Having a ‘building guide’ for a property is worth its weight in gold as a form of go-to-guide for how a property is used.
You may hear of different names for these including residents’ guide, welcome pack, or property manual. They all have the same gist, to summarise all the nuts-and-bolts of using a property day-to-day.
And this is the secret, to make it as practical and usable as possible with little fuss. People don’t have the time to wade through separate instructions and documents, it’s handy to have in one easy-to-read place.
The Two Benefits
There’s a double-benefit to having one of these in place.
Firstly, it’s actually helpful for people, particularly occupiers who need to use the building day to day. It sounds simple, but it can save everyone running around like a headless chicken afterwards trying to get answers.
The second is legal, and providing a formal means of communicating important information such as fire safety and management procedures. This will help demonstrate effective communication under whatever legal duties the entity responsible for managing the property has.
What It Includes
As you then look into what such a document needs to include, below is a summary of 23 key issues to consider.
Now of course these are only generic, and will differ between not only every property, but every different use of the property.
But no matter what this is, whether simple residential or complex commercial one, these are still applicable to some degree to help form the final building guide.
1. An Introduction
As an introduction to this guide, you need to briefly outline the basics of what is being covered and why.
So not only describe the property in general, but who has responsibilities under leases and obligations of different parts.
When it comes to parties involved as well, state who has what responsibility, including any appointed management companies or managing agents. From this you can therefore drill-down into who broadly does what and if any other interests like new tenants need to be issued with this guide going forward.
2. Contacts and Communication
It may sound obvious, but can be overlooked, and outlining different contacts for different purposes will be very helpful.
So there may be a general day-to-day property manager contact, or more formal one for accounts and correspondence. There may also be a phone number to call when any emergencies arise.
3. Vehicles & Bike
Car parking can be out of control without clear rules and regulations here, right down to what spaces are allocated and how often and where any visitors can park.
Also remember more unusual scenarios if required, for example in commercial vehicles the need to park or regularly unload, and if there are any stores and arrangements for bikes.
4. Ice and Snow
When the cold hits town, this is an important health and safety liability to clarify.
So even if each occupier just needs to manage themselves, then state this along with any communal provision of say grit bins.
Regular cleaning of communal areas is key, ideally with a clear timing and specification to avoid confusion.
Plus, ancillary services may also be needed, for example pest control measures, extra deep-cleans, and window cleaning of both inside and outside areas.
6. Repairs & Maintenance
Begin by stating who needs to repair which areas, but go on to state how matters can be reported to another party if technically not your own responsibility.
It may also be worth drilling-down into details such as warranties to be aware of, specialist areas like lighting and PAT testing, and being aware of factors such as asbestos surveys.
7. Fire Safety Equipment
This needs to state the main equipment and systems installed to provide a helpful overview without getting bogged-down with technical detail.
Examples include fire alarms, air vents, and emergency lighting. And when you’re clarifying who needs to maintain what, don’t forget things like interlinked-alarms which means another party looks after even though devices are in another area.
8. Fire Evacuation Procedures
This is more the procedure side of fire safety, an essential part of communication with all occupier and related parties.
There may be a core fire evacuation procedure to adhere to, and any general stances like a stay-put policy for a lot of residential properties.
You may also need to bring in related property issues to these, for example regular fire drills, appointed fire marshals, and ensuring all fire doors are regularly checked and not left open.
9. Access & Security
There may be a lot of detail to outline on security measures for a property, right down from how to obtain access codes and keys, the cost for issuing fobs, and what to do in an emergency.
Remember this needs to balance keeping the building secure, with people still being able to regularly use for approved activities, for example tradesman-buzzers and fire escapes being always kept clear.
10. Main Utilities
These are the mainstream ones of water, gas and electricity, and just exactly where things like meters, stop-taps and isolation switches are.
There may also be confusing situations to outline such as communal supplies with sub-meters and separate recharge arrangements, and practical issues such as keys for meter cupboards and any utility companies to call direct in an emergency.
11. Additional Utilities
More modern ones are phone lines, internet lines and even TV aerial connections. As well as similar access and recharge issues as the main utilities, state obvious things such as down where to connect into and even what providers and packages are recommended.
12. Council Tax or Business Rates
This is more on the accounts side rather than direct property, but worth a mention so that it doesn’t come back and complicate matters later.
In short, occupiers need to check under leases and legal obligations whether they need to liaise with the local authority to pay council tax for residential properties and business rates for commercial ones.
13. Refuse Collection
Not the nicest of jobs, but can cause endless problems and costs for those managing properties when not done regularly and efficiently.
In addition to the basic location and timing of where the rubbish goes, make sure the recycle arrangements and how occupiers are to deal with any additional items are known, particularly after, say, moving in.
14. People & Pets
People using a property are of course key, however also don’t forget any policy on whether pets are allowed, even for commercial properties.
With people then the who and how they can occupy is key, with any requirements for formal requests for permission noted down, and to include modern ways like AirBnB and temporary stays, and ensuring there are no nuisances like noise levels.
15. Post & Deliveries
A simple one to nip in the bud now and clarify before causing problems later on.
So where and how occupiers collect regular mail, including any mailbox keys etc they will need as soon as possible after first occupying the property.
But also remember in this modern age of regular deliveries during the day (and night), and how such delivery people will gain access and leave parcels.
16. Insurance Cover
Without going into detail of actual policies, it’s helpful to outline the broad-brush requirements.
The main one is who should insure the main building as opposed to the individual contents which are often different policies, plus how people should behave to comply with any requirements and even process a claim.
No one be allowed to smoke inside the communal areas within any premises, but outside areas can be a grey area.
In addition to any official designated smoking areas, make sure cigarette butts don’t get left willy-nilly.
18. Drains & Sewers
This should be straightforward, however, do make known any limitations, and maybe clarify that occupiers are responsible for mess they cause in any communal systems themselves.
For more modern schemes there may also be more complicated flood-control systems as well to effectively communicate.
19. External Areas
These cover a whole range of areas, the popular ones being landscaped areas. In addition to explaining how often and how effectively these are maintained, maybe state how they should be used by, say, children, and discuss washing lines and parties.
There may also be hard-standing areas and patios to notify about, and the need to keep essential fire-escape routes always clear.
20. Due Payments
Not so much on the practical running of a property, but worth stating how people deal with these, maybe to a separate contact and if there are different ones for, say service charges compared to rent.
You may also need to remind about things like paying in a timely manner before interest charge payments.
21. Communal Areas
Although you’ll be addressing all kinds of issues concerning communal areas in all of the other aspects, it may be worth referring to a few general issues for these areas such as making sure fire escape routes are always clear and signing-in to any visitor books.
22. Sales & Lettings
Worth a quick mention of who to contact if any property interest is being sold or let, for example who to request a sales pack from and fees involved with this.
In addition to general repairs and maintenance mentioned above, think of instances when there will be changes, including what alterations can and can’t be done with permission or specific procedures.
Also having the specification of any replacement parts is helpful, for example paint shades, carpet designs, heating and cooling equipment specifications and bulbs.
Agreeing the Final Building Guide
As you go through these above issues within a good building guide, remember that these are only the starting point to then evolve and adapt. Everything needs carefully applying to the reality of managing this property, and don’t forget to note any other ideas and issues that spring to mind as you go through this process.
The worst thing you can do is just reel off a standard one and send out. At best it’s not including everything, at worst causing more confusion by relating the wrong issues.
This is where good property-management experience comes in – fine-tuning things like this to make the property tick along a whole lot easier.
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