What I Learned In Property Management – Violations

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized
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I have been unfortunate enough to work in several different areas.

I realized that after nearly 5 years in Property Management, I had some pretty interesting stories to share. Occasionally I’ll share a story or two here, but I have to establish how this came about. Call this my origin story. (I’ll likely do the same with my experience in hospitality)

It seems one always has preconceived notions of how things operate, which then makes it difficult when you’re hit with the realization of how it actually runs. One of the areas I was involved in was Property Management. I actually wound up working there by chance. The job market in Miami was harsh (even worse than it is now) and I had been searching for a job unsuccessfully. A friend had an open position and offered it to me. I accepted, but with the understanding that I would be there only for as long as it took me to find another job (that particular position didn’t pay much).

Most of you are familiar with Home Owner’s Associations and such. The general consensus is that the fees are ridiculous. That the rules management has are absurd and unfair. That the management company employees are overpaid and don’t do very much. There’s usually a bit of truth in everything, but not so much here.

I started out being that guy who issues you property violations. That’s right. Straight to the villain role. I was going around sending violation letters to 2,085 homes for things such as leaving out the trash containers, cleaning their roofs/mailboxes/sidewalks, mowing their lawns, unapproved property modifications and such. I started out hating the job. Well, in all fairness it wasn’t the job itself. I couldn’t care less who was angry about receiving letters. I only sent them if I knew I was right so it didn’t bother me. It was the mindless, repetitive nature of it that made me miserable. The fact that pissing people off didn’t bother me, that I wasn’t easily intimidated, that confrontations don’t bother me, high organization/follow-through and an eye for detail made me perfect for it.

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It took a while to get it working well. The person before me had done a mediocre job at training me. See, he was a meek kind of guy who was terrified of confrontation and was all about odd holistic behaviors and he had a particularly aggravating lackadaisical attitude. In fact, during our first drive through the community during my training he began pointing out the homes of the Board Members so that I would be aware of where they lived and, in turn, I wouldn’t send property violations.

That’s right. See, one of the uphill battles I fought while I did that position was that the management company I worked for made it clear that no violations were to be sent to Board Members. It was cute because the company execs knew enough to always provide those instructions verbally rather than send an email so as to not create a paper trail as this instruction is incredibly unethical (and possibly illegal – I can’t recall the rules after so long). I didn’t say anything to my trainer, but I knew I would ignore that rule. It was also the beginning of the realization that certain directions were given in writing – those that make the company look good. Some were given verbally – those that were questionable, unfair or highly unethical.

I had a lot of reading to do. With so many subdivisions, decisions made in meeting minutes, previous precedents and such I had my hands full. I read a lot. I didn’t have to. I could have easily continued with my trainer’s rather pedestrian habits, but it wasn’t in me to operate that way. I literally (I mean that in the literal sense, not in the figuratively literal way people tend to say it) spent a couple of work days doing nothing more than reading and making notes. Eventually I hit my stride and began comparing my trainers statistics to mine (and subsequently, I did the same with the person who replaced me).

studying

I have a very specific way to view employers. People seem to think that those who work should feel happy to be employed. It’s not entirely true. Employers don’t do me a favor by hiring me so I don’t have to feel gratitude for it. An employer offers me a job and I have to be willing to accept it. They have certain expectations of me and I expect a specific pay from them and a specific work environment in return. It’s a symbiotic relationship – not a favor or something they did out of the kindness of their heart. Neither one should ever deviate from this agreement.

Regardless, property violations letters starting flying out at fast pace. It wasn’t so much that I was being picky as much as it was that hardly any violations were sent in the past by my trainer. I was never quite certain what that man did while he was there. I was asked to alter my schedule so that I would skip inspection days so that it would go into the next week so that the violations went out, but it would be spread out over weeks. This would make it look like less letters were going out. I refused and asked they send that request to me in writing. I never got it.

stack-of-paper-2

At this time, violation letters came as a hard copy with text, you rarely took photographs of the violations. I started taking photos of them all, saving them and organizing them in all my OCD splendor. While I was still new, during this period in time people could only water their lawns on certain days. There was this one resident who would ignore than and water his lawn at all hours. I used to get endless complaints. The resident attended the Violations Committee meeting after receiving a letter, where he angrily and loudly told the committee that I was useless and stupid.

See, he his irrigation system had been broken for months and it was impossible for this to happen. Without giving me the opportunity to counter that, one of the committee members began to explain that I was new and it was possible I likely had the wrong address. What I had kept to myself was that this resident had called screaming and threatening earlier in the day. I didn’t tell him I had a photograph but I knew I needed it. I interrupted the committee member who was apologizing on my behalf by handing him a time-stamped, printed 8.5″x11″ photograph of the irrigation system running, complete with the visible home number. I just remember the resident stuttering his way through a nonsensical explanation. The committee never ran with the assumption I made a mistake again.

It also pointed out something that annoyed me throughout my stay there. The most frequently used line by an angry resident was “I pay your salary”. I guess in a roundabout way they did. I mean, my company paid me regardless if someone pays their assessments so it’s arguable. Also, in a 2,085 home place I guess you pay 1/2085 of my low ass salary.

I once had the son of a resident tell me “I pay your salary”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, but I asked him how much he personally paid. It wasn’t the last time I left someone stewing in angry silence because of their own rudeness. This came about because I denied him access to the clubhouse because they were behind on payments (go figure). What people fail to understand in this type of scenario is that the more violations that go out, the more work and cost involved. Sometimes it’s not worth sending letters. The trash can is out? It happens sometimes. No big deal. Now, if you store it on your driveway, that’s a problem.

Actually, there are two problems. I have to send a letter out for it because if I don’t, I look like I’m either not doing my job because I’m not very good at it or because I’m selectively enforcing rules. As you can imagine, it’s hard to catch everything in a place with 2,085 homes. What would happen is that a neighbor would call to complain about their neighbor who has their trash can out. Now, this is a problem all on it’s own. See, we had a policy to respond to all complaints. What was the response? Go inspect. If a violation exists, send a letter. If a violation does not exist, don’t. Simple, right? Wrong.

The first thing someone who gets a violation letter (other than “my [insert relative] is an attorney) is “why do I get a letter, if this house, this house and this house do it too???” Well, to offset that, if ONE person complained, in order to avoid any accusations of selective enforcement, every single home with that violation would receive one. That’s right. One phone call resulted in potentially several hundred letters going out. That way when someone said they were being targeted (they often accused me of that and it was annoyingly entertained by the board) I literally had hundreds of supporting documents proving the accusation invalid. It was a really shitty policy, but it had to be done that way.

There was a resident in particular who we shall call Mr. Manno (because that’s his name) who would call and belligerently scream whenever one of his two homes received violations. He always alluded to a lawsuit he had in place and that he was receiving violations so that he could be fined so as to bankrupt him and thus preventing him from continuing his lawsuit. I explained that I replaced the violations person (my trainer was so intimidated by this guy that he had asked me to never send letters). He said it didn’t matter. It was the management company that was corrupt and I was part of it. He often demanded I prove that my letters were accurate so I would send him the photos (mind you, there was nothing that stated I had to do this).

Mr. Manno would fight it despite the photos and would call my management company’s office to speak with the owner..every single time. It always turned out the same way. The management company would email my boss, who would then go with me to verify if I was right (I was, but now you had 2 salaries inspecting a property for a second time, every single time). Then they would give Mr. Manno more time to correct the violation. After all was said and done, Mr. Manno would usually have it done the very next day. It was as though he purposely wanted to make it as difficult as possible. I eventually stopped arguing with him and told him he could dispute items with the Violations Committee, perhaps the Master Board or the owners of my company. I didn’t really care or give him the time.

Mr. Manno told me many times that I didn’t know “who I was fucking with” and that he would “have my job”. “You said that 4 months ago too and the violation will still have to be corrected, Mr. Manno,” I said. I didn’t give a fuck anymore and I certainly didn’t get paid enough for this asshole to berate me. One day he walked into the office to speak with someone else. He was introduced to me from a distance – on purpose – and he didn’t make eye contact and was so very meek and polite. I prayed he would get belligerent, but he didn’t. He was furious when, a couple of years later I was promoted rather than fired.

Another issue I handled was parking violations and fines. If I didn’t feel bad about property violations/fines, I cared even less about the parking fines. I fined people all the time (if they deserved it based on the rules, of course). Usually it was the same people so you knew it was something they simply didn’t care to follow regardless. By this point, the flaws in the system were apparent. I realized thereĀ  were a few Master Board members who volunteered their time to improve the community and some were there because it gave them a false sense of purpose, self importance and “power”

Parking-Control-Labels-86749-lg

I often had problems because a corrupt Board Member would ask the manager to close the parking violation of a resident because “it was an accident”. I refused since I knew that it would be closed under my initials and I knew it wasn’t right. I lost every time and it had to be closed. Hell, sometimes a Board Member would be get a violation and I was instructed to leave the violation open (in case someone challenged and said we had done nothing) but not follow up on it so the Board Member didn’t get fined. It was filthy, but there was no place to complain to.

Once I sent a board member a violation to clean his mailbox. It was clearly dirty. For some reason, the developer originally installed white metal mailboxes in Florida. Guess what happens? They get green with mold. It was a terrible choice, but I digress. The board member cleaned it and then told my boss he had done so, but that if he received a letter to clean it now that he had done so, I would be fired. The arrogance blew my mind. I always laughed at the few who thought sitting on the board gave them “power”. The small world perspective they had was amusing.

There was a roid-monger resident whom was abusive towards his wife living there (yeah, you get to know people’s business since police enter/exit and security provides reports) who would always call trying to act tough when he received violation letters. I can’t stand abusive people so I always had to try and be nicer than normal to make sure I didn’t accidentally treat him differently. I don’t remember exactly what happened but I gave him a snarky remark during his vulgar and screaming rant. He was in stunned silence for a few seconds and told me, in an almost hurt-sounding way, that I shouldn’t speak to him that way. I told him he shouldn’t speak to me that way either.

Steroid man immediately became belligerent again and said threatened was coming down to my office. I told him I get out at 5:00 and he was welcome to do so before then. He came by so quickly that I think the steroids allow him to teleport, and he proceeded to bully the front desk staff like a proper bitch and was let in to see me. He implied a few times that he had a weapon in his pocket, though he was far more calm standing face to face with a man than he was with a young girl at the front desk. In this case I didn’t deviate from the rules or cut him slack. I couldn’t. He never spoke to me again. He always had his wife sheepishly call me instead.

Anyway, you know what happened eventually? The number of violations dropped. Not because I changed what I was doing, but because I remained consistent. Most residents weren’t bad. At this point, most people would call when they received a letter and wanted to let me know they corrected the violation or clarification on what they received it for. I would re-inspect and close it promptly. It was a smooth, though unappreciated change. I always hated that I had managed to streamline the process and fix so very much, but nobody seemed to notice or care.

By now the process was smoother so I was able to pay more attention to the inner working of things. For example, I often had issues with one of the managers. She was a very nice, religious lady but she didn’t DO anything. She meant well, but she wasn’t a hard worker nor did she have any management skills. She spent her time cleaning windows, looking up So You Think You Can Dance videos on YouTube and ordering office supplies. We didn’t see eye to eye. Her employees ran wild doing and saying whatever they wanted because she didn’t manage them. In fact, another employee had basically been turned into the de facto manager strictly out of necessity. This wasn’t addressed and nobody seemed to care that it wasn’t working.

When things starting seeming a bit too out of control was when office supplies started disappearing. I’m not talking about a couple of pens. I’m talking about boxes of pens, reams of paper and such. It was clear someone was doing school supplies shopping. I brought it up in a meeting and we realized that the manager had no tracking system. We knew what was purchased and when, but nothing existed to track trends. A flawed system was put in place to track paper usage and people complained (but suddenly it didn’t go missing). By this point I was good friends with both of my bosses (the useless manager wasn’t one of them). It created a decent work environment but it was not without challenges.

I remember once, during a master board meeting, a member complained that he had received a violation letter stating he had bird shit on his mailbox. It wasn’t true. If a mailbox is dirty you input a code into the computer and the letter auto-generated. There wasn’t one for something such as bird droppings. I researched this person’s account and although he had two homes, he had never (I mean never) received a letter for a mailbox. This was a blatant lie to discredit me and I attempted to have my bosses bring this up. Nobody wanted to. They wanted to just let it go. Without support I had to bite my tongue and let it slide.

Thing is that we had vastly differing ways to do things. We would often have brainstorming meetings to resolve contentious items and the meetings could become pretty heated and intense. I did know enough to follow once a decision was made, but up until then, I fought for what I was certain was the right course of action. Eventually the lazy manager moved on to other things. This gave me the opportunity to eventually apply for that position. I figured that after 2+ years of working hard and doing a great job that I would be a sure thing. I didn’t account for something.

In order to maintain appearances, it wasn’t noted by anyone that my trainer had been essentially doing nothing. This meant that the level of performance I had been working at couldn’t be provided to the company without acknowledging the previous employees faults. Our Regional Director was changed for a new one, which was good (I thought). The previous one was a very sleazy looking character. He was nice during personal interactions, but he was the type that made your skin crawl for some reason. I realized that if he had still been the Regional, I had a chance of getting the job. Without him, I had none. I was right. I was actually told by someone in the know that the new regional director (let’s call her Milena since that’s her name) hadn’t even looked at my resume, she simply brushed it off and hired someone from outside. I was furious. I stayed working in property violations a while longer – a total of 3 years I believe, but leaving that for another position in that place is another story.

So this is the background of all upcoming property management/property violation stories. How many will thereĀ  be? I don’t know. Time will tell. Until then, be more appreciative of a management company. Those fuckers don’t usually make the rules. The management team I worked with (at first, before they were replaced by lazy, inept people) were some hard-working people. We put in far more hours, effort and time than the average team. It was thankless, but we spoke around it amongst ourselves and felt a sense of pride.

Plus, you never know. Someone that doesn’t get paid much may consider back-handed-bitch-slapping you for your rudeness. It crossed MY mind many times.

bitch-slap

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