Tongue in Cheek The Lighter Side of Condo Living

Tongue in Cheek

As a rule, New England Condominium sticks to the straight and narrow as we contemplate the many players and problems in condominiums. But condo- miniums are, after all, populated with people, and people are human, fallible, and occasionally very funny. In this issue, we asked a number of condo professionals to weigh in with some of their favorite lighter, more humorous stories about condo life and the human condition...and just in time for April Fool's Day!

Walt Williamsen—Condominium Consulting Services, LLC Torrington, Connecticut

One thing is certain about working in the property management business: you never know what to expect when you come into the office and review the messages that have come in from the mail, E-mail, fax, telephone, or drop-in visitor.

At our company, we have dealt with everything from snakes loose under a porch to complaints about smelly ferrets living next door.

But perhaps one of the oddest happenings occurred several years ago at a condominium complex located not too far away from a prestigious university. This particular property had a resident population that included professors, teaching assistants, and graduate students. Some of them were a bit eccentric.

We were hired to take over the management duties at this complex, and we assigned one of our more experienced managers to oversee the property.

One of the first actions he took was to conduct a mail-in survey to update the census data—including names of occupants, whether the unit was leased or owner occupied, vehicle descriptions, and pets—for each unit.

The condominium had the standard rule about "one cat and/or one dog of gentle disposition."

Coincidental with receiving input from several unit owners about strange noises sometimes coming from a particular unit and not having received a reply from this unit about the census inquiry, the manager contacted the occupant.

(At this point, let me say that no one can vouch for the veracity of the conversations and subsequent happenings as described by the manager. He is long gone, and he left a trail of twisted truths, but the tale was so extraordinary that it bears repeating.)

In any event, he called the occupant and inquired about why the neighbors might be mentioning strange noises that sometimes sounded like screaming or a funny style of laughter.

The resident answered that there was nothing unusual to report.

The manager then inquired about the information request that had been sent to the resident but not yet received back at our office.

The resident indicated that he had not had time to complete it, but that he would get it to our office within a few days.

When that didn't happen, the manager decided to call on the unit prior to the next board meeting to collect the form while he was on the property.

It was clear when he opened the door to admit the manager that the resident was not pleased at the intrusion. The resident told the manager that this was not a convenient time to have the manager enter the unit.

But it was too late. Over the resident's shoulder the manager spied at least two chimpanzees walking around the unit. According to the manager, both chimps were attired in diapers and seemed to be excited to see a visitor.

This was an awkward moment for all parties.

The resident relented and invited the manager inside—but only after insisting that the manager don a surgical mask so the other "residents" didn't catch anything!

The manager, trying to be as business-like as possible, asked "So...where do they go to the bathroom?"

The response was not important, and the resident indicated that the animals were for research purposes. He hadn't completed and returned the survey form, he said, because there wasn't any space included on the form to indicate that several primates also lived in the unit.

Right or wrong, the manager never reported the situation to the board. But he cautioned the resident that he would maintain his silence on the condition that there were no complaints from neighbors.

One can only wonder what neighbors imagined was going on next door with those sometimes-strange animal-like sounds coming through the walls!

Arnold Marcus, C.L.U.—Seasoned Condo Owner and Columnist Delray Beach, Florida

Ah, the throes and woes of community association living! A community in West Boynton, Florida, was experiencing the hazards and potential catastrophes of residential speeding. To solve the problem, the trustees decided to install yellow plastic speed bumps, which cost the community $1,500. The speed bumps were affixed to the pavement with adhesive and bolts.

Although most unit owners approved of the installation, many dissidents complained vociferously. The dissidents did not limit themselves to complaining, but also took to skirting the bumps with their cars and driving on the grass to avoid them. Some more adventurous individuals went even further, skirting the bumps by driving around them, and through six feet of the lake that abutted the road. Tensions continued to escalate, and the dissidents went one step further, removing under cloak of darkness both the posted signs and the concrete pyramids that had been erected to deter speeders.

The situation reached a climax one night, when one or more of the more bitter anti-speed bump hombres removed all $1,500 worth of speed bumps.

To cap the theft, the thieves tossed the plastic speed bumps into that same lake, seemingly unaware that plastic floats and that their crime would be readily exposed.

The end result? Each unit owner was assessed $25 to re-install speed bumps, and the plastic was replaced with asphalt.*

*Originally published in Senior Scene.

Lisa M. Doran—New England Professional Management Stoughton, Massachusetts

The trials and tribulations of condo- minium management can be many, and the duties and responsibilities are overwhelming at times. A manager strives for perfection and to be liked by all, but the reality is that a manager is human, prone to occasional mistakes and oversights, and is often seen as the "bad guy." Management is, after all, at the forefront of enforcing rules and regulations, and adjusting budgets and condo fees when necessary to meet rising costs or unforeseen expenses due to disasters. The condominium manager must manage an association as efficiently as a small business, but never forget that managing the homes of real people is quite a personal matter. A delicate balance must be maintained at all times.

In my years as a manager, I have seen it all...the good, the bad, the happy and the sad in the communities that I have managed. From the loving newlyweds moving into their first home together, and expectant mothers going into labor and needing a calming hand to lead them to the car, to bitter break-ups, deaths, flooded buildings, and homes ravaged by fire. Perhaps the most difficult part of condominium management is to maintain a certain distance from the day-to-day drama for one's own personal peace, and to resist becoming overburdened by seemingly endless paperwork so you can enjoy the job and the many wonderfully diverse people you meet and serve every day. Balancing the fact that on a bad day a manager forgets that the voice of one disgruntled homeowner is not necessarily the voice of the majority, is the fact that on a good day a manager can feel like a hero.

I once received a call from a young couple who were new to condominium living and often witnessed my work on "bad days." They felt sorry for me because of my heavy workload and the abuse I often endured within their community. Despite my objections, they vowed to live their lives quietly by the rules and not "bother me." On a particularly cold day in the dead of the New England winter, the couple called. They were extremely apologetic about disturbing me, they said, but they desperately needed my assistance with their heat because the superintendent was on vacation. They confessed that the heat in their condo had not worked properly for quite some time, but rather than make any demands on my time, they had simply chosen to dress warmly. I immediately visited their first-floor unit, only to find that it was so cold inside the unit that I could almost see my own breath. Condensation was literally frozen on the windows, and it was so thick at certain locations that you could not see through it. Further investigation revealed that the heating unit had not been properly hooked up during construction of the new building, and the system was in fact, completely inoperable. Needless to say, we made an emergency call to the HVAC team and warmed their home immediately. I made the couple promise to call me in the future regardless of their worries about my workload!

A similar circumstance presented itself following a phone call from a mature, single homeowner who had moved into the new building. She had lived in the building for a full two months before finally making the call, and she prefaced the conversation with an apology for "bothering me with such a petty problem." As it turned out, she wanted to know if she could dispose of the paint cans that were stored in her refrigerator and had obviously been left behind by the construction team. Could I, she wondered, suggest where she might dispose of them? I dread to think of how inconvenienced she had been those months by arranging her perishables around four one-gallon paint cans!

Needless to say, I vowed then to make myself more available to the community by walking around the building several times a day with a big, welcoming smile. A good manager simply must "stop and smell the roses" and be available to the sweet and shy homeowners as well as those who can be bold and demanding!

Gary Luksha—The Property Shop Webster, Massachusetts

Last summer, The Property Shop took over managing the maintenance of a large complex. There was an issue with how long the grass should be cut. We informed the trustees at a meeting that the standard height was 3 inches but that we could let the grass grow a little longer because there had been a lack of rain and the community did not have any irrigation. We decided to cut the grass at a height of 4 inches.

Following the first mow after that meeting we received several phone calls about the length of the grass. Some unit owners called to compliment us on how healthy and green the grass looked. Other unit owners called to complain that the grass was cut too short and, they were sure, it would burn. Still other unit owners called to express their upset because they thought the grass was too long and looked shabby.

In our experience, the same story rings true and will forever continue to do so: "You can please some of the people some of the time and most of the people most of the time, but never will you please all of the people all of the time!"

David Abel, CMCA—First Realty Management Boston, Massachusetts

As any maintenance staff member will tell you, there's no limit to the assortment of odds and ends that appear in the common areas of even the most luxurious high-rise condominium. Anything from stray socks and underwear to important pieces of jewelry can turn up in the hallways or on the grounds. So it was nothing unusual when a staff member came across a fresh banana peel on the swimming pool deck one morning. "Just a piece of trash," he thought.

When a peel appeared the next day, and then every morning for a week, he became increasingly puzzled and reported, "There's something funny about this. I've been watching to see who's been eating bananas out here, and there's no one. It's got to be coming from one of the balconies overlooking the pool."

Naturally, there were dozens of balconies from which the banana peels could have been tossed. I felt ridiculous as I investigated, going out there and looking up, scanning the sea of railings, while a long list of far more pressing business awaited on my desk. It was not as though a flash of yellow would come sailing over while I was standing there, so I could identify the culprit. Besides, it would be way too humiliating to admit I had been beaned by a banana peel if one did come from on high, and I couldn't jump out of the way in time.

The staffer was obsessed with the problem—and I knew I had to let this go before I became similarly preoccupied with identifying the guilty party. "Make sure you pick it up every morning before someone slips," I told him (with our Risk Manager in mind), "and let me know if you find out anything more."

I admit I had a few fleeting thoughts over the next several days, but for the most part, I managed not to go bananas trying to figure out the why and the who. In the meantime, it was business as usual for the condominium association. The months went by, we picked up our daily banana peel, and life went on.

About a year later, responding to concerns expressed by neighbors, I looked in on a retiree. During his career he had been a world- renowned scholar and academic (or so the story went) who was possibly brilliant, if not rather eccentric. Even before I entered the unit, it was evident that housekeeping conditions were more than a bit out of hand. As we stood making small talk in his kitchen piled high with every sort of thing, I looked to the left and saw them. Lined up, stuck to the wall in a very precise configuration, was row after row of...Chiquita banana stickers.

They stopped me dead in my tracks, and as I reached my conclusion, I looked over at the resident and saw him watching me. He looked at me, then at the Chiquitas, his eyes lit up and his lips drew back in the biggest smile I've ever seen on his face.

We never found another banana peel on the deck.

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