It’s Not My Job
August 1, 2011
Ron knows the law. He can quote it chapter and verse. Ask him about any individual piece of the code, and he can cite it for you. Ron knows his contracts. He can tell you every last clause that’s in them and what it means. Ron knows all that because he wants to make sure he doesn’t have to do a lick more work than he has to.
The trouble is, Ron is a property manager. Property owners have entrusted him to manage their properties. They expect he will collect rents, keep track of expenses, and send them a check every now and then. They also expect he will see that their properties are taken care of. That’s what they thought a property manager was supposed to do.
Ron knows differently. He knows the law and each clause in his contract. He’s fine with collecting rents and keeping track of expenses because the law that he knows so well says he absolutely has to. He’s also fine with sending a check to the owners every so often. The law says he’s supposed to do that, too, along with an accounting.
But Ron’s favorite phrase is “It’s not my job.” He knows what his job is because he knows the law and his management contracts inside out. When his clients hired him on, Ron said he would inspect the properties every two or three months and see that things that needed fixing got fixed. He said he would keep them informed about anything they needed to know about their properties. Trouble is, nowhere in the law or the contract is there anything remotely close to that language. And Ron knows the law and his contracts like the “Cheers” reruns he watches all day on TV and the 17 th level of World of Warcraft that he has reached because he plays it incessantly when “Cheers” reruns aren’t on or he is trying to figure out the best way to avoid doing any kind of work.
Here’s a case in point. Ron had a management client who had to move to Los Angeles for work and couldn’t sell his house. This client had spent thousands of dollars making his yard an Asian garden showcase. Buddha statues hid in strategic places around the yard. Asian plants decorated each corner of the property. And the Koi pond held fish worth thousands of dollars.
When Ron took over management, he assured his LA-bound client that he would pay assiduous attention to the property. He also told his client that any new tenant he found would maintain the yard with the same care as the departing owner. You know where this is going.
Six months later the yard is a disaster. All the Asian foliage is gone. The Buddhas are still there but hard to find midst the weeds. And the koi? They all died because the pond’s pump broke so the filter couldn’t filter, and the tenant never said anything about it. As if it would have done any good since it wasn’t Ron’s job.
When the owner came back to town to inspect the property, he discovered the disaster and fired Ron on the spot. Ron’s response was “It’s not my job,” when asked why he didn’t deal with the problems with the property. Ron had not done an inspection since he had taken over management. After all, it wasn’t his job.
Are all property managers and property management companies like that? Fortunately, no. Many do take their jobs seriously and look out for the best interests of the people whose properties they manage. They know the law, too, but they also know their fiduciary responsibility. It doesn’t matter what the law says; it doesn’t matter what the contract says; when someone promises to take care of someone else’s property, he or she takes on the responsibility to do it not just right but more than right.
In every state where property managers must be licensed, they are required to exercise a fiduciary responsibility to their property owners. West’s American Law Encyclopedia describes fiduciary responsibility like this:
“A fiduciary relationship encompasses the idea of faith and confidence and is generally established only when the confidence given by one person is actually accepted by the other person. Mere respect for another individual’s judgment or general trust in his or her character is ordinarily insufficient for the creation of a fiduciary relationship. The duties of a fiduciary include loyalty and reasonable care of the assets within custody. All of the fiduciary’s actions are performed for the advantage of the beneficiary.”
Watching “Cheers” reruns and playing World of Warcraft all day might seem to interfere with carrying out fiduciary responsibility. Even more, repeating the phrase “it’s not my job” when faced with a decision about when Ron should deal with a problem in one of the properties he manages, definitely doesn’t meet the criteria for carrying out his fiduciary responsibility.
Property managers, the good ones, the ones who owners stick with and swear by and recommend to their friends and families, think first about their responsibilities to the owners of the properties they manage. No one has to tell them about fiduciary responsibility because they automatically will do what is necessary to protect the interests of their owners. They believe everything having to do with the condition or circumstances of any of the properties they manage falls under the fiduciary responsibility banner.
If you are in the market for a property manager, you certainly don’t want Ron or one of competing with Ron for “Worst Property Manager of the Year.” When you interview a property management company with the idea of managing your properties, you might ask what their view of fiduciary responsibility is. Their answer is important. If the first words out of the manager’s mouth are “the law says,” run for your life. If the manager begins explaining how he or she takes that responsibility seriously and tells a story or two about how he or she kept an owner’s property from falling into disaster, pay attention.