledge that you must be smart and proactive rather than  reactive when it comes to insurance. At the end of the day, nothing ensures  peace of mind more than knowing you and your property are completely and  adequately insured. That peace of mind, however, does come with a pricetag, so  boards must sharpen their pencils and take advantage of expert help and advice  from trusted insurance companies.   

 Anne Childers is a Florida-based freelance writer for The Cooperator and other  publications.  

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Comments

  • A very well written article. I would like to see more articles by Ms Childers. Looks like a lot of research went in to bringing the public very informative information that we can understand and possibly apply to ourselves.