Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why Are Maintenance Teams So Unhappy?

Do I expect too much? I’m beginning to think this is true and it’s a problem I should get a handle on. Here’s the thing: I see a lot of onsite teams trying to get it together and make it all happen so that move ins can occur on time, work orders are completed in a timely fashion and the property overall is maintained beautifully. When that doesn’t happen, it’s my job to figure out why there is onsite turmoil.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing from Maintenance Techs that their pay is too low. “Give me a raise and I’ll work harder.” Or, “Pay me what I’m worth and I can step in and handle that project. You won’t have to hire a contractor.” This banter is what I am having trouble wrapping my head around so I can sympathize.

Corporate level leaders usually follow that philosophy with, “You knew what the pay was when you signed your Offer Letter. How do you come back six months later demanding more pay?”
Maintenance techs are worth every penny they are paid. More and more companies are looking to hire techs who have certifications in Pool Operations, HVAC, who also have detailed plumbing skills who can install shut off valves for buildings and, can solve drainage issues, can repair drywall … Honestly, that list is even more extensive. So, WILL OFFERING $4.00 MORE AN HOUR OVER THE GOING MARKET SALARY IN YOUR AREA ENSURE YOU HAVE LOYALTY AND A GREAT NEW EMPLOYEE?

Nope, it sure doesn’t. 

As a property manager, how many times has a tech or supervisor walked in, laid his/her keys on the desk and walked away? From what I hear from Property Managers all over the country, pay might be the least of it. What I hear is Techs, Managers, Leasing Consultants stating they quit because of the workload and not enough company resources to pay for supplies, marketing materials, and lack of respect by upper management or having a too-demanding boss. 

I call bullsh*t. 

I love maintenance techs, so do not misunderstand the message I’m trying to make. Techs are the most important role onsite, in my opinion. Without them the property will not function or thrive. However, do not overinflate your skill level, your customer service skills, and/or your ability to do the detail work. Stop turning units where you don’t install a new tub drain cover or pop assembly that are completely rusted. Stop walking out of a unit knowing you just tweaked the issue so it will last one more day or week or month knowing the resident will call back eventually. Fix it right the first time. Don’t skip over one work order because it “looks hard.” And, please, do not turn in a work order as Complete when it is not (because you “think” you did that one but can’t really remember because you lost the actual work order.) It makes the whole team look incompetent and untrustworthy.

Because our Maintenance Teams are so important, I see a lot of egos, either, over-inflated and cocky, or feeling defeated from lack of recognition. Managers, how do you handle this? Until the last couple of years, I had never seen such detached maintenance techs who ignore what a Manager will ask be done and go off on their own agenda. What happened to the team concept? What happened to Morning Meetings (15 minutes) to discuss the Plan for the Day? What happened to the “Go Get ‘em” attitudes? 

It’s a lot better onsite when everyone looks out for each other and there is no us against them and us against the Residents philosophical approach to property management. Just wondering how we get there again.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Do You Condone Sexual Harassment on Your Properties?

Before you answer, consider your policy,the training of your onsite staff, and how prepared you are to act decisively should an employee report the incident.

I happened upon a discussion going on in an Apartment Management/Maintenance Facebook group the other day where a young woman manager who lives on site with her children was asking for advice on how to handle two older male residents where one was hugging and kissing her and the other was telling her explicit, off-color jokes. The first 40 comments were advising her to play it off with humor, ignore it (after all, they’re just “dirty old men” or telling her supervisor because once she tells, it becomes the supervisor’s problem to solve. 

Uh. NO. This is the very definition of sexual harassment and she should not have to deal with this at work. The Original Poster worried that they “know where she lives” and she lives alone with her children. Furthermore, it has been going on for five years. Yes, FIVE YEARS. 

Unless you have personally experienced this type of fear, this type of humiliation, this kind of attention that is unsolicited, unwanted, and difficult to stop, you may find it hard to understand; it is a situation no one wishes to be subjected to for one minute, let alone years. This is the exact reason I left the most personally rewarding and fulfilling career of teaching. Yes, I reported it. Yes, my attorney issued a tort claim notice to the school system, yes, they knew about it. Soon everyone in town knew about it. But I couldn’t erase the fact that it had happened over a period of months. And one day I quit. Just walked out. It was on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving after having a meeting with the principal and the Director of Human Resources where I was informed that he was tenured and would no longer be barred from my classroom. That essentially, I would have to go forward with my complaint in court and until then, it would be “business as usual” at the school.  By Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from the Director of Human Resources asking me to return, (apparently the district’s legal counsel had cautioned against letting me quit like that) and I was torn.

Pay close attention to the people who don’t clap when you win.

The day I came back to work, every single teacher, secretary, principal, paraprofessional, coach, and custodian in the school stopped by my classroom to say, “Welcome Back!” and to offer words of support and encouragement. Every one, except the offender/accused and the teacher rep who taught across the hall from him. So, a small victory in life – acknowledgement from my peers and support.
I paid close attention to those who clapped and the two who did not.

If this young manager feels afraid, feels tormented by the actions of these two residents, and does not feel supported by her Owner to correct this behavior and put them on notice that their actions constitute sexual harassment, then how long do you think she will last in this industry? I doubt that it will be much more than the five years she has suffered already.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hoarding: Can You Be Compassionate?

   While hoarding itself has been officially classified as a disability, those with the disorder may have other mental health-related illnesses apart from hoarding. What happens when a resident clears his living quarters of the hoard but maintains an underlying mental illness which can and will impact his ability to function in his home? This is a problem faced by many property managers in the multifamily industry.
   If you discover a resident who is living in squalid conditions, how do you handle the problem? Do you move to evict? Do you transfer the resident and then renovate his former apartment? Do you reach out to other sources for help, such as Adult Protective Services or some to an area Council on Aging organization? Do you call a family member/emergency contact? Do you hire a clean-up service?
   The idea that a management company policy will solely dictate your actions, is repugnant to me, though I recognize it is the first place to start for many onsite professionals. However, is eviction the best course of action in order to make the apartment habitable? If your goal and policy is to evict, beware that the disability designation may hamper your efforts, if the resident contacts legal services, or a family member does. In my career, I have faced this problem twice, in two different states, with two different management companies.
   My first experience occurred while managing a Section 8 property very early on in my career. The resident suffered from schizophrenia, was a heavy smoker, and prone to violence when off medication. He dressed in a silk smoking jacket while at home, smoked a pipe AND cigarettes, and had a large ornate bar set up in the corner of his living room. He was not technically a Hoarder since there were clear areas in the apartment, but he never cleaned. Ever. He did pay his rent on time every month and cooperated with the annual recertification process. He at one time had been a professor and had stacks of books in his apartment in every room and the hallway. Since he was in a 2-bedroom at the time, and there was quite a demand for that size apartment, I made the decision to transfer him to a 1-bedroom, totally in line with HUD regulations on occupancy. His parents were quite elderly and ill themselves, so they were not able to really look after their son. They were grateful we would not be evicting him on housekeeping lease violations.
   We turned the unit and re-rented it in a matter of two weeks. The corporate office never asked why we transferred him. I dodged a bullet, I suppose. Obviously there is more expense involved in turning a unit that has years of dirt and grime built in every nook and cranny. However, when we moved Christopher and neatly packed his books in boxes and moved him into the smaller apartment, he looked around and smiled and thanked us profusely for not evicting him. Mentally ill people instinctively sense that they are sick; many just don’t know what to do about it. We did enlist the aid of Adult Protective Services to help monitor Chris so his housekeeping would not become such an overwhelming burden in the future.
   The second time occurred on a property where the Owner knew of the situation and made it clear that he didn’t care since the resident paid his rent on time every month. The man weighed four hundred pounds, minimum, could not really walk and lived in an upstairs apartment. He, for years, had asked the maintenance techs to bring his rent check to the Leasing Office. For me, since we were readying the property for transition to new ownership/management company, this was not something I felt comfortable ignoring. I contacted the man’s son and sought his input. He lived in a different state and had little ability to physically visit often to monitor his father. So, I just asked the resident if I could help him. He was unbelievably relieved! The man had relieving himself in a bucket and an old bedpan because walking to the bathroom was difficult.
   I made arrangements for a cleaning service specializing in “hazardous clean-ups” to come in and clear out the trash that accumulated because he could not take his trash out so it was strewn about the living room, kitchen, hall, etc. I set up a payment plan with the resident to pay in installments to our Office to reimburse the property. I then made arrangements with Social Services in the county to check in with him and arrange medical care, and finally, set up a caregiver to come in five days a week to help with meal preparations, medication dispensing, and cleaning his apartment (at his expense). The Owner was furious with me. I do not for one minute regret my decision to do the right thing for this gentleman.
   Hoarding and other situations we deal with as property managers can push us to become social workers. Yes, we run a business and want to run our businesses to net the most profit. We also want to add value to our communities and sometimes evicting residents in these situations is not the most ideal thing to do. There are choices. Making the best choice for the situation requires courage and determination.