The proliferation of condominium properties across the Greater Toronto Area in the past 20 years is truly staggering. Hundreds of thousands of units have been added to Toronto’s housing supply since the 1960s, when legislation allowed for this new form of home ownership and communally-minded approach to building upkeep.

Of course, the task of keeping the towering, often expansive communities in the sky operating in good condition is the responsibility of condominium property managers. These unsung heroes are responsible for everything from managing maintenance-related issues—think elevator repairs and snow plowing—to hiring the security firms that guard a property around the clock. But as Armand Conant, the former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute explains in a recent blog for the Remi Network, an acute shortage of trained and qualified condo property managers is raising concerns for many in the residential property industry:

Ontario has more than 11,700 condominium corporations. While a good number are self-managed – which, of course, is a very acceptable way of managing a building – most are managed by professional management.

That said, there are currently about 2,500 licensed managers, 1,500 of which are General Licensees, and an estimated 300 of these which are in upper management and do not manage specific buildings. This then means that there are only about 1,200 General Licensees for thousands of existing corporations. And with more condos coming on stream at a fast pace – the talent crunch is only intensifying

As Conant notes, the Condominium Management Services Act, which took effect in late 2017, requires condominium property managers to be licensed. That involves taking four mandatory courses and obtaining two years of experience before being designated as a ‘general licensee.’ Managers must also pay an annual fee to maintain their license. The legislation has introduced stricter guidelines and qualification requirements before an individual can take on this important—and often highly complex—role.

He suggests several tactics to ease the shortage, including educating unit owners and the condo industry at large as to the crucial role that managers play in “protecting the building, enhancing the market value of units, and in helping in improving the condominium community.” He also suggests working to boost and maintain higher managerial compensation rates and focusing on recruitment to attract more young people to the industry as retirement rates surge.

Of course, we also can’t forget that experienced property managers with the right expertise are a vital resource in helping to guide a condominium’s board of directors—who are typically resident volunteers with no experience in this area—on best practices to reduce legal liability.

When he mentions ‘protecting the building,’ Conant touches on another key point that many overlook. Condo property managers are responsible for a building’s security as mentioned above, and it’s in that area that ample experience is crucial. As a starting point, hiring an experienced individual who can juggle the many requirements of effective property management is an essential component for ensuring the safety of a property and its residents. Security personnel are typically the first line of defence in managing everything from emergencies to maintenance issues, so being able to liaise with—and deploy—guards in an effective way is important to delivering an optimal security outcome.

This acute property manager shortage highlights another potential vulnerability in the property-management process: effective security firm recruitment.

Property managers with the right experience and expertise will have the know-how to carefully recruit, vet and select experienced security companies with the right skill set to best protect their property and assets. That’s especially important when a condo or rental building’s population requires security staff with the right touch to provide effective customer service—think buildings that cater to seniors, as one example.

It’s even more essential when we consider that not all security firms are created equal. While many will have staff with experience patrolling low-rise properties, for instance, they may not have professionals with the expertise to manage the needs of one of Toronto’s many new ultra-high-rise condos. As we’ve noted in previous blogs, these soaring communities in the sky come with a unique set of challenges, from emergency evacuation procedures to far more complex maintenance and customer-relations requirements. The concierge service component across these properties is often as important as traditional guard services, particularly in buildings that cater to well-heeled, discerning residents. Choosing the right security company can have a direct impact on livability and even occupancy rates. The same holds true for commercial properties, where effective management can make or break a property owner’s reputation and a portfolio’s bottom-line performance.

Lastly, increased turnover in the property manager ranks—a common occurrence when professionals are in short supply and both stress and demand prompt individuals to frequently change employers—will only further complicate matters for residents and property owners going forward.

That’s why it’s important to take the property manager shortage seriously and take immediate steps to address the issue. Doing so will deliver long-term benefits across the commercial and residential property industry, ensuring the safety of buildings and residents alike.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

A new crop of ultra-tall condominiums—many of them mixed-use incorporating retail, hotel and other elements—are sprouting up across Toronto’s downtown core. As they continue to redefine the city’s skyline, property owners and managers are slowly discovering the many challenges that arise when attempting to maintain these soaring communities.

Buildings such as Aura at Yonge and Gerrard (78 stories), 1 Bloor East (currently under construction and planned for 76 stories) and The One (which could top 80 stories upon completion) are the three most-discussed of Toronto’s new ultra-tall condo towers. If recent history offers any lessons, they will likely cost far more to maintain than more traditionally-sized condominiums.

From HVAC systems maintenance to materials costs to ongoing repairs, condominium residents could face hefty bills in the years ahead. If the recent glass problems that have plagued some Toronto condos continue to recur—including falling glass pains and deteriorating window seals—those bills could be particularly expensive to cover, possibly even resulting in costly special assessments being levied on residents.

But condominium corporations tasked with maintaining these mega high-rise skyscrapers should also keep another key consideration in mind: the heightened security costs that come with living in a tower taller than 50 stories.

In many condos, a corporation will enlist the services of a security firm such as ours and request round-the-clock concierge services. That will often require assigning a single guard to patrol key areas, monitor CCTV cameras and assist residents with tasks such as accepting deliveries in the building’s lobby. In larger buildings the recommendation is typically for two guards to be on duty at any given time—including a patrol guard. While it’s always optimal to have as many security staff on site as possible—the more eyes and ears, the better—this allocation of security resources is usually adequate for a condo building.

But this formula comes into question when dealing with huge towers. There are so many more challenges to manage with a building the size of Aura, for example, that addressing the sheer number of operational issues to secure a building of this size—and housing that many residents—increases virtually exponentially. So, where to begin?

It starts by assessing the building’s potential security vulnerabilities. That means considering everything from weak points where burglars or vandals could enter the property, to identifying key operational considerations that a security team would need to monitor to keep the property safe on an ongoing basis. Once those vulnerabilities are highlighted, any reputable security firm should be able to develop a comprehensive building security strategy that protects residents and helps contain costs related to ongoing building maintenance and protection.

From there, we always recommend assessing risk in four key areas:

Emergency preparedness and evacuation—Evacuating a building with thousands of residents and from dizzying heights is a remarkably complex task. One security guard sitting in a lobby—no matter how experienced and skilled she may be—will not be able to manage the task alone. From that perspective alone, it’s clear that ultra-high-rise properties should have multiple guards on duty at any given time.

Lobby access—Nowadays, condominium residents want security guards who are as focused on their comfort as their security. That means being available to welcome guests, accept packages, in some cases even providing hotel concierge-style services such as restaurant reservation booking. What can’t be forgotten is that a security guard’s primary role is exactly what their job title describes: security. The other duties are operational distractions, albeit ones in high demand. We recommend having multiple guards on duty in a lobby at any given time to ensure safety and security. Remember that with that many residents in a single condo, the number of visitors will be dramatically greater than in a smaller building, thereby increasing the demand on a single guard’s time and attention. For tall, luxury condos, one creative solution to ease the pressure on front-line security staff is to hire a dedicated concierge who only manages the peripheral, time-consuming tasks such as assisting residents with lifestyle-related requests and handling deliveries.

Facility security—Another important reason to adequately staff an ultra-tall condo is the fact that it likely contains multiple shared spaces such as party rooms, fitness facilities, a pool, movie theatre, and more. Every time you add elements such as these to a building, it increases the risk of abuse, damage or other unpleasant issues that security staff need to manage. A single guard will not be able to keep an eye on the front door, ensure that partiers are using the shared facilities appropriately, manage noise complaints, deal with a broken elevator and whatever other matters might arise during their day. Having multiple guards on duty will help ensure that recreational and leisure facilities are kept safe and secure at all times.

General maintenance challenges—That broken elevator that I mentioned in the previous point is only one of the many maintenance-related issues that can occupy the time of a condominium security team. When the building they’re monitoring stands at a height of 60 stories or more, there will inevitably be a more extensive bank of elevators to service, not to mention HVAC, plumbing, a larger garage area and other points around the property where maintenance problems can—and inevitably will—arise. It always makes sense to train security personnel in the basics of operating key equipment such as fire panels, but processes also need to be in place to help them manage maintenance-related emergencies. That’s only possible with adequate staffing to ensure that any on-duty security officer has the ability to inspect and report maintenance issues without delay.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

Walk into most of Toronto’s new mid-tier or luxury condos and you’ll almost certainly be greeted at the security desk by the smile of a friendly concierge, who’s likely to offer a ‘hello,’ and ask who you’re visiting if you’re a non-resident.

There are times, however, when their attention is diverted and not focused on who’s entering and exiting the building. Sometimes a concierge is tied up with other matters, such as managing package deliveries or discussing property-management concerns with residents. Sometimes a focus on service comes at the cost of maintaining adequate and active monitoring of the building’s security.

At a time when hundreds of new condominiums have sprung up across the Greater Toronto Area with no signs of a slowdown in new development, effective security and concierge services are a must-have for any well-managed building. In many cases, 24-hour coverage is one of many tried-and-true sales propositions in a builder’s marketing toolkit—a veritable purchase prerequisite, if you will. Concierges are the face of the building, tend to emergencies relating to matters such as building maintenance issues, and provide security coverage. They’re now considered a standard building amenity.

Indeed, home buyers have come to expect round-the-clock protection for their condo, not to mention hotel-style concierge services to assist time-pressed residents with everything from package deliveries to greeting guests.

Complex security needs

As one of the GTA’s leading providers of condominium security services, we deliver protection to some of the largest complexes in the area. During our client onboarding process, we assess a condo property’s security vulnerabilities and needs, then make recommendations for security coverage based on our evaluation. It’s a detailed, multi-step process that’s designed to provide condo property management firms and residents with the protection they need.

The way condos are being built today, with larger towers, more suites and several buildings that share one common area, it becomes increasingly difficult for one security guard to look after what are essentially large, vertical communities. Having buildings that have upwards of 300 to 400 suites each, also means that security personnel are required to respond to significant numbers of calls directly to residential suites. This leaves the main access points unprotected for extended periods.

That sometimes leads to the recognition that multiple security guards need to be simultaneously deployed at a property to help maintain the delicate balance between meeting the building’s security needs and catering to residents’ service expectations. Why? Because cutting corners on security inevitably results in gaps and shortcomings, particularly in luxury condos where residents tend to place a greater emphasis on the role of security guard as concierge than property defender.

Understaffed security desks

What we’re finding, however, is that some security providers will offer the lowest price point possible to secure a contract with a minimal staffing commitment—typically, only a single security guard at a time, when two may be necessary. In some cases that lone guard will become overwhelmed with the concierge-related demands on his or her time. Security considerations can easily fall by the wayside.

Of course, property managers and residents don’t need to choose between security and service when hiring a security firm. But they do need to allocate the appropriate budget to ensure ample coverage in both areas. For large buildings with more than 250 residents, it’s reasonable to budget enough to pay for two guards on duty at all times. They might alternate between managing tenant requests and keeping an eye on security cameras or patrolling the property, switching back and forth as necessary. The crucial aspect of balancing service and security is to ensure that your security team isn’t overwhelmed and has the time to adequately address both needs.

Failing to provide adequate security staffing can also result in major safety shortcomings in the event of an emergency such as a fire. Properly-trained guards will be able to operate building fire panels and help in executing emergency evacuation procedures. Having those resources on hand can not only help save lives, but will help mitigate the threat of legal liability in the wake of a catastrophic event.

The key point to remember is that balancing security and service in a condo is difficult at the best of times, and nearly impossible when under-staffed. To satisfy tenants and keep them safe, it makes sense to set aside the right budget and have more than one guard at the front desk to provide the level of service that today’s condo owners expect.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security