Partner Organizations

Workers take on boss/landlords

WORKING AS A BUILDING MANAGER IS NO DREAM JOB. The responsibilities are high, the pay is low, overtime is almost never paid. Complaining about any of it is a good way to get fired. And, worst of all, evicted.

WORKING AS A BUILDING MANAGER IS NO DREAM JOB. The responsibilities are high, the pay is low, overtime is almost never paid. Complaining about any of it is a good way to get fired. And, worst of all, evicted.

But more and more building managers are complaining and often winning—like Lily.*

Lily works in property management in western Canada. She successfully won six months of overtime pay by taking her bully boss to the labour board. She told us: “I kept track of the hours and days I worked. Even when I was answering the phone at 11 p.m.”

Lily is not alone. She told us she knows of at least six other workers who have stood up to property management companies by taking them to the labour board to secure the overtime pay they’re entitled to.

How building management works

Large property management companies typically expect building managers to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for an annual salary of just $17,000. They often offer it along with rent-free housing to sugar the bitter pill of long hours and low pay.

This treatment is all the more scandalous given that many large property companies have made a killing from the property price boom in Canada’s major cities. While these private companies rake in multi-million profits, they employ workers on poverty wages to manage apartment buildings with rents that are far out of reach for most of us.

Lily has more than two decades of experience in the sector. She described how conditions have deteriorated over the past 5-10 years. She also noted that while the workers are given the job title of “manager,” they have none of the powers and authority that normally comes with a managerial role.

She explained how some larger property management companies immediately hired new workers to live on site. “A lot of companies request on-site living. But if the company decides you’re not working out within a 90-day trial period, you’re out of a home. You would have exactly seven days to vacate your home,” she added.

The benefit that isn’t

Free or reduced rent is supposed to be one of the “benefits” of the job. In reality, it becomes just one more way for the boss to put pressure on his workers.

Lily told us the moment you can’t do everything the boss wants, the company will start charging you full market rent, being sick or injured is no excuse. “If you’re not 100 percent, they find a way to let you go,” she said.

On call around the clock

Even after a long day of performing maintenance, doing office paperwork, attending viewings, and dealing with other tasks, your workday isn’t over. “There’s one company in the city that likes to put you on on-call rotation,” Lily continued.

“So you’re expected to tend to emergencies during the evening and all night without additional compensation. Then, you come in the next day on minimal sleep and are expected to work another full day.”

This work schedule is coupled with a set-up that often places workers in dangerous situations. The typical arrangement is for companies to hire couples, with the man performing maintenance tasks while the woman is responsible for office management. On top of that, there is frequently no security in the buildings. Lily told us that female managers can often be left alone in the office to deal with angry and aggressive tenants.

“It’s a major issue for women,” she said. “The company doesn’t stand behind you. I’ve heard of workers being assaulted and cases going to court.”

Fighting for their rights

Property management workers are often afraid to come forward to raise their concerns. They fear the companies’ power to take away their homes, as well as their jobs. Those workers who do come forward tend to speak out only after they’ve been forced out or have willingly left the industry. “The people who fight this go away into the night,” Lily told us.

Despite these challenges, the positive labour board decisions show that workers are fighting back against the terrible working conditions. And they’re winning.

Lily pointed out that these victories, and many angry comments and reviews posted by workers with experience of the industry on internet sites, are strengthening workers’ determination to fight back.

* Not her real name

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Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights