Property Management Oversight : The Poisoning

I have been getting lots of calls, from friends, colleagues, and potential rental guests alike. Many people have now seen the article about the Delaware family that was poisoned at Sirenusa Condominiums on St. John. Here is the article from USA today, one of many that have come out in various publications over the last week:

First let me say, this is a really distressing situation. I can't even express how sorry I feel for the family that was stricken. Absolutely horrible that they come on vacation, surely something they treasured and looked forward to. Pay big money for a nice rental condo on the wonderful island of St. John, and then they almost lose their lives. And I am not an expert, I don't know how this may affect them physically in the future. But obviously this is an incredibly serious situation, and my heart goes out to them, their extended family, and friends. This is the first thought of everyone that reads about this event, prior to asking how something like this can be avoided. It will never be easy to ease everyone's fears that this could also happen to them if they were to come down on vacation.

I have seen many postings about this on Facebook, as well as comments below the various articles. I have seen pest control service providers in the islands clarifying that they were not the ones involved, which is great, as they do not want to have their clients worry they would make a terrible mistake like this. And now that the pest control company has been identified, they do not have to worry about that as much. I have seen people worry that this could happen to them on their vacation. And I wish that were impossible, but unfortunately, it did happen to somebody. I have had conversations with other property managers about what they do to prevent something like this from happening in one of their properties. And after much thought, I have come to this conclusion:

Property management is a very difficult job. It really is not easy. We rely upon contractors for their area of expertise. Should I know about METHYL BROMIDE? I want to say, NO. But in reality, it is our job as the property managers to know as much as possible about what is going on with the properties for which we care. Let me use an example:

We utilize BUGABOO PEST CONTROL for services in our properties. I not only find Brett Johnson (the owner) to be good at his job, but he has always taken it very seriously. We once had a condo that became infested with bedbugs (only time we've had them). We went to Brett and asked him what to do. Brett not only gave us the solution, but he let us know what chemicals he was intending to use, how he was going to do the work, what to expect, etc... He gave me information so that I was able to research this all myself on the internet, where I felt comfortable with moving forward. In other words, after learning from him of his intent, then following up myself, I felt comfortable in proceeding. Brett actually ENCOURAGED me to do such to feel OK, since this was never something I had been thru before. When I look back on this now, I am so happy he is who I use. Could it have been different? Possibly. If I used somebody else, and didn't ask how they were going to deal with it? Could I have been to blame if something went wrong, even when i am not the pest control expert?

Maybe my concern and extra efforts in something like this was because of my lack of knowledge. If Brett is just doing the basic extermination, I do not follow up with him and research or confirm what he is doing because I trust him. I rely upon his expertise to know what is right. And truthfully, after seeing what happened with this Delaware family, it kind of scares me. Because oversight over every single contractor is nearly impossible. Let's take another example, because this happened at my neighbors house (we do not manage it, but had we been the managers, then it could have been scary).

Landscapers were doing their weed eating and trimming, and one of them apparently hit the propane gas line that leads from the tanks to the house, creating a small hole. The landscaper didn't know or hear it, as they had loud equipment. But our other neighbor, on the other side of the subject house, DID hear gas coming out very shortly after, as she happened to be outside her home at the time washing her car. If that neighbor was not there at the time, who knows what could have happened? Potential gas explosion from a spark of the weed eater? Now, we were able to turn off the gas, got it fixed, and no harm done other than some lost propane. But when I think back on this, kind of in relation to the poisoning: what if this were a property we manage, the landscaper we hire makes this mistake, and there was a gas explosion. Where does my liability stand? Do I have responsibility for this?

I don't know the answer to that. And again, it is a scary thought. It is one of the things that really worries me about property management. But on the other hand, it is precisely what leads us to strive to know everything going on with our properties. It is why we use trustworthy contractors, through years of trial and error. It is why we only manage a small number of properties, so we can still be effective in managing the properties we have. It is why we really pay attention and research what our contractors are doing. But the scary part is, no matter what efforts we make, bad things can happen. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if this were my property, and would be trying to identify how I let something like this happen, even if I felt I had done everything I could to prevent it. I would only be able to hope that I felt I did everything possible to prevent it on my end.

I am not trying to pass any judgments here. This just happens to be an event that really hits me close to home. It has not escaped my mind for even one second since it happened. Mostly because of how serious it is. But also because I worry whether it could have happened on one of my properties. I truly do not think it could have though, and I can only hope I am correct.

So potential guests that have these worries, you have my commitment that I will always take my job seriously and do everything I can to assure events like this do not happen in our properties. We will always do everything we can to make sure we avoid a tragic event like this. And I can only pray that our efforts prevent such from ever happening in the future.