Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, and Wolk, P.A.
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Most companies have a written policy under which the resident is instructed to put all work orders for repairs in writing. No work order, no repair. In a typical situation though, your maintenance person is verbally notified of a repair need while on the property. The most common response by your maintenance person is “You need to go to the office and put in a work order”. The maintenance person then goes about his or her day doing the normal repairs and maintenance on the property and following the work orders that have been provided by the office. In other words, the maintenance person is doing the jobs as dictated by the office and office policies. The resident who gave verbal notice is ignored.


Your Company “Work Order Policy”


A typical company policy as outlined in the lease or the Resident Manual dealing with repair requests states that in the event a repair needs to be done in a unit or there is some sort of a problem that needs attention, the resident is to come to the office and fill out a work order request. There are obvious reasons for this type of policy, as it documents the work order, alerts management and maintenance to the problem, provides evidence why and when maintenance entered an apartment, and establishes that all important paper trail which we are always recommending be created. Generally, if a resident fails to put in a written work order, maintenance staff will not voluntarily go out to the unit until such time as the work order is in place, unless a true emergency exists.


The Reality of the Resident’s Expectations


The resident sees Mike the maintenance person driving the golf cart, flags him down and notifies him that the A/C is not cooling properly. Although Mike tells the resident that she needs to put in a written work order, the resident expects this to be a mere formality and that Mike will be out nonetheless as soon as possible to fix the problem. Mike, following company policy, fails to go out. A few days go by, and then the resident calls the office, wondering why the A/C is not being fixed. As far as the resident is concerned, she put management, through Mike, on notice of a repair need, and Mike did not make the repair. The resident now begins the process of trying to break their lease, withhold rent or completely badmouthing the property, plastering notices on every resident’s door.


Is the Resident Correct?


Most property managers will feel that the resident is completely wrong, as the resident did not follow company policy or procedure. The resident did not put the work order in writing; therefore, the company is off the hook as far as the property manager is concerned. The resident withholds rent, breaks the lease or somehow the situation ends up in court. At court, the resident will testify that she told Mike the maintenance person that a repair was necessary and Mike failed to make the repair. You and Mike will then tell the judge that the resident never put in a written work order, and that is why the repair was not made. Now for the tough questions. The judge may ask you or maintenance whether the resident did in fact notify Mike that a repair was needed. If Mike answers “yes”, which he would have to do if he were telling the truth, the judge will not be happy with Mike or management. Possibly the resident was justified in withholding rent or breaking the lease. While we all know that a resident is required to give a manager 7 days written notice if they intend to withhold rent or break a lease, some judges will ignore this requirement by Florida law.


Actual Notice Versus Company Policy


In the foregoing example and possible court case, the resident shows to the judge, a point confirmed by maintenance, that the resident gave ACTUAL NOTICE of a repair need which was not performed. The fact that the resident gave actual notice, while not according to company policy, will result in the judge being very unsympathetic to management and maintenance, and could cause you to lose a case in court. Judges are not big on your company policies or procedures. There is nothing in the law that states that a resident must put a routine repair request in writing. The judge will be more concerned whether the resident gave some sort of notice, and in this example, the resident did give notice, corroborated by the maintenance person’s testimony.


Do We Now Ignore Company “Work Order Policy”?

As we have seen, requiring a resident to provide you with a written work order is a good policy and should be continued, pushed and encouraged by all means. On the other hand, if maintenance is notified of a problem by a resident, be it at the pool, while doing another repair in the apartment, or anywhere on the grounds, that maintenance person needs to be proactive, write a note down on the pad that he will carry at all times, and create a work order from that. Once that work order is created, the scheduling should be done with the resident to avoid any accusations by a resident that maintenance entered a unit without authorization or notice. Remember, when you are in court, about the last thing a judge cares about is your “company policy”.

  • The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1