Have you been tasked with setting up an elevator maintenance contract for the property you manage?

It is generally the case with elevators that if they are working as designed, nobody takes notice.  However, if the elevators operate unreliably, or cause safety concerns, they become the talk of the building. It is the same for setting up an elevator maintenance contract; if things go poorly, your every decision may be questioned.  Given that the elevator industry has a reputation for being one of the most difficult, this article is written to provide you with basic advice to avoid the most common pitfalls when establishing an elevator maintenance contract.

The information below is meant to guide managers in setting up the maintenance of three or fewer elevators.  If your portfolio is larger, it is advisable to seek the drafting of a custom document from an elevator consultant.  Most elevator consultants offer this service, and these documents usually pay for themselves within the first year.

Commonly, the representative who is sent to meet and discuss elevator maintenance contracts is a commissioned sales associate.  Accordingly, their end goal may be selling you an elevator maintenance contract for the longest term possible, and with conditions as favourable as possible to their employer. In many cases, the account representatives lack specific technical knowledge of your elevator control system and cannot properly assess the ability of their company to troubleshoot high-level problems with your elevators.  In other words, they may have instructions to “get it signed up now” and “figure it out later”.

There has always been a disparity between elevator maintenance contracts written by elevator contractors versus those written by building owner advocates such as consultants.  Below are the most problematic aspects of contractor-written documents.  These should be renegotiated and rewritten before any contract is put in place.

 

Contractor-written documents tend to be vague about the frequency of visits and maintenance tasks.  If you are expecting monthly preventative maintenance, this needs to be explicitly written into the document.  There should also be provisions for compensation if the monthly visits are missed.

There should be commitment as to the expected response time to elevator malfunctions, both emergency entrapments and more routine malfunctions.

At a minimum, your maintenance agreement should indicate that the elevators are to be maintained to the original manufacturer’s standards.  The mentioned parameters should include elevator running speed, door movement times, accelerations, and noise levels.  It is not uncommon in the elevator industry for equipment to degrade in performance before the engineered lifespan due to lack of maintenance, so proper documentation of existing conditions is your best strategy to combat this problem.

The document should establish a target benchmark for rate of malfunctions.  In the elevator industry, it is generally held that a reliable elevator should malfunction no more than once every two months.

The document should clearly detail which parts are covered, or more simply, which parts are excluded.  Consultant-written documents indicate that all components originally installed by the elevator trade are covered for adjustment, repair, and replacement.  Exclusions for obsolescence should be avoided, as that term is almost impossible to define.

Most elevator contractor documents rely on an “evergreen” clause that causes them to roll over for a five-year contract term if they are not cancelled 90 days in advance of the end of term.  Typically, property managers signing these documents misread this as cancellation any time upon 90 days’ notice.  This has frequently resulted in building owners being locked into multi-year terms unexpectedly.  Maintenance contractors who are confident in the quality of their work should offer you a “cancellation with cause” clause that could be exercised at any time within a contract term.  Beware of any contractor seeking terms longer than five years.

Other terms and conditions that should raise concern: many elevator contractor documents contain objectionable liability clauses, as well as multiple references to aspects being in “the contractor’s opinion” or “the contractor’s judgment”.

 

Which Contractor to Choose

Separate from the issue of the contract document is choosing which elevator maintenance contractor is right for an elevator or elevator portfolio.  Price is obviously fundamental, but it would be a mistake to use this as the only criteria.  Large elevator contractors offer the support and backup of a multinational corporation but may lose sight of their individual customers.  Small contractors can provide more responsive and customized service but sometimes lack the engineering backup required for high-level problems.  The bottom line is, the elevator electronic control system in your portfolio should be one of many systems successfully serviced locally by your chosen contractor.  Ask for specific references for the make and model you own.

 

Proprietary

Early in the process of selecting your elevator maintenance contractor, you need to determine the proprietary aspects of your equipment.  Any elevator installed over the last 20 years likely has a microprocessor within the heart of its control system.  Some of these microprocessors were installed with open architecture, to be maintained by anyone.  However, most systems manufactured by the large elevator suppliers are not viewed as maintenance-friendly by competing maintenance contractors.  If your elevator equipment has a proprietary system, you may have to settle for reaching whatever deal you can, regardless of how dissatisfied you are with their service.  The only way to avoid this situation is to purchase truly non-proprietary equipment.

 

Maintenance Control Plan

In Ontario, the elevator safety authority (Technical Standards and Safety Authority: TSSA) has implemented new rules requiring all elevators to have a Maintenance Control Plan (MCP).  TSSA’s intent is that detailed requirements for safe maintenance of elevators should be implemented and clearly documented in all elevator machine rooms.  Unfortunately, this is being interpreted by contractors as justifying drastic reductions in the frequency of maintenance.  The lowered maintenance frequency is being undertaken without any reduction in price.  It should be noted that TSSA has specifically indicated that MCP legislation was not intended to reduce the amount of required maintenance.

 

By taking some time to thoroughly examine the maintenance contract on offer before signing the deal, you can save yourself a world of headache, and feel more confident that the service you will receive will be sufficient and hassle-free.  For more information on how to avoid the pitfalls of an inadequate maintenance contract, feel free to contact us at amcgregor@rooneyirving.ca.