By Sherri Hall
Here’s a familiar scenario, not new by any means, but none the less an issue managers deal with frequently. The association you’ve been the manager for during past two years has had the same landscaping company since you came on board. The current board members have been in their positions before you became the manager at the community. However, there are a few new board members who have been complaining about several issues with the landscape maintenance in the community. The longer serving board members have become very friendly with the landscaper – and it has been noticed the landscaping crews take time trimming the shrubs in those board members beds, which is not part of the contract. Meanwhile, the newer board members have also noticed leaves go uncollected in parts of the community, some brown spots are appearing on common area lawns go untreated, weeds are not attended to in as timely a fashion as they should, all which are part of the current landscaping contract. As a manager, how should this issue be handled? Is recommending putting the landscaping contract out for bid the best solution? Will the longer standing board members hold it against the manager if they recommend leaving a beloved vendor who is not acting within their contract? What is a manager to do? We spoke with Denise Becker, PCAM, Regional Manager with Corner Property Management, to gain some insight on the subject.
According to Becker, problems or no, it’s practical for an association to go out to bid for contracted services, even if they have been satisfied with the current vendor that they have contracted with for a long period of time, or following a multi-year contract.
“While a board may be satisfied with a specific vendor, it’s important to re-evaluate the association’s contracts when they come up for changing needs or for budgetary purposes,” she explained.
With that being said, of course there are other reasons a manager may suggest the board go out to bid for a specific vendor contract. “Poor service is typically the number one reason. The changing needs of the association is another, such as changing the hours the pool is open or selecting a vendor to service your building’s mechanical systems that are now out of warranty. However, using the example above of contractors performing “favors” or not performing according to the specifications in the contract is cause for concern and should be brought to the board’s attention. Sometimes managers don’t bring the best news or the most popular opinion, but it is their job to guide the boards to make sound decisions.” said Becker.
Before recommending the board change a vendor due to any of these reasons, the manager should meet with the vendor first and try to find out why they’re having a problem servicing the account, Becker suggested. If the vendor is not providing the services described in the contract, it needs to be addressed promptly as the association is paying for those services, she noted.
The manager can schedule a site visit with a supervisor and point out the areas that were ignored and need to be addressed. It could just be an oversight and the vendor can be given a chance to get back on track.
However, if the vendor doesn’t rectify the situation and is consistently lacking in service, the manager should go to the board with proof that the standards aren’t being met, said Becker. She explained that this goes for serious situations where the vendor doesn’t show up or credits aren’t given for work that wasn’t done.
Becker noted that proof can include photographs, the manager’s site visit reports and homeowner complaints.
As mentioned, in addition to landscape contracts, Becker said similar concerns can also arise with other contracts such as pool maintenance or janitorial contracts. For example, lifeguards not showing up for work, pool badges not being checked, the pool and clubhouse not being cleaned, the clubhouse garbage overflowing, or paper towels and toilet paper not being restocked in the clubhouse can be problematic and need to be addressed if they occur on a continuous basis.
In the event a board member is pushing a certain vendor that the manager feels is not working with the association in a professional manner, the manager must remind the board member that the decision is to be voted on by the whole board. “Any side conversations with the vendor is not in the best interest of the community and should be discussed with the entire board,” said Becker. “The discussion begins with the decision to change a vendor or stay with the current vendor. One single board member cannot make that decision.”
If a vendor is giving special treatment to board members’ properties and/or common areas near their units, Becker said the manager should focus attention on the areas that are being ignored. “If there is a lack of service in other areas, it’s the manager’s duty to address this concern with the vendor,” she noted. “If the problem continues, the manager needs to inform the whole board of the areas being missed or portions of the contract that are not being upheld due to the vendor’s focus on other areas.”
Becker added that if the manager is struggling with issues they feel are not in the best interest of the community and are being met with unprofessional treatment by the board or the vendor, they should bring this to their immediate supervisor to assist.
She said it’s also important for the manager to set standards, and for the board to have a vetting process put in place for vendor contracts. “A lot of problems can be avoided that way because you’re not awarding a vendor a contract because of who they know, but because they’re the best company for the job,” said Becker.
She noted that even though a board member or even the manager may be friendly with certain vendors they know from the industry, everyone needs to be held to the same high standard. “That’s key,” said Becker. The vendor has a job to do and the association is spending homeowner’s money for the vendor to perform that job, Becker noted.
“For the most part, board members understand that they are responsible for other people’s money and to expend that money according to the association’s budget by ensuring the services that are provided to homeowners are of value,” she said. “Start with a plan. Know the contracts that should go out to bid. Prepare a comprehensive request for proposal with detailed specifications. Bid to vetted contractors and provide the board with all the necessary information in order to make an informed decision for the community. This way all members of the board are working in the best interest of the community and will have less grief doing the right thing from the start”.