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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

Retail theft is not only pervasive, but can be extremely difficult to control. Just ask the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor retailer, which is in the midst of a crime spree-related crisis plaguing key outlets across the Greater Toronto Area—a problem that could, at least in part, be of its own making.

When the Toronto Star first reported on the phenomenon of brazen daylight thefts at LCBO locations, many of us in the security industry shrugged. The incidents were no surprise given the lack of in-store security at most of the organization’s stores. According to statistics unearthed by the Star, LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014. That’s a staggeringly high number, but the data are even more harrowing, according to the Star’s reporting:

“In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.”

The problem has become so bad that school principals have reportedly complained to police that, in some cases, their minor students are shoplifting liquor ‘with impunity.’ What’s to blame for this dramatic increase in theft?

First, the LCBO has a strict no-intervention policy in place regarding in-store pilfering. Staff members are forbidden from intervening when a robbery occurs. This has resulted in bizarre (and in the case of some stores, almost daily) examples of LCBO workers literally being forced to stand by and watch as thieves walk into their stores with duffel bags or backpacks, which they promptly fill with merchandise, before making an exit. Some are so bold as to take their time and leave the targeted store at their leisure.

Aside from the cost to the provincial treasury of losing millions of dollars in merchandise each year to preventable theft, the costs are much greater. LCBO employees report regularly being threatened by thieves—in some cases with needles or knives—and being forced to deal with smashed bottles left in the wake of these brazen robberies. Demoralized and frightened, these staffers have taken to whistleblowing through the media to make their voices heard. How long, they wonder, before a customer or employee gets seriously hurt?

The bigger challenge is a certain apathy at the C-suite level across the LCBO, not to mention on the part of the Toronto Police Service, whose experimentation with no-response retail theft policies sends a clear message to criminals: LCBO stores are open for illicit business. With some products such as rare scotches priced at several hundred (or thousands) of dollars, liquor stores are prime, easy targets. LCBO leadership has only recently announced its intention to add a stronger security presence at some GTA stores. Hopefully the move has the desired operational impact.

To be clear, ‘No touch/No chase’ policies are not exclusive to the LCBO. They have been embraced by risk- and liability-weary organizations for years, and for good reason. Staff are not trained police or security professionals. They risk personal injury—or worse—in making ill-advised, if admirable, attempts to stop a theft in progress. These policies, in other words, exist for a reason.

But it’s incumbent upon upper management at retail organizations such as the LCBO to take action and ensure their stores are protected at all times. That often means taking a holistic, integrated approach, introducing everything from the latest in high-definition digital cameras with facial-recognition software to spot known malfeasants before they can pilfer goods, to having a security presence on-site at all times in higher-risk areas—and those aren’t limited to economically-disadvantaged communities. The LCBO data shows that shoplifting is rampant even in more prosperous neighbourhoods.

Having experienced, professional guards on site sends a message to would-be shoplifters that their activities won’t be tolerated. And yes, deterrence does work. Will it necessarily stop attempted robberies altogether? Obviously not, but criminals will think twice before trying to lift a rare bottle of Glenlivet. More so if they know that police will arrive on scene if a theft is in progress or has just occurred.

Ignoring brick-and-mortar security needs is common in the digital era when an increasing percentage of retailers’ budgets are being directed to preventing fast-growing challenges such as cyber theft and fraud. But as long as business is being conducted in the offline world, organizations need to be prepared to protect their property and their people.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

No one ever expects emergencies to happen, but when they do, it’s crucial to have a plan in place and be prepared. From tragic incidents such as the vehicular rampage through a north Toronto neighbourhood in April that killed 10 and injured 16, to weather-related incidents that can disable a commercial property, building owners, managers and their security personnel need to be strategic in finding ways to prepare for worst-case scenarios before they occur.

Hopefully these plans never require implementation, of course. But being prepared is important, if only to provide peace of mind. Part of that planning means also taking the time to train staff on the key points of your organization’s emergency preparedness and disaster response plan, or EPDRP (read our recent blog for an overview of how to develop your own comprehensive, customized plan) and then deploying effective emergency preparedness drills to be ready if, or when, disaster strikes.

Wincon Security is deeply committed to educating our clients as to how critical these plans are, so much so that we build EPDRP development into our client onboarding process.

As part of that commitment, we participated in Emergency Preparedness (EP) Week event in May coordinated and facilitated by York Region Corporate Business Continuity Program Specialist Sophia Craig-Massey and Markham Fire public educator Alex Freeman. The Remington Group hosted the event.

Various speakers underscored the importance of having an EPDRP, particularly for condominium and apartment complexes. They cited the fact that on May 4th, thousands of Toronto residents were without power when a rain and wind storm disrupted electrical service across the Greater Toronto Area. Not surprisingly, EP Week attendees were eager to engage and learn about the importance of having 72-hour kits in their residences—a handy item to include in the tool boxes of any commercial properties, as well. The kits typically feature items such as flash lights, blankets, non-perishable food and other essentials that might be important to have when power is non-existent and accessing additional supplies is all but impossible in an emergency situation.

An Emergency Preparedness Guide was also provided by York Region. Appropriately titled ‘Is your family ready?’ (hint: most are not), the guide contains information on what to do before, during and after an emergency, a rundown of the types of emergencies most likely to occur in York Region, and emergency preparedness tips for people with disabilities and/or special needs. The guide also provides handy tips on preparing a home kit, car kit (another essential consideration), as well as a guide to preparing emergency food and water supplies and how to shelter your animals and prepare a pet emergency kit to be fully prepared in case you’re stuck without pet supplies for a period of time.

While the topic may have been serious, the format was fun and engaging for everyone from kids to seniors. Children and adults had the chance to spin the big wheel and answer questions pertaining to the emergency preparedness skills they’d learned at the event. Those who correctly answered questions around key concerns such as the items you should have on hand at home in case of a power outage, won prizes to add to their own emergency kits.

In addition, the dedicated first responders at Markham Fire handed out fire hats to all those in attendance, and educated their audience on important topics such as fire safety in the home, how to develop a home evacuation plan and ways to check and update smoke detectors.

It was an evening of fun and learning all rolled into one.

From our perspective as a security provider, we need more events such as this one—and not just for home owners and occupants. Even though we educate our commercial property clients on the benefits of having an EPDRP, those who don’t already work with Wincon may not have a plan in place. From our experience, the majority of commercial property owners fall into that latter category, while those that do have a plan might find that it’s outdated or inadequate.

It’s crucial to remember that commercial properties are just as susceptible to disaster-related issues as residences—sometimes more so. And as any business owner or manager will attest, most organizations simply can’t sustain the cost and disruptions associated with unforeseen product or service downtime. In the case of small and medium-sized businesses, especially, even a short disruption in service can potentially cripple their operations and result in devastating bottom-line consequences.

All in all, this was a great event and we’d like to see more like it. Next time, let’s encourage more commercial property owners to attend, and continue educating them to ways to develop effective EPDRP strategies to help protect and secure their business assets.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security