KEEPING RES­I­DENTS SAFE AT HOME

Prop­erty man­agers, boards and staff make sweep­ing changes

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST HOMES - Adam Bisby

When the Forest Hill Group made an un­usu­ally large or­der of sur­gi­cal masks, rub­ber gloves, dis­in­fec­tant wipes and hand san­i­tizer in early Fe­bru­ary, the in­ven­tory was ex­pected to last for months.

Lit­tle did they know. Now that the COVID- 19 pan­demic is forc­ing hun­dreds of its res­i­dents to self- iso­late, and com­pelling every­one to practise phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, the Toronto- based condo man­age­ment firm is go­ing through four to five litres of san­i­tizer a day across its 90- plus GTA prop­er­ties, says pres­i­dent and CEO Robert Klopot. “We just got haz­mat suits for get­ting to quar­an­tined peo­ple in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.”

And that’s just the be­gin­ning. With at least 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in con­dos across the GTA, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, the group ef­forts of res­i­dents, boards, prop­erty man­agers and staff to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19 are al­most as siz­able as the chal­lenges they face.

Pulling to­gether

The most push­back the Forest Hill Group has ex­pe­ri­enced from res­i­dents was early on, when it made the de­ci­sion to close all its amenity spa­ces, Klopot says, adding that the grum­bling dis­ap­peared when most GTA con­dos followed suit. Now, “peo­ple are re­ally lend­ing each other a hand. We’ve seen a lot of in­stances where the com­mu­nity has helped el­derly peo­ple with gro­ceries and with other lit­tle acts of kind­ness.”

Out­side his home in Cork­town’s Ca­nary Park de­vel­op­ment, res­i­dent Steven Doyle says he is happy to help out. “My neigh­bour is older and can’t get out to walk her dog,” the mid­dle- aged den­tist ex­plains, leash and dog- waste bag in hand. “If I’m be­ing hon­est, it’s nice to have some­thing to do right now.”

Deal­ing with push­back

Con­dos be­ing their own lit­tle mi­cro­cosms of the city, not every­one in ev­ery build­ing is on board with phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and self-isolation. “The ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents are pulling to­gether and try­ing to get through this,” says Nancy Houle, a found­ing part­ner at David­son Houle Allen LLP who spe­cial­izes in condo law. “But we do have some out­liers, and that’s where le­gal in­ter­ven­tion is re­quired. We’ve had to write strong let­ters to in­di­vid­u­als who have re­fused to self-iso­late, ex­plain­ing that what they are do­ing is putting the concierge, the clean­ers, the su­per­in­ten­dent and other res­i­dents at risk.”

While the re­cently en­acted Quarantine Act gives po­lice author­ity to re­move in­di­vid­u­als from public streets, it does not en­able condo man­age­ment to con­fine res­i­dents to their units, Houle ex­plains.

That’s why com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key. “Mak­ing sure that health and safety in­for­ma­tion is timely and get­ting out to our com­mu­ni­ties, as well as our staff, is our fo­cus around the clock right now,” Klopot says. “One of our big­gest chal­lenges is around all the snow­birds com­ing home. We’ve got to keep them informed about what to ex­pect when they have to be quar­an­tined for 14 days. We have to tell them not to touch el­e­va­tor but­tons if they’re not wear­ing gloves. That we’re go­ing to knock three times when leav­ing pack­ages or gro­ceries at their doors.”

New condo own­er­ship presents another chal­lenge. “You’ve been wait­ing years for your new home, and when you first ar­rive you’re sud­denly bom­barded with all this in­for­ma­tion,” Klopot says. “We’re try­ing to soften that ini­tial shock.”

From post­ing no­tices on doors and el­e­va­tors to send­ing emails and up­dat­ing so­cial me­dia, there is no such thing as too much ac­cu­rate COVID-19 in­for­ma­tion, says Au­drey Mcguire, the vice- pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­do­minium Man­agers of On­tario (ACMO). “The sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing very quickly and we up­date res­i­dents as soon as pos­si­ble. If they aren’t com­fort­able on­line, they re­ceive a phone call.”

Ex­panded roles for condo staff

Prop­erty man­agers wear many dif­fer­ent hats at the best of times. Now, in­stead of deal­ing with five or 10 peo­ple on a given day, hun­dreds of res­i­dents are turn­ing to them for help and sup­port, Mcguire says. “They’re not med­i­cal ex­perts. They’re just do­ing the best they can to pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion and as­sis­tance res­i­dents need.”

Clean­ing staff are in over­drive too. Ac­cord­ing to Klopot, a typ­i­cal Forest Hill Group build­ing has its lobby fully cleaned twice a day, with el­e­va­tors and com­mon ar­eas wiped down ev­ery 15 min­utes. De­liv­er­ies, which have be­come at least 40 per cent more nu­mer­ous than be­fore the pan­demic, are met at the front doors by gloved condo staff and de­liv­ered to units.

New steps be­ing taken for staff safety

While some Forest Hill man­agers are work­ing re­motely, Klopot says their clas­si­fi­ca­tion as es­sen­tial work­ers means most of them are work­ing be­hind closed doors in on-site of­fices.

One of their prin­ci­pal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at this time in­volves staff safety, he con­tin­ues, point­ing to steps such as tap­ing or in­stalling Plex­i­glas around concierge ar­eas to pro­mote so­cial dis­tanc­ing. The ques­tion is how long these mea­sures will re­main in place. “We have had to start do­ing things we’ve never done be­fore, and some of them are here to stay for­ever. Hand san­i­tizer dis­pensers in lob­bies, and gloves for our concierges. Be­fore this, these pro­to­cols had ben­e­fits, but there was no down­side to not prac­tis­ing them.”

As it is, the new pro­to­cols, along with an uptick in em­ployee sick leave, have prompted an on­line hir­ing spree at Forest Hill.

Boards step­ping up

Some condo boards are ral­ly­ing vol­un­teers to deliver gro­ceries and other ne­ces­si­ties to fel­low res­i­dents who are vul­ner­a­ble to COVID-19 or in quarantine, Houle says. Some are also at­tempt­ing to pre­vent the spread of the virus by pro­vid­ing Q- tips so res­i­dents don’t have to touch el­e­va­tor but­tons.

At the Toy Fac­tory Lofts in Lib­erty Vil­lage, the board has gone so far as to of­fer res­i­dents the op­tion of de­fer­ring their April main­te­nance fees.

“I’ve seen good­ness in just about every­one I’ve dealt with,” ACMO’S Mcguire says. “Peo­ple in the condo com­mu­nity are be­ing re­ally kind and try­ing to help each other. There re­ally is strength in ad­ver­sity.”

Sup­plied

At the Av­enue and the Im­pe­rial Plaza con­dos on St. Clair Av­enue West, prop­erty man­age­ment or­dered haz-mat suits so staff can safely reach quar­an­tined in­di­vid­u­als if needed. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the key to keep­ing res­i­dents safe.

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