Neither condominium/cooperative property nor homeowners’ association runs itself. The day-to-day business therein is carried out by either a board or a property manager of the board’s hire, the unit owners/shareholders themselves contribute via their votes and attendance at meetings to how the community is operated, and various vendors are called in to handle specific odd jobs either at routine intervals or when something goes awry. But one of the lesser-sung heroes in all of this rigmarole is the chief engineer, an individual on whom it falls to know the building inside and out, thus best to dispatch their trusty underlings to fix a problem when—or ideally before—it becomes detrimental to the property as a whole.
The chief engineer must have their finger on the pulse of the community, as it falls to them to address issues both in common areas and individual units alike. And a board should know for what to look when hiring such a person, from both a professional and personal standpoint, as it will be leaning on the chief engineer immensely as the two entities work together to maintain a thriving residential environment.
In order to evaluate whether a candidate for chief engineer is a worthy one, a board must anticipate everything that this person will need to do once hired. Not only in regard to cosmetic repairs, but in terms of management, engagement, transparency and routine conduct.
“We look for chief engineers that are problem solvers,” says Jim Stoller, president and chief executive officer of The Building Group. “They need to be able to efficiently and succinctly communicate issues to both management and the board of directors. They have to understand building systems, as they operate as the eyes and ears who scout the property, looking for things that are both working well and have the potential to cease functioning. They’re not just opening doors—they’re people who can see, think and understand building systems.”
As building systems evolve and the interface through which one interacts with said systems changes, chief engineers must be able to adapt and grow in turn. “These days more than ever, computer skills are really becoming essential, if this wasn’t already so,” says Thomas Dobry, director of training for SEIU Local 1—a union representing chief engineers in the Chicago area. “Buildings have incorporated so much tech to the extent that many aspects can be controlled from a laptop or a phone. Because HVAC and boiler systems can be operated remotely, this in some ways makes the job of the chief engineer easier, but it does add another layer of skill set that is now necessary in order to perform the job.”