6 parking lot perils property owners need to pay attention to.
Of the many aspects of owning multi-family real estate, maintenance is certainly one of the top priorities -- or at least it should be.
Owners are often focused on making sure their buildings are in tip-top shape but sometimes relegate parking lot maintenance to a lower priority -- and that's something that can come back to bite them.
That's because the owners of multi-family residences can be liable for accidents, mishaps and criminal activities that occur in their parking lots.
If you own a multi-family property with a parking lot, here are six things to pay attention to in order to avoid potential claims:
It starts with making sure pavement is free of potholes and cracks. Just the slightest imperfection in a parking lot or sidewalk can create a tripping hazard and open up the owner to a lawsuit.
It is extremely important to make sure all parking lots and walking areas are smooth and free of cracks and debris. Additionally, it's important to keep the lot free from debris and trash, and keep benches, planters and other amenities well-maintained. Trees and shrubs should not obstruct line of site for drivers or pedestrians.
2. Getting in and out
Your parking lot should have clear signage directing people where to go, what the flow of traffic should be, and where entrances and exits are.
Entrances and exits -- both for vehicles and for foot and bike traffic -- should be well-maintained, free of obstacles and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gates should be well-maintained, and guard houses should be well maintained and well lit.
Parking lot lighting is important, not just from a liability standpoint, but also to help tenants feel safe and secure.
Prospective tenants will often make parking lot lighting a significant factor in whether they decide to live in your building. The parking lot's lights should turn on at dusk. Replace burned-out lights as soon as possible. If an incident occurs in your lot and the lights aren't working properly, you're likely looking at a lawsuit.
4. Snow and ice
Another significant factor that must be managed is snow and ice removal during the winter months. It is vitally important to keep parking lots clear, something that isn't always easy to do given the unpredictable nature of the weather.
Most building owners contract out their snow removal. The contract should specify the details of the contractor's duties before, during and after a winter weather occurrence. For example, it should stipulate how often the contractor is to return to salt an area where snow may melt during the day and refreeze overnight.
Collect a certificate of insurance from contractors showing proof of adequate General Liability limits and Workers' Compensation coverage. The names of the owner and "the applicable entity" should be listed as "additional insureds" on the contractor's policy. This will transfer the liability of the contractor's operation from the building owner to the contractor, thus shielding the owner from a frivolous lawsuit.
5. Parking garages
For multi-family building owners that have parking garages rather than surface lots, there can be an added level of liability.
Garages have more hidden places than a surface lot, such as elevators, stairwells, etc. This means that owners need to install additional security features that surface lots may not require, such as cameras and emergency call boxes. Also, high-quality lighting becomes paramount in a parking garage.
Some garages are shared by both residents and the public. In this case, residents should have secure access to a section of the garage, dedicated residential elevators, and possibly separate access points.
6. Valet service
Lastly, for buildings with valet parking, there are additional insurance requirements and potential liability, as there always is when the human element is introduced. Check with your broker for all required coverages.
Not all accidents and lawsuits can be avoided, but with proper oversight of parking lots, garages, and walking areas, claims can be greatly reduced.
Greg Howson is a property and casualty consultant for Mount Laurel, N.J.-based Corporate Synergies, an employee benefits and Property & Casualty insurance brokerage and consulting company.