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Worth Appealing

Worth Appealing: Trash Chutes Technical Glitch Results in REAC “Double Hit”

By: Michael Gantt

One of the “sneaky” REAC defects we often see in larger buildings is the trash chute door defect, properly known as Trash Collection Areas; Chutes Damaged/Missing Components (Common Areas.) During the REAC inspection, it is the proper procedure for the inspector to inspect each chute door for proper operation, which includes closing and latching on its own. While a few older chutes from the 60s may use a “hopper” type door and may not have a latch, most modern chute doors will be fitted with a spring or counterweight that slams it shut when released. It should latch. In addition to the obvious function of containing any odors from the chutes, these doors also serve the most important function of preventing smoke and fire from being transmitted into upper floors if the chutes catch fire. We call it a sneaky defect, because it is one that few maintenance persons expect to be cited for unless they’ve been through a few REAC inspections, and because no matter how often you check the chute doors, they can become warped or packed with trash so that they don’t close properly. It’s such a frequent and routine problem that it becomes a frustrating nuisance that the staff may start to overlook.

This is not one of those devastating “big hits” that can knock ten points off of the property’s score in a single blow, but it is significant at about 2 points for the typical single building mid to high rise where it is found and cited at a Level 3. When a heart breaking a score of 89.3 results, everyone will wish that the chutes doors had been checked one more time and repaired properly for dependable operation. While it would be far better to put trash chutes near the top of your REAC checklist for single building properties that have them, and to plan ahead rather than discover an inoperable chute door too close to inspection day to allow ordering the right parts, there’s a little known REAC secret you should also share throughout your company in case a trash chute defect details a future inspection.

When REAC published the latest Uniform Physical Condition Standards (UPCS) which are the basis of the REAC inspection in the Federal Register in 2012, this new version included a change regarding trash chutes. Until that time, this was a Level 3 defect only. Upon adoption of the changes, it became a Level 2 defect, reducing the scoring impact by 50% from about 2 points to about 1 point, again assuming the typical one building property. However, when REAC issued the latest version of the REAC inspection software, RAPID 4.0, the software did not include any change to the Level of Severity. The software still registers the defect at Level 3, resulting in twice the scoring impact of the proper Level 2, although there is no legal basis for this. Each time an inspector records this defect, the legally prescribed scoring value is doubled, and REAC had no process in place to correct this error, which is entirely transparent to the inspector and the property alike. If not for this article, your own properties may be losing an extra point, and nobody would ever know.

We brought this to the attention of a highly placed REAC official who has replied with the statement that REAC is now aware of this issue, and that REAC should approve every appeal that is submitted for adjustment due to the over-rating of the defect. It is our experience that the appeals process can remove an erroneous defect from an inspection result, but cannot result in the addition of a corrected defect. We expect that, until a more permanent fix has been made to RAPID 4.0, each appeal will result in the complete elimination of the scoring deduction, rather than a 50% reduction. If this issue is handled in this way, it will mean a scoring improvement of about 2 points for those properties cited for trash chute issues.

Regardless of this apparent “freebie,” don’t ignore the defect! Trash chute doors are an important smoke and fire control factor, and their failure could result in the catastrophic infiltration of smoke or even fire into the upper floors of a building, possibly leading to injury or death. As property management professionals, we all have a duty and moral obligation to safeguard the lives of our residents. Beyond fulfilling this duty, we must keep in mind that this issue could present a tremendous legal liability.

For more information, including a sample appeal template, contact Michael Gantt at mike@theinspectiongroup.com

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