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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Getting a Grip on Anger

I get the feeling that there are a lot of angry people out there in the world these days. I suppose there always have been, but it seems angry people are almost the norm these days, and they shouldn't be, especially in our day-to-day multifamily world.

Scenario 1   Receiving an email notification that the resident’s online ACH payment was unsuccessful because the bank was unable to locate the account provided, the manager or assistant manager sends the resident notification that the payment did not go through. Depending on what the payment is for (rent versus an application fee, for example) the resident may be able to go back in and pay again. Or, the manager may charge an NSF and ask for another form of payment.
The Resident Reaction: Could be one of two things, one, the resident is apologetic and submits another payment. Or, two, the resident becomes hostile and angry and says the “website must be the problem” because I have money in my account. Pressed with the possibility that perhaps the information was keyed in incorrectly, the resident, unable to admit making a mistake, continues with the blame game. Every conversation becomes more hostile than the previous one ending finally with, “I need corporate’s number because obviously YOU don’t know what you’re doing!”
Scenario 2   Upon receiving a police report confirming a disturbance at a residence, the resident is issued a Lease Violation Notice.
The Resident Reaction: One, resident confirms the disturbance, explains what happens and apologizes, saying it will not be a reoccurring problem. Or, two, the phone rings and interrupting the Leasing Professional mid-sentence, “Hey, what is this Lease Violation I got? Nothing happened at MY apartment! I don’t know what the hell you think – you got no right to give me no letter telling me I am disturbing the peace!”
Scenario 3   The Shopper entered the community and upon finishing the Shop of the community and leasing consultant submits his report to the management company. The Regional reviews it, finds the total score to be less than meeting the company’s expectations, and sets up a meeting with the manager and leasing consultant.
The Leasing Consultant’s Reaction: In this scenario, most leasing consultants will be thoughtful as the points are discussed. Generally, he/she will respond with his side of the “story.” Usually then he will sign off on the report and accept consequences, such as being told to take more training through the LMS online by a certain date. However, once the conversation ends, nine times out of ten, the leasing consultant will share his/her anger with coworkers.
Scenario 4   The Manager called the Maintenance Supervisor/Tech to say they just rented a vacant unit but the person wants to move in in 2 days. The unit has been painted, but not cleaned, the carpet is being replaced but not scheduled and no one in the maintenance department has been to complete the make-ready. Twenty minutes later, the Manager calls again to say there is an emergency water leak in another unit. An hour later, when the Supervisor comes through the office to check for work orders, he is told that the dumpster at the back of the property is a mess (because the grounds-person called in sick and the tech onsite did not know and hadn’t policed the grounds.)
Possible Reaction: I think it would be no surprise when the Supervisor walks into the Shop and slams the work orders on the desk in a burst of anger.
Anger is a very real part of property management professionals’ day. We deal with every aspect of a property’s welfare: financially, aesthetically, and maintaining each aspect of the physical asset. In all my years in this business, I have concluded that anger is a result of not recognizing what is truly bothering us. Instead of figuring this out, we allow anger to rise to the surface and affect us in the most negative ways possible. Rather than understanding that we CAN make a mistake, we do not give ourselves PERMISSION to do so; then inevitably we do make a mistake, so we look to blame the other person – whoever – anybody – because we are AFRAID that if we make a mistake something dire will happen. Rather than admitting one may have keyed in the wrong account information when making a payment, the person blames someone else and looks to someone else to RESOLVE the situation. No one likes feeling guilty of making a mistake, but somehow one would do or say anything rather than accept their imperfection. 

Most people who are easily angered have problems with their own self-images. They use anger to mask their feelings of inadequacy. What I would love to see in our industry are classes offered to both employees and residents that teach self-soothing techniques. Wouldn’t it be great to teach people that they can survive the pain of embarrassment, guilt, and fear without screaming at someone else, physically and/or verbally assaulting another, using vicious sarcasm, insults, or posting ugly reviews about the community online? 

We need to give employees and residents alike the ability to self-empower so feeling vulnerable is felt as a good thing AND it is received in a like fashion. Residents who admit to making a mistake, for example, should be dealt with in a compassionate manner, not in a passive-aggressive way. So, when the resident asks if a late fee could be waived, and the manager can say, “I’m happy to grant a one-time waiver!” it is a win-win for everyone. To me, this works so much better than having a resident yelling she is calling corporate and having the Corporate Office grant the waiver because then every time the resident is upset and angry, that is what she will do and it leaves the onsite team impotent. 

When people feel empowered to make a decision, their confidence builds. Confident people make better leaders and confident consultants can close more leases.And that leads to happiness.