Uncommitted tenants

Changes in the urban jungle are putting the ‘housing committee’ on the endangered list.

311_apartment building, grungy (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_apartment building, grungy
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A look around the landscape reveals the towering presence of an ever growing number of skyscrapers. But as more people are reaching for the sky in residential and office tower blocks, the urban jungle is devouring a symbol of communal life.
Say good-bye to the house committee (va’ad bayit) – or at least nod to each other on the stairs – and say hello to the professional maintenance company, the upmarket address for all your building’s upkeep issues and problems.
The head of the house committee, a figure once known to all town dwellers, is increasingly having to hand over the keys and receipt books and head for home.
“Today’s luxury buildings cannot be run by a housing committee alone,” says Joel Radosher, CEO of A.D.M. Real Estate Management and Maintenance Ltd.
As the skyscrapers go up, so do standards of living and the requirements of the residents (and, of course, the monthly maintenance fees).
Those buildings with pools, gyms, security cameras and concierge services, as well as common areas for private parties, cannot manage with the old couple from apartment No. 3 who have held the unpaid position for longer than anyone can remember.
Radosher notes: “Most buildings today are much more technologically sophisticated than in the past because of the various requirements such as fire safety, stricter standards of construction for earthquake protection, Health Ministry demands concerning water treatment, communication needs – each building needs connections for telephones, cables and satellites – and advanced, computerized elevators.
“The consumer, for the most part, is unaware of the professionalism required to handle all these complex and sophisticated systems and chooses a maintenance company according to gut feeling or even worse, according to cost.”
Well-run maintenance companies can relieve a housing committee of its housework duties, particularly for large buildings. (“Twenty years ago, there was only the ‘famous’ Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv,” notes Radosher.)
For those who remain faithful to the old system, the nonprofit Aguda Letarbut Hadiyur (Association for Better Housing), founded in 1968, is still around to give advice and help solve disputes.
Most apartment block dwellers have a va’ad bayit story to tell. Every housing committee head has his own complex, as it were.
Just after graduating university, I rented an apartment in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood. The head of the va’ad bayit was typical of the area: a well-off, well-groomed, nicely mannered lady who wanted to maintain standards and appearances in the building.
One wintry night, our apartment was burgled. The next morning, after the police had left, Mrs. Va’ad Bayit informed me, without a trace of sympathy: “Liat, your burglar left mud all over the stairs.”
I understood why she was upset by the footprints, which I dutifully cleaned up – you don’t want to be in the va’ad bayit’s doghouse, after all. But my flatmates and I suspected she was equally disturbed by the thought that a man had succeeded in entering and leaving our apartment without her making a mental note of what time he had come and gone.
My current va’ad bayit, on the other hand, is an essential part of my home sweet home. Orly collects money, arranges for everything to be cleaned and fixed, waters the plants and does all sorts of things of which I am unaware (having never yet been foolish enough or motivated enough to volunteer for such a position). If home is where my heart is, she has a very special place there – especially since the time she noticed the main pipe to my apartment was about to burst on the eve of a religious holiday while I was busy at work and she couldn’t get hold of me. Instead of just ignoring it, she found a plumber to mend it, and when I returned home I found a note saying it had all been taken care of.
Of course, we all know cases where the tenants feel too close for comfort. And while homes might be humble, the same cannot always be said of expectations. How many residents have argued over the desire to have grass as green as the neighbors’ (but cheaper) or a marble entrance? And anybody who has discussed the installation of an elevator or its (uniquely Israeli) conversion to a Shabbat elevator knows that that topic has more than its fair share of ups and downs.
There are va’ad bayit meetings where residents behave with all the grace of the fans at a Beitar Jerusalem/Bnei Sakhnin soccer match. (Imagine England vs Germany without the benefit of 65 years of peace.)
A friend who headed a house committee eventually moved rather than carry on with the job after opposition toward her crossed the line from annoying to criminal. (Today, that building, too, is run by a maintenance company. It’s much easier to carry out fee and debt collection when you don’t have to abide together.) There are also success stories and at least one love story: The romance between one Jerusalemite couple started at a va’ad bayit meeting, when the landlady of one apartment met the tenant of another. Despite the common wisdom that you’ll never meet your bashert if you stay at home, one thing led to another and now they are the happily married parents of three.
My downstairs neighbor likes to quote the proverb “Tov shachen karov mi’ah rahok” (“Better a close neighbor than a distant brother”).
Anything that can keep all the residents living peacefully together is worth dwelling on.