Redbook Blues: Internal Customers
As WAK Property Management President, I am focused on two customer bases: external (current and future residents) and internal (employees, owners, investors, etc.). As the leader of WAK, I’m keenly aware that my company’s best assets wear tennis shoes! Our employees matter. Your employees matter. All multifamily housing industry professionals matter.
When it comes to human resources issues, I have learned two critical management skills: 1) people do strange things; and 2) the less time that bosses and employees spend on human resources issues, the more time they both spend doing their jobs. Less is more when it comes to personnel issues.
From onsite office and maintenance technicians to regional and corporate headquarters staffs, the multifamily industry is a very labor-intensive industry. From I-9s and job classifications to termination procedures and office politics, dealing with human resource challenges and employment laws can be overwhelming and time-consuming.
The good news is the REDBOOK is an excellent resource for Texas multifamily professionals dealing with employment concerns. Many AATC members use the REDBOOK to help with routine landlord-tenant issues and concerns, but it also contains practical, user-friendly information on employment law.
Much of the labor-law matters covered in the REDBOOK are authored by James H. Kizziar, Jr., a partner with Bracewell & Giuliani. He is Special Counsel to TAA for labor and employment issues and he represents management in all aspects of labor and employment law.
The REDBOOK includes more than 40 employment-law articles authored by Kizziar. These articles contain critical human resources information for senior executives, managers, and, especially, the front-line supervisors. Dealing with employees living on property is one of the topics he covers.
Navigating the challenges of employees living on-site is one of the multifamily industry’s unique human resources issues. It is especially tricky when an employee living at the property is terminated. At a minimum, Kizziar recommends that all employees living on-site: 1) complete an employment application; 2) sign a TAA Lease contract; and 3) use special provisions or lease addendum regarding employment.
According to Kizziar, one of the biggest employment law mistakes that the multifamily industry makes is not having all employees fill out an employment application. The industry screens potential tenants more than potential employees. Use common sense and good judgment during the hiring process just like you do in the leasing process.
Kizziar strongly recommends requiring employees living on property to sign a TAA Lease before moving into any on-site apartment unit. He recommends that the lease should clearly state that the employee's right to live there exists only as long as he or she is an employee of the owner or management company. If there is no security deposit or the rent is free then Kizziar recommends putting "zero" in those particular lease blanks.
Most importantly, Kizziar advises that all employee leases include an addendum or insert a clause in the special provisions section (paragraph 10 in the lease) which enables management to immediately require an employee who ceases employment through termination or resignation to move out of the apartment community. This addendum or clause should also require the employee to be liable to pay rent if he or she does not move out right away after employment termination. The clause could be similar to the following:
"We may terminate this lease with 24 hours notice in the event your employment with owner or owner's management company for this apartment community is terminated for any reason, including but not limited to dishonesty, misinformation in your employment application or unsatisfactory work performance. In the event of such lease termination, you will pay holdover rents in the amount of $__________ per day in advance, beginning one day after you are required to move out. If your employment is terminated, you will no longer have any rights to use the utilities, telephones, equipment or other facilities owned or controlled by the owner or management, and we will have all rights and remedies under this lease, including statutory lockout, landlord's lien and utility cutoff as allowed under the lease."
To mitigate any potential problems arising from termination, Kizziar advises apartment owners and operators to document, document, and document some more: any poor performance, misconduct, or violation of policies, procedures, rules, and coaching sessions., etc. Be sure to put this written documentation in the employee's personnel file and give the employee warnings of such performance deficiencies or policy violations. When it comes to post-employment lawsuits, Kizziar cautions that the employer may lose unless there is good documentation. Bottom-line, when an employee screws up, put it in writing.
Finally, Kizziar counsels speedy, no-hassle departure of the terminated on-site employee. Be sure to retrieve any of the employee's office, apartment, storage, maintenance shop, and other keys. Also, if the fired employee has possession of any leases or other important records of the apartment community, such records must be retrieved immediately to avoid tampering, loss, or destruction. If the fired employee continues to live in the community or if the employee's access to keys or equipment continues, the employee could do a great deal of economic harm and public relations damage to the owner or management company. Therefore, it is important to have former employees "move on" immediately after employment has been terminated.
In addition to the REDBOOK, to help our members budget employee costs, AATC along with AAGD commissioned J Turner Research to conduct a DFW area multifamily housing salary survey. This data is based on the information from leading DFW area multifamily owners and operators. This survey is available on the AATC website: www.aatcnet.org
John Gillespie, WAK Property Management, is the AATC Government Affairs Committee Chair.