Welcome to our Spotlight Series where we will highlight profiles of condominium industry professionals.
Val Khomenko is a Property Manager at Duka Property Management. Val recently took over as the new PM at The Fountains, a 500 unit condominium complex in the GTA. The Fountains has been trying to pass a Standard Unit By-law and Insurance Deductible By-law ever since it turned over, they finally passed both by-laws on Val’s watch.
With over three years of experience in the condominium management industry, Val will shed some light on how he got started as a PM and gives advice to Managers and Directors on how to pass their bylaws.
Q. How long have you been a property manager? Why and how did you get into this industry?
A. I have been in the condominium management industry for just over three years now. I initially wanted to become a lawyer, but due to the high cost of the education I found another calling through the condominium industry. With a background in legal services, serving residents as my clients has always been a top priority.
Q. You recently became the property manager at The Fountains, can you tell us how that came about?
A. It is a funny story of how I ended up as the property manager for The Fountains. A year ago I attended an event in the party room at the Fountains. Just before leaving the event, I mentioned in passing to the host about how great it would be to work here someday. Duka acquired the Fountains as a client a few years back, and surprisingly a year later I was lucky enough to take over from my colleagues.
Q. What were some of the challenges taking over as the new property manager? How did you quickly build relationships with your owners?
A. I think the transition process went quite smoothly as we took on in-progress and outstanding items from my colleagues. Boards always have a bit of worry when a new PM comes on, even if it's within the same company, and we had a brand new team taking over the office too. It's the fear of the unknown and it's only natural. Regardless, all condos face the same key issues - controlling costs, proper maintenance, and contract negotiations. By reiterating our focus on these crucial matters, we secured the foundation to establishing trust and building relationships with the board and owners.
Q. Your corporation has been trying to pass two by-laws for the last few years, can you tell us a bit about them? Why did The Fountains need them to be passed?
A. The Corporation has been trying to pass a Standard Unit Bylaw and an Insurance Deductible Bylaw since the condominium’s turnover. The lack of a definition for the Standard Unit meant that the Corporation has been paying for repairs for the improvements and betterments in units due to water damage. The absence of an Insurance Deductible Bylaw also brought additional costs for repairs to the common elements. Fortunately, we don't have many of these events, but it only takes one or two in a period of time to drive up costs. Unfortunately, many of the owners did not realize the importance of these two bylaws until they saw sharp increases in their maintenance fees. If the bylaws didn’t get passed, the costs for the repairs and increases to the insurance premiums as a result of water damage would eventually become unsustainable for the Corporation and its owners.
Q. What were some of the challenges the Corporation was facing in trying to pass the bylaws?
A. The biggest challenge for us was having over 70% of owners being offsite. Typically speaking, offsite owners aren’t always as involved in the governance of their condo, and as such aren’t as fully aware of the impact that the water damaged units and common elements were having on the Corporation’s bottom line. Whereas the onsite owners were very involved and responded positively to passing the bylaws, it was going to be an uphill battle to onboard as many offsite owners as possible to help. We knew that collecting proxies alone would not guarantee that the bylaws would pass, if owners didn’t understand the fundamental reasons why the by-laws were needed, they would likely vote “No” on the by-laws, and that’d be bad for the condo’s future health. Our office acknowledged the fact that we would have to do more than just issue meeting notices and the meeting package, we’d have to work extra hard to get in touch with off-site owners and get them educated and voting.
Q. How were you able to finally get the by-laws passed? What three key points would you give to another property manager facing the challenge of passing a bylaw?
A. We decided that we needed to pass these bylaws once and for all, and to do that we needed to educate and communicate with as many owners as possible. We used GetQuorum to collect proxies electronically and that helped us immensely in being getting people engaged, especially from those off-site owners. We got a lot of proxies upfront - around 40% - from the on-site and off-site owners that were more responsive (ie. the more involved ones). But the last 10% was the hard part - getting the owners that don’t usually participate to participate. And that took a concerted effort from our office - putting in extra hours through holding one-on-one meetings with individual owners after 5:00 pm to explain the importance of having the by-laws in place. We used every opportunity to introduce the bylaws and present the benefits; whether it was an arrears collection call or when the owner just dropped by to request a key/fob, we’d make sure to talk to them about the by-laws.
I would recommend the following tips in passing the by-laws:
Be transparent and use regular language when explaining the cost and benefits of the bylaws. You will find that owners have questions or misconceptions about the by-laws that they won’t voice until you speak to them. The last thing you want to do is have owners vote with incorrect assumptions, because then you need to get extra votes to make up for their “No” vote. For every “No” vote, you need two “Yes” votes to make up for it.
Use every opportunity (call/email/meet in person) to explain the by-laws. Work with the Board of Directors and especially your office administrator, if one is present on site to talk about the bylaws in their interactions with owners.
Use an electronic proxy system. It makes it much easier for owners to complete their vote and shows you exactly who hasn’t completed a proxy yet so you can reach out to them. This helps you focus your efforts on a smaller number of owners so you don’t have to worry about reaching out to everyone. Having this data on hand is a must.
Q. They say hindsight is 20/20, so what would you do differently if you could start the whole by-law process again?
A. I trusted the process and it did not lead us astray. The only thing I would do differently is to host an extra information session about the bylaws, and allow extra time for owners to submit their proxies. The more time you spend educating your owners and generating awareness about the bylaws before starting to collect votes, the more likely those owners will choose “Yes” when voting begins.
Q. If other Property Managers and Board Directors have questions about the process of getting their by-laws passed, would you be open to chatting with them?
A. Sure thing, I'd be happy for them to email me.
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