In my previous article, I explained how I came to be "volunteered" for the unenviable role of president for our small community (12 properties) in the centre of Torremolinos. Nobody ever wants to take on the responsibility that goes with the territory, and in fact, in a great many larger communities, most of the owners don't even wish to attend meetings or get involved in any way at all with the running of their community. I'm as guilty as any.
We owned an apartment in another nearby community, which we rented out long term, and due to the size of the community (at least 400 apartments I think) our vote amounted to something like 0.08% of the total, so we figured there wasn't really much point in attending meetings to voice our seemingly insignificant opinions. Such apathy is common, albeit hardly commendable, but in a community as small as ours, there really is nowhere to hide! Besides, if you have invested your hard earned money in a property, it makes sense to take an interest in it's general maintenance and up-keep in order to protect that investment and it's future value.
One commonly held belief is that community presidents are mostly corrupt and on the take. Whilst this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, it's certainly true that some presidents are only interested in dealing with issues which specifically interest them. In the large community I just mentioned, the president had a nice chain-link fence built in a communal driveway, to protect his Mercedes while parked there – paid for by the community of course!
Our outgoing president was certainly not in this league, and everybody had been more or less happy with his two year tenure, (probably because they didn't fancy doing the job themselves) but nevertheless I was aware of a growing feeling that since the building was now over two years old, certain issues should have been resolved by now. There also appeared to be a general feeling that he had only really bothered with the things which he felt were important, whilst ignoring other owners concerns. Although I didn't relish the prospect of getting stuck into the job, I was determined to give it my best shot, and in particular to carry out my responsibilities in as professional and unimpeachable manner as possible.
Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before my patience and temper became sorely stretched.
My first job as the new president was to check and approve the minutes of the meeting we had just held. I had already decided that communication should be a high priority, since the more people know, the less they need to ask, and therefore the less (hopefully) they would bother me over the coming year. The minutes produced by the administrator seemed a little sketchy to me, and since not all the owners had attended the meeting (yes, even in a community of just twelve!) I found myself spending time going over things and amending the minutes with the administrator. I couldn't help thinking that it would have been quicker and easier if I had done it myself in the first place.
This was to become a recurring thought over the next few months. On the whole, I think we have a pretty good administration company, but they deal with many communities (probably all much larger than ours and therefore with relatively more problems) and therefore cannot give the time and personal attention to each and every president, that we all feel we deserve. Of course, some larger communities can afford to have their own dedicated administration, thereby avoiding this problem, but in one the size of ours, it simply isn't feasible to have all the services necessary for the running of the community, including cleaning and maintenance, in-house.
Having sent out the minutes, I made myself a list of everything which had been discussed at the meeting which needed some kind of action, attempting to place everything in some sort of order of priority. At this point, I realized how easy it could be to let personal opinion affect my decisions as to what should take priority, but on further reflection, I thought that if I was to have a quiet life, it would be in my own best interest to deal with issues which, if delayed, would only bring neighbours knocking on my door very soon.
My brief experience to date has taught me that one of the most frustrating aspects of being president, is that often other owners come to me with problems that, in my opinion, are trivial or unimportant, but that in their view are top priority. At the end of the day, although I have been bestowed with the responsibility of taking care of the day to day running of our community, and ultimately have to make decisions on behalf of the other owners, my share, and therefore my vote, in the community is the same as theirs.
Being such a small community, we have a unique opportunity to involve a greater percentage of owners in any decisions taken, and as far as I am concerned, the more interest my neighbours take in the community and the more involved they are, the less pressure there will be on me to make decisions that may backfire on me later. However, suffice to say, you cannot please all of the people all of the time. I have learnt that the presidents’ lot is not always a happy one!
As I have previously mentioned, we do not have the financial resources to have our own in-house maintenance staff, and as such, we have a gardener/pool maintenance man, and a cleaner come in twice a week. However, we have nobody in place to carry out general maintenance work and repairs. In our annual meeting, we had discussed and agreed on a few necessary improvements around the grounds, for which we would need outside contractors, and so I asked the administrator to obtain quotes for these jobs.
Professional administrators usually have a list of tradesmen who they are familiar with, to cover all eventualities, so I felt confident leaving this task in their capable hands. In reality, I found that I had to make so many calls to remind them and chase them, that I decided (again) that it would be quicker and easier if I obtained the quotes myself. After all, I (who else?) would have to be available for people to come round and see what we needed and price up the work accordingly, so why not just contact them directly in the first place? But who to call?
English workers, because it would make it so much easier for me to explain what we needed? But the Spanish owners would never accept that, and besides, surely everyone knows that the Spanish are cheaper? Spanish workers, who may turn up mañana, if they remember? Perhaps my Mexican friend would be a good compromise. But don't tell anyone he's a friend of mine. I can already hear the cries of corruption and embezzlement! Oh, the frustration of it all – and this was just my first week!
While waiting for the quotes to come pouring in, I set about tackling some of the minor tasks which would make my list satisfyingly shorter. Needless to say, that no sooner had I crossed one job off, another one or two appeared at the bottom. And I had been hoping to have all this wrapped up within three months, and then content myself with signing cheques at the end of each month until my successor steps up.
Some of the issues raised in our meeting were easy to rectify. Somebody had complained about a red broom handle that had been used to support a plant in the garden. I mentioned it to the gardener, and a couple of days later it had been replaced with a smart new bamboo pole. I smiled privately as I thought how easy this job was, and how the neighbour who had mentioned it would be impressed with the speed and efficiency with which their new leader was dealing with things.
I also wondered why the previous president had neglected such simple things. With hindsight (what a wonderful thing!) I now realise the new president had set a precedent. To show their appreciation, my fellow owners simply started coming up with more trivial things they'd like me to deal with!
One problem that everyone agreed on, was that our cleaner was not doing a good job. Several people said they thought she often simply didn't turn up on her allocated days. The previous president had attempted to deal with this, by asking her to get one of the residents to sign a paper each time she came, as proof that she had been. However, on many occasions nobody was home when she should have been working, and anyway, she took to getting the signature before she started work, so there was no proof that she was actually doing her job at all. The general opinion was that we should get rid of her and find someone better.
However, our administrator explained to us that she was employed on a contract, and that we paid her social security, just like any company employee, which nobody was previously aware of, including, it would seem, the last president. Since she had been working for us for two years already, it would not be that straightforward to terminate her employment. He went on to explain the complexities of Spanish employment law. This led to a lot of bickering and arguments about who was responsible for employing her on this basis in the first place and why she wasn't autonomo (self employed) like the gardener.
The president of any community can be from any walk of life – in other words, a layman. He is not elected because of his experience or qualifications, and therefore is reliant on the expertise of the paid professional i.e. the administrator. In this instance, we felt we had been let down. Two years on, this all seemed somewhat irrelevant to me, albeit a lesson learned.. I decided the best course would be to attempt to improve her work.
My wife had a chat with her, and found that nobody had ever given her specific instructions on how to occupy her two hours on each of her two days. Furthermore, she had a rather negative attitude because she felt that everyone was always complaining about her work and doubting her attendance. Together they worked out a schedule that would more efficiently utilise her time, and she agreed to fill out a check list each week. I made sure all the owners were aware of her new schedule of duties, and since then not only do the neighbours seem to think she's doing a better (and more importantly, an acceptable) job, but she also turns up for work with a smile on her face. It hasn't solved the problem that we have to pay her holiday pay and sick pay, but at least the place is cleaner now.
By now I felt like I was really getting into my stride, and was torn between accepting the plaudits from my adoring community members, and the feeling that I was just digging myself into an even deeper hole, which would ultimately threaten to present me with the reward of a second term as president.