It is a sad fact that most condo owners in Pattaya are being being cheated out of their hard earned money by unscrupulous Thai managers and other highly trusted condo personnel, Embezzlement is to be expected more than it is to be unexpected. But I’ve already dealt with that in Part 1. of — How most Pattaya condominiums cheat their owners. Pattaya condo repair ripoffs are even harder to detect, than embezzlement but very noticeable if you being asked for a $400 oil change. Here’s a tall tale that’s based on a true story that I’ve changed to protect the guilty. Unfortunately for all of you Pattaya condo owners out there this tale is all too true. Welcome to Part II.
Most of the 174,000 baht repair bid was for a $400 oil change to a Cummins diesel engine, several valves, a pressure gauge, and several bearings and seals. The bid was sanctioned by the highly paid condo engineer overseeing the condominium electrical, internet, television, telephone, and security systems, who the condo owners were paying a monthly retainer to handle any technical problems affecting their building. But both the engineer and the company offering the bid had made two fatal errors: First, both had assumed that the committee representing the condo owners had the intelligence level of Australian wombats, and second, that committee members would not go to the trouble of analyzing the outrageous bid. The most glaring tip off was “Cummins 15W-40/18″ that had been typed on the bid, specifying that the Cummins Diesel motor needed 18 liters of plain ordinary 15W-40 weight oil that was being sold in gas stations world wide for only $3.00 to $4.00 a liter. Not only was the price per liter of oil ridiculous, one of the committeemen also figured that this particular Cummins diesel engine called for 7.5 liters for an oil change similar to what a small diesel car needed. 18 liters might work for a 18,000 pound farm tractor, but the crankcase of the condo’s Cummins Diesel could never hold nearly that much oil.
The entire sorry episode started when one of the condo committee members started to worry that his condo building’s insurance policy might not cover damages from a fire should the condo building’s fire control systems fail. The committee member had been assuming that once the building’s fire alarm was triggered a water pump would automatically switch on to pressurize the fire hoses throughout the building. But when it was decided to call in a Bangkok based company that specialized in such issues, another committee member started to smell a rat. When the condo manager presented him with the 174,000 baht bid ($5500) and he saw the price for the oil change, bearings and bearing seals, he laughed and reminded himself “This is Thailand” (TIT) where it is expected that Thais earning $1.56 an hour actually expected to get $100 an hour provided the money was coming from stupid falang.”
The condo had a fire extinguisher on each floor and a fire hose that ran off a water line connected to a valve. One might assume that pressurized water would squirt out of the hose as soon as the valve was opened. However, a necessary first step must be taken to pressurize the water line. There are several water pumps on the first floor. The first pump’s purpose is to prime a larger pump which fills the water line that is used for the fire hoses on each of the condo’s 10 floors. This second pump is run by the Cummins diesel engine. It takes at least three minutes for enough pressure to build up in the water line for the fire hoses to work property.
Now comes the sales job. The condo engineer tells the condo manager and two committee members that there is a leak in the system which causes insufficient pressure to build up in the water line. A myth is created by the Bangkok company that the entire system must work automatically and that it is difficult to find the leak that is causing the pressure to fall off. Finally the locations of several leaks are found, and the Bangkok company submits its 174,000 baht bid for stopping the leaks in water lines, pumps, etc that are keeping the system from working automatically.
There’s a leak alright but the water is leaking only as an insignificant trickle. And who cares about such a small leak anyway so long as the system is turned on only for brief periods such as when there actually is a fire or when one wants to merely test the system? Two committee members order the condo engineer and its maintenance employee to run the system. The first step is to turn on an electronic switch that starts the small pump that primes the main pump which fills the water line that runs up each floor to the condo fire hoses. The second step is to start the Cummins diesel engine that pressurizes the fire control system’s water line. This amounts to turning a second switch that runs from the diesel’s two batteries to a starter motor. The Cummins engine takes three minutes to build up enough pressure from the main pump into the fire control water line. All of this amounts to turning two switches, then watching a pressure gauge until sufficient pressure is registered. All of the condo fire hoses are now ready for action. The last step is to go to the floor where there’s a fire, uncoiling the fire hose, opening the valve next to the fire hose, and turning on the hose.
The whole thing is a complete farce. It makes no sense to make the system function automatically because of the strong likelihood of new leaks in the fire control water line, a pump, or the various valves throughout the system. If a leak should suddenly appear the Cummins diesel engine is going to be running all the time and water is going to start building up near the leak. So the only sensible solution is to run the system manually, which amounts to the security guards, condo employees and key condo residents learning how to run the system. And as for the leak that’s already been found off the main pump next to the Cummins diesel, an insignificant amount of water is leaking out and this will happen only when the Cummins diesel is started when a fire actually breaks out or the system is being checked out.
The two condo committee members aren’t biting and neither is the condo manager. One of the two technicians from the Bangkok company tells the manager that he can do the entire repair job for only 100,000 baht so long as he works directly with her. The condo engineer asks one of the committee members, “If I can get all this repair work done for 100,000 baht will you let me handle this job for you?”
Ripping off condo owners for both unnecessary and excessively high repair costs is a way of life here in Pattaya. As Doctor Phillaneous Beckstein once put it: “Getting hired on as a Thai manager or other key employee for just 20,000 baht a month is a big deal because that 20,000 represents only part of what a manager or other key employees can make given all the opportunities there are for ripping off the owners. Those condo owners have a right to expect trusted key personnel to look after their financial interests by keeping repair costs down. That’s what they are being paid to do. Unfortunately the time dishonored Pattaya custom of getting excessive commissions for everyone had once again reared its ugly head. All condo owners in Pattaya need to beware that they are more likely to be ripped off than not being ripped off on repairs and act accordingly. Committee members need to be very vigilant and to get very involved when it comes to repair issues while the rest of the condo owners need to be fully supportive of their elected committee members. Nothing less will stave off the near inevitability of being cheated at every turn.