(This article profiles BJ Santavy, one of the winners of Connect’s inaugural Canadian Women in Real Estate Awards. Santavy heads Skyline Living, a Guelph, Ont.-based multi-residential property management company that services 35,000 tenants residing in about 22,000 apartment units across Canada.)
BJ Santavy operates in a Southern Ontario city that is smaller than many others in the region, but she makes big things happen.
As a vice-president at Guelph-based Skyline Living, she occupies the property management company’s highest leadership level. Under her guidance, Skyline has expanded its business and humanitarian efforts, earning awards while improving the lives of multi-residential building tenants from coast to coast.
Skyline Living services 35,000-plus tenants across about 22,000 apartment units in 58 communities in seven provinces under the umbrella of the Skyline Group of Companies.
Santavy’s nominator for a Canadian Women in Real Estate Award praises her for consistently reducing the company’s vacancy levels and operating costs while improving tenant engagement and retention.
“She understands Skyline Living’s unique opportunity and responsibility to use its influence to help shift public opinion and humanize the landlord-tenant relationship, which has too often been portrayed with a negative, combative connotation in the media,” says her nominator. I
In fact, the nominator adds, she has adjusted the fundamental structure and departments within Skyline Living’s organization to reflect the mindset shift in [the] landlord-tenant relationship, to one of service, support, and resolution.
Santavy believes that rental-housing providers have a fundamental responsibility to support their tenants, even in difficult times. Skyline has launched two award-winning, industry-changing tenant support programs under her leadership. The RISE (Reach Impact, Support, Elevate) program started up informally in 2018 and officially launched in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the situation, RISE provides support, access to community resources and financial assistance when a tenant is struggling with hardship.
Between January 1, 2022 and October 31, 2023, the company processed 844 RISE files and provided approximately $70,000 in tenant relief.
In spring 2022, the company launched a refugee assistance program. Altogether, says the company, 238 refugees and their families have been housed since the program’s inception.
“While most refugees in 2022 were from Ukraine, we also assisted families seeking refuge from other countries,” says a company representative.
Recognizing that it could provide tangible and meaningful help right away, Skyline provided immediate help to those in need. The company did not charge rental deposits and assisted the refugees through the RISE application process.
In total, Skyline provided the equivalent of $652,228 worth of rent free of charge in 2022. As part of its effort to support refugees and help them settle in Canada, Skyline also supplied monetary gifts and services from suppliers.
Skyline’s gestures have not gone unnoticed. In July 2023, the Canadian Federation of Apartment Association bestowed Skyline with its Rental Housing Provider of the Year Award. Skyline was also a finalist in three other award categories covering renovations, marketing and individual property managers.
The company also encourages other multi-residential real estate companies increase their humanitarian efforts.
“BJ’s success in this industry can be credited not only to her intuition and qualities as a visionary, but also her keen understanding that this business is, first and foremost, about people: connection, conversation, compassion, and commitment,” says her CWIRE Award nominator. “By understanding people and putting them first, she is able to best determine forward-looking strategy.”
While contributing to community causes, Santavy also strives to give back to the multi-residential real estate industry, adds the nominator. “Throughout career, she has been very active in industry organizations and opportunities to discuss and advocate for rental-housing providers and the tenants they serve.”
Santavy is a past-chair of the CFAA (2006-2016) and a past-president of the London Property Management Association (LPMA;2002-2018). She has also served on the FRPO’s public relations and education committees.
A sought-after speaker, she has been featured at the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) annual Women in Rental Housing luncheon. She also also participated in numerous internal Skyline events for observances of such occasions as International Women’s Day.
Santavy inspires fierce commitment and solidarity in everyone who works with her and third parties, says the CWIRE Award nominator.
“This is perhaps due to her rare, distinct gift for deeply connecting with people, even upon first meeting them, and helping people learn more about themselves by conversing with her,” the nominator adds. “Many have remarked that they have instinctively opened up to BJ and had a conversation on a level that they did not expect.”
By demonstrating vulnerability with her team members, she sets the example that emotions and vulnerability do not weaken, but instead strengthen, one’s leadership,. According to one of her team members, her team would “walk through fire for her, support her in every way possible, and she would do the same for them.”
The team is expressing support for Santavy now as she deals with struggles of her own. She recently waged a battle with breast cancer, while still demonstrating the “utmost commitment to her career” and leaving the rest of the company’s personnel “in awe,” according to the nominator.
“Just as BJ has supported all her employees and peers over the years, we are to support her in her own personal journey, no matter how difficult the challenges may be.”
Monte Stewart serves as Content Director - Canada for Connect Commercial Real Estate.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monte provides daily news coverage of major Canadian commercial real estate markets, including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. He has written about the real estate sector for various media outlets and Avison Young since the early 2000s.
In addition, he has covered sports, general news and business for several leading wire services and publications, including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, Research Money, The Daily Oil Bulletin, Natural Gas World and The Toronto Star.
Monte is active in his community as a youth basketball coach and raises funds for such charitable causes as Movember.