Are all elevator companies equally bad? This is a question posed in a forum on UrbanToronto.ca in the Design and Architectural Style section. For too many of the commentators in the blog, the answer is an unfortunate yes. Each respondent complained about the state of the elevator industry when it comes to repairs, but none really had the right explanation. It is true there is a bit of a shortage of elevator techs, but that is not the core issue regarding poor repairs. In other words, a technician properly trained can easily tackle most elevator problems, but what if there was something built into how we buy elevators in the first place that totally did away with any incentive to get the job done right?
Here is the first horror story from the blog that was posted by Harry_Fine. It spells out a huge issue in the elevator industry and the reason for the bad rep. It is completely accurate other than the name of the elevator company in question. I took it out because all big elevators companies are largely one in the same:
“I live in a new downtown condo, won’t mention the name at the moment so as not to stigmatize it. It’s a small building about a dozen floors. It’s been occupied for about 18 months. The elevators are XXXXXXXXXXXX (a big elevator company that will go unnamed) and are awful in terms of reliability. Perhaps not the elevator per se, but when they break, they are down for days. Parts need to be flown in, perhaps from Germany. Our condo board tells us that only they (the big elevator company) can fix their elevators, that they don’t supply parts to third party elevator companies, they keep it all in-house to create a monopoly.
Last year shortly after the building opened, one car was down for 2 weeks. We only have 2 cars. With our new-building move-ins, life was hell.
Now a year later, since Thursday, none of the buttons on the floors work, you press the button and light goes on, you take your finger off and light goes off. So to get by they put it on automatic service opening on every floor 24/7 until it’s fixed. Usually wait is about 7 minutes. Big elevator company seems either unable to fix it or in no big hurry.
On one of the cars we’ve had the door close button not functioning. They have been in several times. Unable to fix it. It’s been broken for 6 months.
Wondering if people here have similar experiences and have found a way not to be held hostage by these elevator companies?”
Believe it or not, Mr. Fine identified the biggest problem in the last sentence of the first paragraph. The condo board’s hands are tied. When the building was in the early planning stages, the developer of the property or owner was sold on an elevator from a big company (you know them, I won’t name them). They got a cheap price and likely didn’t double check; they just took the lowest bid. Buried in the plethora of drawings, specs and forms was a clause stating proprietary parts were allowed, hence the reason for the cheap price.
Just to explain, proprietary is a monopoly machine and the reason for all the pain because proprietary simply means that only one company can work on the unit because they have the special tools and codes to fix problems if they occur. There is no competition, no other company to call and most importantly, there is no way out. Like the blood oath made to a Mafia Don, once you are in, you are in. Yes, you can sue them, stamp your feet and hold your breath, but one of those strategies will have as much likelihood of helping as the other. Ultimately, if you go that route, the result will be being passed out, with flat arches and a lighter pocketbook, due to legal fees.
That is because big elevator companies have been playing the game much longer than any building owner and so they know the wiggle words and loopholes in elevator contracts better than anyone. After all, they are ones who write them. Once a general contractor, building owner or architect signs off on the proprietary units, their hooks are in for the life of the elevator, or 25+ years. That is why big elevator will forgo the up-front profit for long-term gain for them and misery for everyone else. This is why there is no rush on providing service, no rush on getting parts flown in from wherever and no worry about keeping a unit running like it should. What are you going to do?
To keep out of proprietary units, you have to start when the building is on the drawing board. Keep in mind that you do not have to go with units filled with proprietary parts at all! But, if you opt for non-proprietary, watch out! Big elevator companies have been known to sneak them in anyway. They understand that often the projects they are included in are significantly removed from the end user and owner of the property. Just like in the case of the condo in question, the current owners did not make the decision to go with proprietary parts and it would be practically impossible to find out who made that decision or if a decision were made at all.
Another annoyance is that once the elevator with proprietary parts is chosen, the elevator company gets to call all the shots, especially when it comes to prices of service. Many of the service agreements they slide across the table for signature are lopsided and filled with automatic renewals and annual price increases.
And that leads to the final question of the blog: “Wondering if people here have similar experiences and have found a way not to be held hostage by these elevator companies?” The answer would more than likely be no. In some cases, fighting your way out of a contract will work. However, it literally took a court order from a federal judge to get the tools from a big elevator company in a county in Pennsylvania. But that win is the exception, not the rule. Your best bet is to not move into a building or buy a condo or other building that contains an elevator with proprietary parts in the first place. Yes, they are that bad. Also, ask to see the repair schedules and how often the elevators are down. The person selling the premises should not hesitate in allowing you to see the records. If they refuse…move on.
Lastly, and you knew it was coming, the sales pitch. Phoenix Modular Elevator always provides non-proprietary parts. They are always high-quality and, in most cases, the very same parts you find in any elevator. Dirty little secret…all elevator companies mostly use the very same parts. Any certified technician can fix our elevators so you can shop for prices and if a poor job is done, you won’t go begging for relief. You can fire the company and look for a better one. I know that doesn’t help the current complaint very much, but hopefully this will serve as a warning to shopped elevators for ones with non-proprietary parts at the top of the list.
If you are in the market for a new elevator click the link below for a fast free estimate. Just some key information or approximate guesses and you can find out what a commercial quality elevator would cost.