Rainy-day blues

Mr. Millin looks at the impact that the recent heavy rains have

Alan Millin suggests longer liability periods for construction contractors.
Alan Millin suggests longer liability periods for construction contractors.

Alan Millin looks at the impact that the recent heavy rains have had on the FM sector, and the implications for build quality.

In the last month or so we have enjoyed the rains again. Or do facilities managers in the UAE really enjoy rain? It is hard, if not impossible, to get to work sometimes. Indeed, a lot of people spent many long hours in their cars.

Vehicles were damaged; people became tired, upset and angry. There is a lot to be said for working from home sometimes.

But facilities managers and their teams really have no choice. They are providing a service to the client, and they have to be at the right place, at the right time to do that.

To make matters worse, the facilities they are managing in the UAE are often suffering from the effects of the rain too, whether from leaks through the building fabric or from flood waters. Even covered car parks are not immune.

At one facility I visited, parking in the rain at the roof parking level was more convenient – that is, drier – than the covered parking area where we might reasonably expect it to be dry.

Maybe FM companies can make some money carrying out the remedial works and plugging leaks, but it strains resources and generally does not really solve the underlying problems.

Just because we can see where water enters a room through the ceiling, it does not mean that the water is entering the facility from the roof directly above. Often the problem is some distance away, and the water may have flowed down a complex path to enter the room in question.

The FM team might think they have found the entry point and plugged it, but how do they know they have found the right spot, or indeed the only spot that feeds the water path? Maybe they can only hope they have got it right until it rains again.

Wet insulation is useless
When insulation gets wet, it is often useless from that point onwards. Roofs can be badly damaged by water, but we do not see this damage. In a country and region where rain is as infrequent as it is in the UAE, the builders are often long gone before defects become apparent.

But what about the effects on tenants in a multi-tenanted facility? Some of those affected by the rain damage are unable to continue trading until the problems have been rectified. Who pays for this loss of business? Insurance? Maybe, if the tenant has adequate cover.

The building owner can lose money if tenants are unable to trade. But wouldn’t it be better if the developer paid for damage and loss caused by poor quality construction or defects?

Perhaps things might improve if the developer committed to a longer period of liability, perhaps ten years? Why should a building or unit owner have to foot the bill for poor-quality construction? If buildings can keep out rain in other parts of the world, why not here in the Middle East, too?

The mechanism to encourage developers and design/construction companies to focus on delivering a higher quality product can be quite straightforward – money! Contracts often have retentions for set periods. Why not simply make those periods longer to make sure the buildings are sound before paying the retention?

Even residential buildings are not immune. Lower-quality apartment buildings leak, too. Water enters from the roof area. Water enters through the windows. The fact that the buildings are not luxury villas should not automatically translate to poor-quality construction.

The fixtures and fittings might be cheaper, but the building itself should be sound. In one case, the master developer of a community took no action on a freehold owner’s complaints during the rains early last year, and then took the same stance again this year.

Their response this year was nothing short of insulting to the apartment owner: “The defect liability period (DLP) on your unit has now expired; we are no longer responsible for corrective works”. The same master developer has offered no explanation as to why it failed to respond to requests for work during the DLP either.

To be using the DLP now to sidestep their responsibility reflects very badly on the company in question. Owners need protection from unscrupulous developers such as the one described above. The developers should be held accountable for the quality of their product.

It is interesting that, at a time when corporate reputation management should be a factor on everyone’s agenda, some developers seem intent on suffering from self-inflicted wounds.

Executives can act to protect their corporate reputations before attacks occur. They can act to handle attacks on their reputations as they occur. Why they would be happy to stand by as their company suffers at its own hands is something of a puzzling conundrum.

One thing is sure, though. Clients should no longer foot the bill for the poor performance of master developers, designers and construction teams.

Alan Millin is a Chartered Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional. He is an independent consultant, coach and trainer, based in Dubai. He has over 35 years’ experience in the HVAC industry, and has led the consultancy mission of two major Dubai FM companies. He can be contacted at: akmillin@hvacandr.com

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