At ACMO-CCI’s Condo Conference (2022), we sat in on a great session titled “State of the Industry: Still Going Viral”, which was moderated by Tania Haluk (Vice President of Operations at Wilson Blanchard Management). It dealt with a handful of impactful and interesting topics, such as licensing and staffing of managers, the CAT, board meetings, and the impact of increasing costs. This seminar left us with a lot to consider, and we’ve broken it down into bite-sized blog posts for you.
For the purpose of this blog post, we’ll discuss the topic of management staffing in Ontario’s condominiums, which was mainly discussed by Stacey Kurck (Vice President of Client Engagement & Business Development at FirstService Residential Ontario), though co-panelists Murray Johnson (Vice President of Client Operations at Crossbridge Condominium Services) and Rob Mullin (Solicitor at SV Law) offered supporting perspectives.
We hear about staffing all the time lately, and it’s great to see that Human Resources is starting to get the attention it needs and workers are getting closer to being treated like human resources. It’s especially important to discuss its significance in the condo industry as this is where many people turn to in order to enter the real estate market and/or choose to live - and having a reliable and consistent manager matters!
The audience was given some eye-opening information right at the start. According to statistics that the panelists had gathered from CMRAO and CAO, Ontario has:
2,321 General Licensees and 1,261 Limited Licensees (of which an estimated 500 were not actively managing),
and 12,426 condo corporations.
If you take out those 500 inactive managers (ex: business owners, supervisors, etc.), that leaves about 3000 managers serving over 12,000 condos - or 1 manager per 4 properties. And don’t forget - “cranes in the air are still there and continuing to grow” (as Stacey reminded us). Of course, some condos are small and require limited property management (or are totally self-managed), but even so, this simple statistic clearly demonstrates that it continues to be a manager’s market and that management is stretched pretty thin.
Unfortunately, career paths usually don't deliberately lead people into property management, rather, it seems to be something they “fall into”. It's clear that condos and our industry need more managers, but where can property management companies find more people to staff the existing condos and those that will come up on our future skyline?
There are quite a few ideas to consider, including “training up” staff with potential (ex: accounting or administrative staff) that may already be within the company. Companies promoting from within would have the benefit of relying on an employee that is already familiar with the company’s policies and culture, and they may also have some familiarity with the condo industry. Another idea for finding staff is looking into your social circle or going outside the box and looking at related service sectors (ex: security).
When hiring people from other service industries as property managers, Stacey pointed out the importance of “grabbing on to soft skills, because we can always train the hard skills”. Bringing in talent that has the soft skills needed allows the management company more control in instilling hard skills and processes from the get-go, which can be an asset in assuring that service is provided in a manner that is best suited to the company’s policies.
However, the solution to adequate staffing of managers in condos relies on both talent acquisition and retention. Because many managers are undertaking multiple portfolios, they need a lot of support from their company and supervisors, cooperation from the Board, and understanding from residents. This is further emphasized when considering how many more managers have experienced burnout and harassment during recent years.
Stacey noted that “we live in a time where it’s just getting a little more feisty out there. People are home now and will continue working from home, so there are more eyes on the condo. We’re nit-picking on little things that weren’t an issue before, so definitely the burnout is real on managers and everyone”. This point was further emphasized by Murray, who added that “we just came through this terrible time where we were held captive with our families and we stayed home, and as a result of staying home, especially if you lived in a condo, you had more opportunity to look around. Translated, it means it was ok to get a little fussy with what you wanted to see, and so a lot of complaints started to come through”.
Because of increased frustrations, many managers and supervisors had to become HR specialists and conduct workplace harassment investigations (according to the OHSA). These processes take managers away from regular building operations and increase pressure, often without providing adequate support.
As a result of Covid, supply-chain issues were rampant and staffing shortages meant there was nobody to do the work even if contractors could get the material, which ultimately increased the time that managers needed to action a complaint. Homeowners often interpret this as a responsiveness issue and therefore accused managers of not acting on their complaint (sometimes falling back to the popular and inappropriate “I pay your salary!” statements) - a situation that created frustration for everyone, especially managers. At a time like this, it’s more important than ever to be kind and patient with each other. As Steve Patterson had said in the morning’s earlier keynote speech: “we’re learning to people again” in a post-pandemic society.
Murray reminded managers to be mindful of their licensing requirements (including the code of ethics) because fines and possible license suspensions/removals add even more pressure on managers. He advised managers that “it’s ok to look the Board of Directors in the eye and say ‘can’t do it. Not my job, against my code of ethics’. Protect your income. Protect your livelihood. Protect your family. There is a time to say no”. Once Boards understand restrictions and boundaries, it will result in reducing manager burnout and turnover (both negative issues that Boards must ultimately answer to homeowners for) and leads to an increased work-life balance. Lastly, Murray noted that relationships between boards and managers must be symbiotic; each has to have each other’s back (cheers to that, we say!).
Rob summarized a recent harassment case that “changed the needle” regarding the importance of owners/residents treating managers with respect when the Superior Court found that a resident’s actions constituted “dangerous behaviour” and contravened S.117 of The Act due to the mental impact that negative behavior (ex: belittling, swearing) has on a manager. Everyone should take note of this, but moreso, boards and managers need to ensure that their condo corporations (not just management companies) have a harassment policy that they clearly display and are not fearful to rely on.
Towards the session's end, Tania asked the panelists to make a prediction, and Stacey’s prediction also included further statistics. She compared Ontario’s condos to British Columbia's, and noted that BC has 32,000 strata corps (Ontario has 12,000) and 4,000 managers (Ontario has 3,582, of which about 3,000 are active). These stats show that BC’s condo-to-manager ratio is 8:1 whereas Ontario’s is 4:1.
In light of the above comparison, Stacey predicted that Ontario’s condo industry will eventually have to move to a different staffing model, especially when considering inflation and budgeting constrictions that will force boards to consider what they actually need. Stacey emphasized that more managers want flexibility now (and giving them this will help retain them longer), and that not all condos require on-site management (superintendents or concierge can be trained up to tend to many site matters rather than having an on-site manager).
Before turning to the audience for questions, Tania predicted that everyone will become an HR expert unless we get everyone’s cooperation. We agree and hope that everyone takes heed of this - before the cost of litigation and CAT cases continue to skyrocket alongside condo construction.
As the session drew to a close, an audience member noted that management companies within the industry need to make the necessary decisions to protect their staff against burnout and stressed that the changes need to start with the companies rather than waiting for clients to get with the program. Stratastic supports this idea and the companies that decide to take this step forward - as difficult as it may be to start. Like Tania said - we need to get everyone’s cooperation to avoid more conflict, so let’s get behind the people and companies that are ready to take that first step towards a better future!
We hope you find our summary of this session’s bite-sized topic useful, and can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the poll below!