Providing security for a condominium property presents unique challenges. It requires the security provider to work closely with the building property manager to determine the right mix of people and services.
By Jennifer Brown
As many condominium buildings employ guards who serve as the property concierge they become the first impression for residents and visitors. They must also answer to the condo board of directors — residents appointed to represent the interests of owners who often don’t know much about security, only that residents place a high value on it and that it makes up a significant portion of their operating budget.
Increasingly that budget is also growing as guarding services and security technology are being integrated together. For large condo properties the security budget is generally one of the main items in the operating budget. It depends on the size of the site and amount of security but can be as much as $250,000 per site.
That means that more than ever property managers need the expertise of their security providers to make tough decisions on investments for the future. They are looking for creative ways to achieve their security goals efficiently and effectively.
Recently Canadian Security sat down with three property managers from the Toronto area: Kiddie Lo, registered condominium manager with Brookfield Residential who manages two high-rise buildings in the Richmond Hill area; Stan Morris, regional manager with Brookfield Residential who is responible for a group of 25 condo sites in Central Toronto and Richard Kubig of Del Property Management who manages Grand Triomphe 2 in Toronto. The three property managers contract security services from the G4S Secure Solutions condominium division in the GTA. We talked to them and their G4S partners — Larry Scolaro, District Manager, condominium division, GTA; Patricia Luciani, Operations Manager, condominium division GTA and Piero Romani, Chief Technology Officer and Vice-President, eastern region, about how they work together to make the residential buildings they are responsible for run smoothly.
CS: What are the main challenges of running a condo building?
Stan Morris: Whether it be security or other services that are provided to the residents we have to develop and maintain a high level of customer service. It’s basically a customer service business that we’re in. We’re dealing with people’s homes and livelihoods and investments. Some people are very demanding and they have a right to be demanding but they are unforgiving and so we as property managers and in the security industry have to have the right people working for us. My philosophy has been to develop the right team — it’s the people who make us or break us. Without the right team the manager functions very poorly.
Kiddie Lo: The industry is a people industry. We are dealing with people from different cultures and ethnic groups. Our ultimate goal is to provide them a sense of peace of mind for their investment and maintain high property values. The industry is also affected by the economy, especially with the impact of the new taxes (HST) so we are basically working on a very tight budget working with non-profit organizations and profit organizations so it’s a huge challenge to balance those things.
Richard Kubig: The challenges facing a property manager are absolutely mind-boggling. I’ve had murders, suicides, the chiller breaking down in the middle of summer. It goes on and on. Dealing with all those challenges is what we do on a daily basis. The personality of the building is also shaped by the board of directors. Those are the people we answer to directly at monthly board meetings.
Morris: Condominium boards have in the last number of years become much more active in the managing of the corporations. At one point they left it to the management company, but I think residents have become more educated, and with the downturn in the economy it’s their money. Some boards are too involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
Scolaro: The challenges in this business are huge. If you picture the condo as a city — the condo boards hire the property management firms to handle their affairs, the residents elect their board members similar to a city electing councillors and then they create their bylaws and budgets. Then we come in and we’re empowered to police the community, but we have to have a plan and that’s why I like to get in front of the condo boards. I enjoy going to meetings and hearing from the residents.
It’s funny because every condo is governed under same act but not a single condo acts exactly the same so you have to create a custom program.
CS: So the Condo board is a power house unto itself?
Luciani: They are; they make the final decision on everything.
Morris: In my previous experience with a large tender I put out for security services, G4S was a provider on the site and we had another provider as well. We entertained five quotations and the reason that G4S received the contract was because while they were not price-wise the lowest, it was the back-up services they had — the depth of training and the comfort level with the management company and with the condo board that they were able to deliver the services smoothly. In the board’s eyes G4S was able to provide the best services.
Lo: The boards are very concerned with security. Most residents really pay
detailed attention to security services because once they choose to live in condo they want security.
I have two annual general meetings (AGM) with residents and most of the discussion at the AGM is about security. Security services and providers play an important role and takes up the majority of the budget as a whole. The budget for security is about $300,000 a year for a 24/7 gate house concierge and foot patrol.
Larry (Scolaro) knows me very well and that I’m a demanding and picky person. While G4S is a little bit on the high side cost-wise, the residents know we have a brand-name security contractor for our buildings. As soon as I announced who was chosen as the security provider the board said, ‘Put a notice out that we have leaders providing security in our building.’
Morris: They want security but I’ve seen it where some buildings end up with a military-type security. They forget that residents live there and that’s where the fine line is.
CS: What do you mean by Military-type security?
Luciani: There’s no customer service; they’re very regimented.
Romani: That’s one of the factors we try to determine early on — what type of presence they want the security team to depict. Is it going to be a hard line or very customer service-oriented? One is more of a deterrent and the other is there to help create a comfortable environment for people to live in. However both are trained, certified and able to protect the property in the same way. We always have to determine what kind of presence and look the customer wants.
Kubig: it often comes down to finding the right person to supervise the site. They have to make a good first impression, especially in a brand-new building. When residents walk out the door every day I want them to be happy with the concierge service they are getting. People must respect the security staff and management — it makes it so much better for everyone.
CS: How do you as security providers find the right fit in terms of matching personnel with a building?
Scolaro: One of the things we try and do is partner with our clients. We have a mutual client and that’s that condo corporation so I want to make sure our direct report is not getting blasted because the security is too tough or too lenient. There has to be a balance and they have to enforce rules and be diplomatic. As people move in and out of buildings you have to watch the demographics and constantly tweak those policies.
Luciani: It’s a partnership between you and the building management. You bring a guard in and have them work for a few months. If something happens and you have to move them, that’s common. Generally when I have to place someone at Stan’s buildings we interview them together.
Scolaro: The individual guards have to work well with the property managers. They see our employees every single day so that bond forms quickly between the client and our employee. We are often behind the scenes trying to make sure that relationship happens. We also see how an individual can work well at one building but completely fail at another building.
There is considerable investment on both sides that goes into training individuals when they leave our office. It comes back to our relationship with the client.
Morris: One thing Larry brought up that struck a chord with me is the partnership between the security company and the management company. I respect the people who help me when I need help and that’s what I look for when I look at relationships whether it be plumbing contractors or security contractors or whatever the case may be.
CS: Do any of you have electronic security services provided by your security provider?
Kubig: I went through a very painful two-year process with a property that was nearly 30 years old with a gate house. It was a high-end, very stable community but their security systems were outdated. We hired a security consultant and spent a year getting the tender documents together. What we found was that G4S provided us with the best technology available and we went to five different suppliers — it was definitely the state of the art systems we needed because we were looking ahead 20 years.
They helped us tremendously in the selection of the technology we were looking for. When we decided on what we wanted we knew we had state of the art equipment. There are three components to an exercise like that — when you buy it, when it’s installed and when it’s being serviced after the fact. Sometimes those three don’t mesh but we had a wonderful system.
Morris: I took that site on and it was very user friendly for the staff.
CS: How do residents view guards versus technology?
Lo: Cameras or security systems will not be effective if they are not combined with someone watching them. The security guard has to stay on top of the cameras to see if anything unusual is happening so it can be addressed right away.
Romani: One of the things we have been trying to ingrain in our discussions is that the technology is not a displacement for security guards. You can’t run an accounting department without the people — your computer is merely a tool. You can’t run a security department without the people. What the security tools do is give the security team the ability to enhance the security posture for a building. It is not meant to displace a guard. It makes security better. One of the things we’ve been working on very hard is to bring those two elements together so people don’t see technology as a displacement but a complementary service and work hand-in-hand with security policies and procedures. It’s no different than putting a guard in a bulletproof vest versus a suit out front. Do you want a big camera so people know it’s there, or something more subtle so people don’t think they are walking into a compound?
CS: Are condo owners asking for more electronic security?
Morris: People feel more comfortable, generally, when they know there are more cameras and I think it’s what you said Piero, the cameras don’t make it secure, it’s the people monitoring the cameras and reacting to situations. Generally speaking, I think people are more comfortable if they see the cameras.
Lo: I would say it’s 50-50. We put cameras inside the elevator, the lobby and underground garage and when we completed the work and posted a notice residents started to complain: “Where’s my privacy?” A certain number of people didn’t want to expose their in-and outs. But if you are a well-behaving resident you will support the idea of cameras.
Kubig: By having a camera in an elevator there is a deterrent — it prevents opportunity. I say to the residents, ‘Would you prefer to spend $1,000 to repair a panel because it’s been scratched or damaged or would you prefer to spend the money to have a camera to protect the area?’ Usually if you put it into simple context of what it’s going to cost them they are usually more supportive.
Romani: There is an increased demand for electronic security but the challenge is the budget. We have systems that have been out there 15-20 years and are running on DOS-based systems, and it’s difficult to find parts and they are completely inadequate. That’s one of the challenges we work on to find a good program to allow customers to upgrade.
Lo: Rather than just closed-circuit TV we are looking for software or other technology to track incidents.
Romani: There are some fantastic sophisticated systems available today but evolution comes at a cost. We will sit down with clients to talk about their requirements and they talk about integration of security cameras with access controls but it may mean a significant retrofit.
Scolaro: Risk management is part of the security program. It’s not just about having a camera watching cars come through the gate. Video surveillance is there to review afterwards and is mandatory on sites, but a lot of equipment today is outdated. We need to partner with the client and provide guarding and equipment so there is a new security program going forward. There are options that include remote monitoring and financing, but the dialogue has to happen at the board level.
There isn’t a security program out there that is 100 per cent, but when we all get together in the room and have the technology and guarding people in the same room and have that dialogue we can fine tune what you are looking for.
Morris: It’s an education of the management and the boards. We know what we need to do to maintain security but when it comes to the services and technology out there, I don’t know what the latest requirements are. The other thing is boards will not spend more than they want until there is an incident and then they are reactive.
An incident comes to mind in a building where, after the fifth expensive motorcycle was stolen from the garage they finally upgraded the security but that’s closing the barn door after the horses have left.
CS: How do you monitor the relationships with clients?
Luciani: There is a lot of communication that includes regular meetings with clients, constant emails and visitation on site.
Morris: there is a lot of communication between management and security at our level. If I am running into issues on the site I will let Larry or Patricia know what I am dealing with and in some instances it’s just an FYI, but if it progresses I will say, ‘I need your help’.
Scolaro: The majority of our locations have a site supervisor and the day-to-day coaching and mentoring happens between the guard and the site supervisor. But we have to have a strict, progressive discipline program. There are times where at the end of the day we have to change things for the client.
CS: How do you demonstrate your value to property managers when they are under so much pressure to control cost and provide good security to residents who put a priority on security in their buildings?
Scolaro: It’s a balancing act, there’s no question. A lot of the time the client dictates the pay rate. Competitive pricing is constantly different. I like to understand the security program — what’s involved? Are we parking cars, are we delivering groceries, or is the client just looking for a nuts and bolts type of security? We look at everything and come up with numbers and we talk about what we need to do.
Morris: First thing I do is look past the sizzle because everybody wants to sell you the sizzle with glossy proposals and I say; Tell me about your training programs, do yo have benefits for your employees? What type of contingency plans are there for a disaster, or employees off sick or something like G20. That’s what I look at and I bypass the ones still trying to sell me when we’re talking about the nuts and bolts.