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Swimming Pool Management Handling a Big Responsibility with Minimal Frustration

There’s almost nothing that sounds more luxurious to potential co-op and condo buyers than an on-site swimming pool. Apartment prices are often higher in buildings with pools because they are viewed as a fun and relaxing amenity. However, managing and maintaining a building’s pool can be anything but relaxing. Swimming pools demand a great deal of time, energy and money. Joyce Siegel, board president at the Vanderbilt, a 369-unit condo at 240 East 41st Street in Manhattan, says in reference to her building’s pool, "A lot of people love pools, but when you start looking at the bottom line, you start to think, ‘oh no.’" For a building to successfully manage a swimming pool, it must address many issues including liability, usage regulations and maintenance. Proper management insures that the pool will be safe and enjoyable for everyone–this is no small task.

"House Rules" With


Regard to Usage

It is crucial that buildings have clear-cut guidelines for the use of pool facilities. This helps to create a safe environment and protects the privacy of residents who live close to the swimming pool and might be disturbed by noise coming from the pool area. Bruce Cholst, an attorney at Rosen & Livingston, a law firm in Manhattan which specializes in co-ops and condos, suggests that buildings visibly post a set of rules that includes the following:

• Children under the age of ten must be accompanied by an adult

• Hours of use must be strictly outlined and subject to guidelines

• Parties should be subject to guidlelines which include restrictions as to number of people, hours, use, objects brought into the pool area, etc.

• No stereo equipment or speakers are permitted in the pool area

• All debris and garbage should be removed by the individuals responsible for it

• There are to be no active sports, running, ball playing, etc.

Rules such as these protect the building from liability and prevent the pool from infringing on the privacy of nearby residents.

Buildings should also have policies on use of the pool by non-residents. It is inevitable that residents will want to share the pool with guests, and the board must decide what, if any, restrictions will apply to their use of the pool.

The pool facilities in most buildings are open to all residents, but in some cases residents are charged a health club fee for use of the pool. Some buildings even allow people outside the building to join their health clubs. The fees earned from these additional memberships are a practical way to make maintaining the pool more economically feasible for the building. However, this is usually only done in buildings that have an entrance to the pool from outdoors. It is a considerable security risk to have a stream of people entering the building through the main entrance on a regular basis.

Some buildings allow residents to rent out the pool facilities for private parties. Cholst himself rents the pool in his building for an annual pool party. He says, "We have a very intelligent house rule that requires one lifeguard and one security guard." Cholst’s building also segregates a special area for food, so that party-goers can eat without the danger of spillage into the swimming pool or the areas around it.

Minimizing Liability

No matter how safe a pool environment, there is always the possibility that someone will be injured, and it is crucial that buildings protect themselves from potential lawsuits.

According to Cholst, the most important thing a building can do to protect itself from liability is to have all residents sign a waiver of liability and indemnity. By signing these forms residents agree not to hold the building liable for accidents, thefts or damages that occur in the pool facilities. However, these waivers do not completely protect the buildings from lawsuits, particularly if there is evidence of negligence on the part of the building.

It is also crucial that the pool be well-maintained, to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. By minimizing the potential for accidents to occur, a building also minimizes the chance of a lawsuit. David Khazzam, vice president of management at Aptek Management in Manhattan says that his company makes sure that all of its swimming pools "follow all New York City health codes and go above and beyond."

Many buildings employ a security guard to make sure that people are not engaging in rowdy, dangerous behaviors. It is also advisable to install security cameras in the health club facilities, so that no one can sneak into the pool during off-hours.

Proper maintenance also prevents the pool from damaging property, for which the building can also be held liable. This is particularly important in buildings with rooftop pools, which may leak into the apartments below.

Of course, any building with a swimming pool must have insurance to cover any accidents that occur in its facilities. As Cholst says, "Accidents will happen. The best protection is adequate insurance."

Third-Party Responsibility

There are companies that specialize in managing swimming pools and health club facilities for co-ops and condos. The services they provide include staffing and maintaining the pool. The majority of buildings with pools use these companies, in part because of the reservoir of employees that they provide. Siegel says that the Vanderbilt has tried to manage their pool without a pool management company but it’s extremely difficult, "You can’t do it, you can’t find the staff."

One advantage of using a swimming pool management company is that these companies are also insured and assume some of the responsibility for the pool’s safety and cleanliness. Khazzam says, "Ninety-nine percent of the pools in New York City have a separate company managing the pool. For liability purposes this is better, it spreads the liability around. It is an extra layer between the co-op board and the building management."

New York City law requires that a lifeguard be present during all hours of pool operation. And, in buildings with large health club facilities, a staff of several people is sometimes necessary. Using a swimming pool management company gives buildings access to substitute employees. If a lifeguard is sick or someone is having a private party it is easy for buildings to meet their staffing needs. Howard Sklar, vice president of Total Pool Management in Hauppauge, New York, along with partner Norman Kay, says that his company has 180 employees, some of whom are used as substitutes at pools where regular employees are sick or unavailable.

Swimming pool management companies frequently train their own lifeguards and Certified Pool Operators (CPOs); by law there must a CPO at the pool, so it is very convenient for the lifeguard to have this certification. Lifeguards are also usually responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the pool.

Companies like Total Pool Management also drain outdoor pools and close them for the season and have representatives present at board of health inspections where they address any health code issues.

Siegal says that, even with a pool management company, pool employees are often transient. Lifeguards, for example, are often college students. She also says that it can be "hard to monitor off-payroll employees."

Some pool management companies go beyond basic staffing and maintenance services, to offer additional services. EPG Spa & Pool Management in Manhattan "provides the full gamut," of health club services, according to president Joe Grimes. They offer spa services such as manicures, pedicures and massages.

The cost of pool management is based on a building’s staffing needs and hours of operation. Outdoor pools, which are only open for about 15 weeks a year, cost significantly less than indoor pools. Sklar says that the cost of his company’s services ranges between $16,000 and $200,000 a year.

Using a pool management company does not completely alleviate the board and building management from maintenance and staffing issues. Khazzan describes it as a system "checks and balances." Management companies need to be informed about all issues concerning the pool, so that they effectively monitor the performance of the pool management company.

Maintenance

Daily maintenance of the swimming pool involves skimming the water for debris and cleaning the poolside area. The water must also be carefully monitored, for the pool to be safe it must be kept at specific alkalinity, pH and chlorine levels.

Swimming pools involve plumbing, heaters, pumps and other technical equipment which may occasionally need repair. Many pool management companies do not handle extensive repairs themselves, but are responsible for contracting an outside company to do the work. Mechanical problems usually require immediate attention and can be quite costly. Christopher Carthy, president of Pools of Perfection, in Roslyn Heights, New York, "an intense service company," says that pool repairs can cost anywhere from $500 to $30,000.

While swimming pools may make for happy building residents, they are often a challenge to manage and maintain. But by forming a close working relationship with a pool management company and by taking proactive measures to make sure that the pool is safe and healthy, the stressfulness of maintaining a swimming pool can be minimized. Pools are potentially dangerous and require a great deal of upkeep, but if the seriousness of these issues is addressed effectively, managers can provide residents with a high-quality pool environment while minimizing the headache factor for themselves.

Ms. Baker is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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15 Comments

  • My co-op recently put a pool in the back of our building without notice to anyone. I understand it was paid for by the president of the co-op board who has 3 children. The noise of screaming children is so horrendous tha it is impossible for me to work. Is there anything I can do? It is full of screaming children coming right into my apartment. The pool is aboveground, large but maybe 2 feet deep. I don't believe there is a lifeguard. For that depth, it is still a law in NYC and how can I foind out about the insurance that we have?
  • i am running a pool manaagement services business in western australia and looking to branch out
  • i am being tasked by our BOD to identify a list of potential vendors to manage our pool operations. is there a listing or resource of potential companies serving the NYC area.
  • J.DUgan- Manhattan Pool and Leisure on Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:01 PM
    Ms. Baker hit this one on the nail! Self managing a pool can be a headache and a huge liability to take on for the associations. Always look into a management company before taking on on the burden. Silvia, if the pool is used by more than one family, it is considered commercial pool. Such pools must have a permit issued by the DOH, a CPO licence and a staffed lifeguard.
  • We live in an upscale condo in Florida with around 70 units - many people seasonal. People not only continue to trespass on property but also scale the pool wall at night, have vandalized pool, even have nerve to use during day. Because we don't all know one another, it's difficult to know who actually lives here and who doesn't. Any suggestions?
  • Our Pool is a 20ft (3-6ft depth) pool. There are rarely 20 people in the pool at one time. How many lifeguards are required? If the lifeguard is CPO trained what should his weekly salary be?
  • what are the rules and regulations for cleaning the perimeter of a swimming pool located in a co-op buiding in queens n.y. Especially chemicals to prevent diseases like staph infections
  • what are the rules and regulations for cleaning the lip perimeter(approx 1 foot out) of a swimming pool located in a co-op building in queens n.y. Especially chemicals to prevent diseases like staph infections.Our co-op, a large one, power washes this area one time at beginning of season( may 15th). Is there any health code policy regarding this area? The co-op does not use an outside company. I want us to engage an outside company.
  • our fl. condo complex has a fenced in pool,locked gate and posted hrs. of use 7am/10pm. tenants and trespassers are entering the pool after hrs. Will turning the lights off after 10pm be considered negligence thereby increasing our liabilty ?
  • We self manage without issues. However, if you can self manage depends on the skills of your Superintendent, Management Company and Board of Directors. We have an amazing Superintendent that lives on site. We paid for him to be a Certified Pool Operator. How large management company has the resources to ensure our pool is fully staffed by lifeguards. We designated one of our lifeguards as the head lifeguard to do the scheduling. Also, I was a former Ocean Lifeguard who worked at a pool in the winter during college so I am familiar with pool operations and able to ensure we have the right equipment as well as designed our own specific lifeguard uniforms to ensure we run a classy operation. However, if you don’t have these resources it is best you hire a pool management company. At the very least to maintain your filter and summarize and winterize your pool.
  • Great idea about using a 3rd party for pool mgt. We have a pool behind my condo that belongs to the neighboring association. No is no management at all, no hours posted, no lifeguard, and the outer gates are never closed on time meaning we get woken up to people splashing at all hours of the night. I like that NYC requires a lifeguard, I'll have to check our local laws. Thanks for the info.
  • Can a Co-op building allow alcohol at its pool? One shareholder has said that while on vacation, swimmers can drink alcohol while in the pool. In NJ (Bergen County), is this permissible? I would think not.
  • do you think it's safe to live in a studio with a pool near the top of the condo? i'm worried the pool will have a leak and water will come pouring down into my studio
  • Hi. I have over 20 years of experience in Pool Management, having worked for my father's company in some form or another. I will try to answer each comment's question: Silvia: I can't think of any co-op/condo pool we ever had an account with that was above ground. An above ground pool by its nature would preclude a lifeguard from being able to immediately enter the pool if an emergency occurred. For that reason, I don't think that pool would be considered a community pool. Unknown #1: There's no list of management companies that I know of, but in your area there are likely a number of management companies. I would ask other condos who they use and who they recommend. AB: Your community needs to create an ID card system and use some sort of security to enforce it. As for the night trespassers, I would employ a security firm for a month or 2 to scare them off. Once scared off, these people typically don't trespass again. Unknown 2: In NY, based on your dimensions, you need to staff 1 lifeguard during operation. Artieg: Unfortunately, there are no regulations about the chemical cleanliness regarding the perimeter (Also called coping) of the pool. disinfectant regulation is limited to the pool water alone. Unknown user 3: I can only speak to NY, but trespassers are due no duty of care, as long as there is a secure fence that would prohibit an ordinary person from easily entering the pool area when closed. Lights or no lights, if the area is reasonably secure, a trespasser's injuries should not be your responsibility. Barry: Alcohol and community pools typically don't mix. I have encountered 2 life changing injuries and they both involved people being drunk. Your insurance policy likely won't cover an accident if it is proved that your community had knowledge of alcohol being consumed on premises. It's less a matter of law and more an issue of liability. My company had a strict policy against it. It just isn't worth the risk. Unknown 4: While I would like to say that nothing will ever happen, Pools need to be maintained and even under the best of conditions they can leak. Pipes split, filters leak, surfaces crack. I doubt the water would come pouring down all at once, but from time to time there may be a leak that hits your apartment. I'd also like to comment on Eric's comment. If your building has a super who will take on the responsibility for looking after the pool and you have a willing board member with time and experience to lend a hand, self management can work just fine. My experience is that this is rarely the case. Building supers usually have a lot on their plate, and it's rare to find a board member who will dedicate the time. Also, your lifeguards typically range in age from 15 to 20. It's unusual to find one who is responsible enough to take care of scheduling for you. I hope that this helps all of you. And I hope that you all enjoy your summer!
  • Hello, I live in west county ny. Do I need a lifeguard at my outdoor pool used by tenants and owners?