Condo conflicts: Security officers often caught between residents and management

Eight Riversuites condo (above), where a recent incident between a resident and a security officer made the news after a video of their exchange was posted online.
Eight Riversuites condo (above), where a recent incident between a resident and a security officer made the news after a video of their exchange was posted online. FACEBOOK, LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO
Eight Riversuites condo (above), where a recent incident between a resident (right) and a security officer made the news after a video of their exchange was posted online.
Eight Riversuites condo, where a recent incident between a resident (above) and a security officer made the news after a video of their exchange was posted online.PHOTOS: SG ROAD VIGILANTE/FACEBOOK, LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Mr Sivarajah Nathan, who has been a security officer at condominiums for 20 years, says he has been verbally abused by residents at least once a week, and has filed at least three police reports for harassment he faced.

All while the 67-year-old was trying to enforce a condo's in-house rules as part of his job.

In one incident last year, when he was a security executive at Oleander Towers in Toa Payoh, a guest of a resident had parked in the wrong spot. Following protocol, Mr Sivarajah clamped a wheel of the car when it had not been moved after 30 minutes.

Mr Sivarajah said the resident then confronted him, saying: "If you don't take the notice and clamp off in five minutes, you don't have to come back to work tomorrow."

The security officer stood his ground and, eventually, the resident was told by the condo management to pay a fine to remove the clamp.

But not all disputes with residents end this way, said Mr Sivarajah, who is now between postings.

"Most of the time, residents will say 'we are paying you' or 'you mind your own business', but my job is to enforce the rules set by management," he said.

However, not all residents may agree with or be aware of in-house rules. As a result, they may vent their frustrations on security officers, as seen in the recent incident between an Eight Riversuites condo resident and a security officer over a $10 overnight parking fee for the resident's guests.

Following a public backlash, the resident, Mr Erramalli Ramesh, reportedly apologised to senior security supervisor Steven Heng during a private, hour-long meeting on Wednesday last week.

MINIMISING CONFLICT

Using technology in a smart way in outcome-based security contracts is where we need to be headed. For example, if I'm not happy with the gantry charges, I cannot scold the gantry. But if there's a security officer, he will be scolded.

MR STEVE TAN, executive secretary of the Union of Security Employees, on how technology could help security staff.

When contacted, Mr Heng declined to comment as he considers the case closed.

The incident, which occurred over the Deepavali weekend, cast a spotlight on the tensions among various stakeholders at Singapore's condos over rules set by the management corporation (MC).

These rules, also known as by-laws, are often the biggest source of tension between residents, the management and front-line staff such as security officers, said Mr Chan Kok Hong, president of the Association of Strata Managers.

"By-laws are necessary in a condominium, because otherwise there would be anarchy. But new residents... may not be aware of the by-laws because they vary from condo to condo," he added.

"For example, some condominiums may charge per use of certain facilities like gyms, tennis courts or barbecue pits. Some residents may feel that they are already paying for maintenance, so why should they be charged for using the facilities?

"On the other hand, some residents may feel that it's fair because not everyone may use the facilities. Neither are wrong. But being a democratic country, as long as the majority agrees to a particular by-law, it's passed," he said.

In practice, it is difficult to get all owners of a condo to agree to any particular by-law, said Dr Lim Lan Yuan, president of the Association of Property and Facility Managers.

"These by-laws are often discussed and debated on at the general meeting before they are decided. However, once a by-law is passed and supported by the majority, the minority of owners should attempt to support the implementation of the by-law and comply with it," he added.

If there is a breach of a by-law, the management may take the people who are in breach to court, said Dr Lim.

 
 
 

However, some rules at condos can be absurd, said Mr V.W. Nathan, chief executive of security agency Assured Protection and Consultancy.

"For example, some condos don't allow board shorts to be worn into the swimming pool, or others don't allow helpers to use the pool.

"It causes a lot of issues, because the security officers are the ones who have to enforce these rules, which they themselves might find strange too," he said.

"On the other hand, if the management sees that the rules are not enforced, they will find fault with the security officer first."

Security officers who attempt to enforce the rules may also find themselves facing abuse from residents.

Mr Albert Britto, 57, who formerly worked at Holland Gems condo, said he once came across drunk residents who jumped into the swimming pool in the wee hours, causing a ruckus and disturbing other residents.

"When we tried to talk to them, they behaved very aggressively, throwing the deck chairs (into) the pool and shouting at me," said Mr Britto, who is now a security officer at an office building in Bukit Merah.

Under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, the common property at each condo is controlled and managed by an MC.

Condo owners are elected at each annual general meeting into a council of the MC as a representative body led by a chairman, secretary and treasurer, to carry out the day-to-day running of the condo.

To help with the running of the condo, an MC may employ a managing agent, who typically has professional experience in property management, for a term of up to three years. Under the Act, the managing agent's performance must be reviewed every year at the annual general meeting.

This means that managing agents may feel pressured to go along with the demands of residents, even if they have advised the managing council otherwise.

Mr Chan, who is also the managing director of Savills Property Management, said: "If (they) are proposing something that may be controversial or in our experience would have strong objections from residents, then we may advise them against it. Some of them do listen, but some feel that they still want to go ahead."

 
 
 

In the case of overnight parking charges for visitors, Mr Chan said such a practice is not common, but he understands that free visitors' parking at properties like those near MRT stations may be abused.

"There was once a resident who had a second-hand car company, and he would ask 10 of his employees to drive the cars over to the condominium and park overnight," he recalled.

To curb such abuses, some condos may impose a parking fee on visitors parking overnight, while others require visitors to apply for free parking, he added.

If visitors flout the rules, their cars may be wheel-clamped and they would have to pay a fee to release the clamp.

"If the security officers release the clamp without making the visitor pay the fees, then the managing agent will make the security agency pay the fees," said Mr Chan.

"Some management councils may later waive the charges if you appeal, but we as the managing agents are very strict with the security agencies about collecting the fees first."

One security agency told The Sunday Times that it pays a few thousand dollars every month in penalties to condo managements. Each case typically bears a penalty of between $50 and $100, said Mr John Sng, who runs security agency SMS Investigation & Security, which provides security services to 24 condos.

As a result, security agencies often find themselves in a conundrum, said Mr Steve Tan, executive secretary of the Union of Security Employees.

To prevent security officers from bearing the brunt of enforcing rules, Mr Tan suggests a long-term solution by implementing more ingenious security solutions.

"Using technology in a smart way in outcome-based security contracts is where we need to be headed. For example, if I'm not happy with the gantry charges, I cannot scold the gantry. But if there's a security officer, he will be scolded.

"So outcome-based contracts take away all these inconvenient issues that are ever-present in manpower contracts, and ultimately raise security outcomes," said Mr Tan.

Condo residents that The Sunday Times spoke to said the issue boils down to respecting staff, including security officers and cleaners.

At a condo in Clementi, a resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Goh, 30, said his neighbours complain about cleaners taking the lift with their cleaning carts and security officers using the free shuttle service from the MRT station.

The resident, who works in the banking sector, added: "If the guard can't take the shuttle bus, how else is he supposed to come to work?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 03, 2019, with the headline 'Condo conflicts '. Print Edition | Subscribe