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Tue 9 Jun 2009 04:00 AM

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It’s all gone grey…

Imdaad's Alan Millin on the joys of community service charges, district cooling call centres and some rather smelly house guests that could also be costly...

It’s all gone grey…

You have paid a community and service charge to the master developer of the development you live in.The building is connected to a district cooling system and everything works well initially. You come home from work one day and your air conditioning has failed. No problem, you have paid your service charges so you call the master developer's call centre to request service.

The technicians turn up at your door, you explain what's wrong and they take a very quick look and tell you that your fan-coil units are fine; the problem lies with the chilled water system, but that is not part of their scope. You need to call the district cooling company. If this sounds familiar or not, you need to read on.

Trouble...

Now the trouble really starts. If you are lucky you might manage to speak to a warm, friendly human at the district cooling company who will tell you that there is nothing wrong with the district cooling system and that the problem must lie in your building somewhere.

You call the master developer's call centre again and register another complaint. They send the same technicians that called earlier. And yes, they make the same diagnosis and inform you of their conclusion.

So if it's not the FM provider and it's not the district cooling company, who can help you? Ah yes, of course, it's those nice people who look after the building's chilled water system, not the district cooling company or the master developer's appointed team after all.

But just who are these helpful people and how do you find and contact them? Remember that your air-conditioning is still off and you are getting more than a little upset now, especially as it's summer.

Can you get contact details of the company you need from the master developer's call centre? "No Sir, sorry we don't have that information."

And remember that if the district cooling company is billing on floor area rather than consumption, as we discussed in a previous article, you are still actually paying for chilled water. If we had meters at the unit level at least we would not be paying for a facility that we can't use, and the district cooling company might take a more active interest in helping us.

And then there is pest control...

A rather smelly and noisy rat finds its way into your apartment. You call the master developer's call centre and tell them about your uninvited guest, and request that they eject him and stop him coming back. You have, after all, paid your community and service charges haven't you?

You are then more than a little surprised when the master developer's staff tells you that you have to deal with your owner's association for pest control. You ask what you paid your initial service charges to the master developer for, and they tell you that your payments only cover service to the common areas of your building, not each individual apartment. Strange, as they sent the air conditioning technicians to your apartment earlier, didn't they, or were you dreaming?

As you live on the top floor of the building you ask the call centre operator whether he thinks that your personal rodent, (yes, it's yours now remember...) flew in to your apartment through an open window in order to avoid the common areas of the building. Or perhaps he abseiled down from a rodent assault helicopter with the specific intention of not trespassing on the common areas while sneaking past security? Or maybe, just maybe, he actually walked through a common area to get to your apartment and take up comfortable residency.

The call centre operator checks with a supervisor and after couple of hours they finally issue a work order number and tell you that someone will call. No-one ever does though and meanwhile your rodent may be inviting all his friends to enjoy your home and hospitality.

What does all this mean to us as facilities managers?

Simple, make sure you cover all the grey areas when procuring services. Can you find one provider who will provide a total air conditioning support service throughout the building rather than on certain sections of the system? Can you arrange pest control service that doesn't differentiate between a privileged rodent in a residential unit and a less fortunate rodent in a common area?

When we are dealing with owners associations we have to be aware that the people we are negotiating with may not actually know what their requirements are. They will probably think they know but we have a duty to inform and educate so that the general manager of the association, and his team, are fully aware of any shortcomings in their strategy.

So let's make sure we cover all our options. Our clients will probably not even notice or comment as we go about our business if our service level is good, but they will certainly let us know if service is not up to their expectations.

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