Apartment building work parties: a threat or a possibility?

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If you’ve been following our blog for a longer period of time you’ve noticed that we’ve published four blog posts about apartment ownership in Finland. Now that it’s autumn it’s time to talk about another topic related to apartment ownership in Finland: apartment building work parties (talkoot). 

This topic generates plenty of heated conversations in thousands of Finnish apartment buildings every year. So we thought we’d give you a heads up and tell you what those are and how to navigate them. 

We cannot guarantee that you’ll remain in your neighbors’ good graces if you follow our advice. There’s never pleasing everybody. But we hope that our blog will at least give you better chances of being successful.  

What are apartment building work parties?

Housing companies that own apartment buildings in Finland organize work parties to take care of simple yard maintenance tasks. These include raking the leaves, cutting hedges, planting trees or plants, painting fences, etc. Housing companies often organize such parties twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  

These happen in apartment buildings where occupants own their apartments. Or, legally speaking, own shares in the housing company in question. If you live in such a building as a tenant, you’ll see these parties happening. Most likely, however, you haven’t even seen an invitation to it. 

The board of the housing company decides when such a party takes place and what should be done during it. They send the invitation to the apartment owners, place a notice of it on the noticeboard, or announce it in the apartment building Facebook group.  Very often tenants are blissfully unaware of the upcoming work party and they are allowed to be. 

Although apartment owners all receive a notice of the party, participating in the work parties is entirely voluntary. Nobody can be made to participate nor do they have to find someone else to work on their behalf. Those that are unwilling or unable to participate cannot be made to pay “their share” or work for an equivalent period at some other time. Conversely, those who do participate do not get any relief on their building maintenance fees or get paid for their work in other ways. 

Apartment building work parties often take a whole day from morning until late in the afternoon or in the evening. The housing company often arranges refreshments and food afterward ending the whole thing with an actual party. 

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Apartment building work parties: a threat or a possibility?

So, there is no legal obligation for anyone to participate. The social pressure to do so, however, is enormous. 

Unfortunately, participating in the work parties is often really a secret measure of how much you care about the building and the community in it. Thus, if you haven’t known of their importance as a social measure of your worth as a neighbor and have neglected them, you may have inadvertently given yourself a really bad reputation. If this is the case, it’s not too late to try to correct that. Participate this fall. 

Because at their best apartment building work parties are a fantastic way to increase the community feel in the building. They allow people to get to know each other. They can help build trust that may be needed when the apartment building faces large maintenance or renovation projects. Neighbors can build relationships that last decades and create a sense of security and belonging. Doing something for the building and for the people in it makes you connected. 

Apartment building work parties are an important and inexpensive way for the housing company to take care of small maintenance tasks. They can play a hugely important role in community building. But, they can also fail miserably in both.

What, then, can apartment buildings do to make their work parties successful and what can you do to contribute to them in a meaningful way?

The role of the housing board in a successful apartment building work party

The first thing is to recognize what we already stated. Nobody is legally obligated to participate. 

The second is to design and manage these work parties in a way that allows people with differing abilities and possibilities to participate in a manner that suits them and helps the community. And for all to accept these differencing ways of participation as equally valuable. 

A lot of this falls on the housing company board, the planning they do, and the attitude they convey. 

They initiate the work parties. And in doing that, they set the framework for their success. 

To ensure that success they can, for example,   

  • make a list of all of the things that need to be done well in advance; 
  • communicate that list to the apartment owners in the invitation; 
  • make sure that these tasks are suitable for amateurs to take care of, and that there is enough variety in the work to allow for differing levels of participation; 
  • offer the possibility to do some of the tasks at another time if participation on the actual day is impossible for some owners;
  • set a schedule for the day so that everyone knows how long the party lasts;
  • organize the work so that it is possible to participate in only a part of the day and have that be completely acceptable;
  • make sure that all the necessary equipment and materials are available on the day of the party;
  • organize the work so that everybody knows what they should do and why and with what equipment. 
  • invite everyone to the party afterward even if they’ve been unable to participate in the actual work. An acceptable form of participation could also be, for example, cooking or baking something for the party.

But what if you aren’t a part of the board, what can you do to make apartment work parties successful? 

How can you help to make the work party a success?

Naturally, participate if you can. It is a good way to get to know your neighbors and hear what’s going with the housing company. 

If you can, take a look at the list of tasks beforehand. See what you would like to or are able to do. In other words, be prepared. 

Don’t worry about not knowing what the tasks entail. There are sure to be plenty of people eager to teach you. In one housing company party long ago, I helped build a fence around our parking lot. I hadn’t done that before. When I made that known I had more than enough of people eagerly giving me advice. 

Be prepared to work hard for the whole day if you can. Accept advice and directions particularly from those who’ve lived in the building the longest. Here applies what often applies in Finnish workplaces as well: be careful how you make suggestions for improvements. Particularly if you are making those suggestions to a person who’s lived in the building for over 25 years and has always done things in a certain way.  

If you are unable to participate during actual the day, could you perhaps help with the food in the evening?  Or could you do something to help the board to set things up beforehand?

Our advice is: just participate.  

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