Facility Condition Assessments and the Role of an Engineer

An engineer can be a valuable fiduciary for property owners and managers by working to help establish maintenance programs and early detection of problems.

Published May 25, 2022

By Karl Mertens, P.E.

Property managers have a fiduciary responsibility to the property owner to retain professionals as needed to help maintain the health of a property. Engineers can an integral part of this team as they hold an over-arching responsibility to protect the public, specifically if hazards develop in buildings.

The confidence an owner places in an engineer should be backed by thoroughness during the site visit where an engineer uses a similar methodology during every facility condition assessment to document any issues previously known or unknown. After a problem is identified, it is the responsibility of an engineer to consider the severity of the problem. This extends beyond the obvious and immediate issue and reaches into second order thinking about what is contributing to the issue, what future issues will this cause, does it repeat at areas that are not visible, does it need to be addressed immediately, and what impact will this have on the owner and/or occupants of the building. As such, raising a life safety concern about an immediate structural failure is a last resort for engineers and is only used to protect the public from harm.

However, it is possible to prevent a building from reaching the uncomfortable discussion of life safety that neither the engineer nor owner desire to have.  Much like an annual health care checkup where physicians monitor your health for any changes or indications of a declining condition, regular engineering checkups are extremely valuable in early detection of problems.  Typically, any declining condition caught early is much easier to address and provides more options for treatment. When detected early, the problems are generally less extensive and less costly to maintain. This can be achieved through maintenance and monitoring the condition of the facility over the service life of the structure. As buildings age, unaddressed problems begin to compile, increasing the risk of structural issues, failure and certainly the cost of repairs to increase. These increased risks and costs are minimal at first, but typically grow exponentially as time passes when not accounted for.

As such, maintenance and monitoring have multiple elements to consider:

  • As an owner and/or property manager know your building. If you see something that has changed (cracking, water infiltration, etc.) investigate it. If the problem is not obvious, call an expert.
  • Any fiduciary to a building owner, such as property managers or HOA boards, should be doing their best to anticipate and expect maintenance costs with buildings. As buildings age, more maintenance costs should be planned for. An engineer can be a valuable fiduciary for the property owners and managers by working to help establish maintenance programs and early detection of problems. It is much easier to execute repairs if the cost has already been considered.
  • Has the usage of the structure changed? If the answer is yes, it is in the best interest of the owner to seek an engineers opinion on how this affects the structure. A change in loading may cause issues that an engineer can help identify. In addition, buildings are designed based on the currently adopted building code at the time of construction. Therefore, depending on the age of the structure, code requirements may have changed. However, even if code requirements have changed, the building does not automatically need to be upgraded. There are provisions that allow a structure with adequate performance to remain as is. It will be the engineers task to walk an owner through any requirements.
  • Provide routine evaluations of your structure with a report. While every five years is recommended, as a building ages increased frequency may be needed. This will create a history that can easily be passed between different individuals caring for the building. Upon receipt of the report, request to have all photographs added to your file. This history (written and photographic) will be invaluable if a future problem arises, as it could lead to before and after documentation of a troubled area.
  • There are consequences if maintenance recommendations are ignored. Some items can be cosmetic in nature and will not cause issues if they are neglected. However, not every problem is cosmetic and if ignored will eventually force a repair and/or failure. If it reaches this state, the best-case scenario is a costly and invasive repair and the worst-case scenario is a failure resulting in fatalities.
  • Considering the Surfside Condominium tragedy, serious conditions were identified prior to the collapse. Unfortunately, this information was not effectively acted upon. While it is not my intent to assign fault, we can take away some lessons from the inaction. As a property manager, you should make sure to ask questions and fully understand the language presented in an engineering report. If unclear or if the risk is not fully understood, ask additional questions. Similarly, engineers need to work at communicating facility conditions in a manner that can be interpreted simply and with associated risk factors that owners and property managers can understand.


As outlined above, regular maintenance is vital to the performance of a building especially as it ages. Thus, when establishing a fiduciary relationship between both property owners and property managers, an engineer can be a valuable asset.