Property Management FAQ During COVID-19

IREM President Cheryl Gray answers frequently asked questions about how best to manage a property during the coronavirus crisis.

Cheryl Gray, President, IREM

Multi-Housing News hosted a 30-minute “Snap Session” webinar last week with IREM President Cheryl Gray, who answered a variety of pressing questions about how best to manage a property during the COVID-19 pandemic. From keeping building staff safe to opting for virtual tours, Gray spelled out best practices for property managers across the U.S.

“It’s really about being informed and making sure you’re utilizing all the resources at your disposal in order to manage through the situation,” said Gray. 

What’s more critical right now and what can be de-prioritized?

Operations should be prioritized right now, first and foremost of those being life, safety and security of property. It’s important to maintain preventative maintenance and services. It’s also important to remember social distancing or physical distancing. Create more opportunities to communicate through phone, email or drop box if you have one.

Cleaning is a high priority for many reasons. Whether or not you have a confirmed coronavirus case at your property, it’s important to use the right products to clean often-used touch points frequently. Whether it’s an outside provider or your own staff, make sure they’re protected and using the right products.

You’ll never over-communicate in this situation, whether it’s with employees, residents, clients or owners. With everything moving so quickly these days, things can change daily. Look into communicating more than once a week if needed and encourage others to share resources and information.

LISTEN TO THE WEBINAR: Snap Sessions: Managing Communities in the Face of COVID-19

What are the limitations for property managers?

Residents have a lease that spells out certain things they must adhere to, but property managers aren’t the police or law enforcement. If there is inappropriate behavior, as with any circumstance in a residential property setting, have a private conversation with the resident. But leave enforcement to law enforcement.

What sorts of things should be communicated?

Make it clear to residents that there will be regular communication. Challenges could present themselves if you don’t have residents’ email information or the community (or individual residents) doesn’t readily use technology, but even a flyer on a bulletin board can work. Setting and keeping to a schedule of communication, even if the update is “no update,” is important.

You don’t need to be the voice of the media and list the latest numbers of confirmed cases or deaths. But if things change within the local community that are important for residents to know about—like businesses or offices shutting down—those updates could be helpful for residents.

To answer other questions, offer resources like the local health authority or hotline for more information. You can’t answer all the questions and address all the fears surrounding the pandemic, but you can become a conduit to help residents find what they are looking for.

What’s the best way to communicate with residents about paying their rent?

It’s the elephant in the room for every asset class but it’s particularly difficult in residential because it’s someone’s home. Try to work with your residents. Have a defined strategy up front on how to assess each case, along with a consistent communication strategy.

How often should third-party managers communicate with the owner?

It would be prudent for every property manager to understand concerns owners might have right now and be communicating with them regularly.  

How frequently would you recommend cleaning common areas?

You can’t possibly clean every surface every moment of the day. You can, however, institute a more in-depth cleaning protocol with increased frequency and upgrade the products you use. Make sure to hit high-traffic areas like laundry rooms, elevator buttons and front entry door handles. The majority of the spread of coronavirus is people touching a surface, then touching their face. Something as simple as posting guidance about washing your hands and not touching your face in common areas can be quite effective.

And consider a strategy for your company in case there is an infection in your community. It’s recommended you step up cleaning protocols and deep clean common areas.

Should you limit the types of maintenance requests your staff responds to?

There will be situations where you do have to enter an apartment. Anything that’s going to damage property or threaten a person’s life, safety or well-being constitutes an emergency. Make sure staff are wearing masks and gloves. Ask the resident before coming in if anyone in the apartment is showing symptoms. Remember, the resident is nervous, as well, about someone coming into their apartment.

What are some strategies for managing building staff?

Rotating staff and bringing in fewer people to a property at one time not only helps retain staff but also follows social distancing guidelines. For those that manage more than one property, make sure to have the ability to cross train, in case you need to bring someone in from another property. If the building has anything unique in terms of equipment and requires a specially licensed person, have a backup plan.

How should you handle tour requests?

If you don’t have a building with smart tech capability like remote locks, do virtual tours or self-guided tours. If you do have remote locks, after a prospective resident views a unit alone, go back later and sanitize all touch points. In-person tours are not recommended at this point.

What are your recommendations on keeping staff motivated and calm?

Consider buying your staff lunch to show your appreciation for their work. Give them a place to call and express their concerns. If a staff member is sick, tell them to stay home. It’s important for them to know you’re there to support them. Have them be part of the decision on what can make them more comfortable. Help them be part of the solution to keep a property operating.

In terms of protecting on-site residents, what can managers ask of residents and what can’t they?

In the U.S., there are currently a couple state jurisdictions that have new laws on data privacy and general info. If you learn a resident has COVID-19, guidelines around what to do next are usually managed by the local health department. Typically, those agencies will help you navigate what it is they want you to do and say.

So consult with your local health authority when you have confirmed a case at your property. They will want to know who they’ve been in contact with and if others could be infected. Some property managers have informed residents of a case in the building and then taken the extra step to let residents know they were addressing it through enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.  

Can you tell other residents if there’s someone infected in the building?

Revealing personal information about the infected resident is something strongly recommended not to do. It’s not a property manager’s job to do any health screening. In jurisdictions where there are quarantines, you can point residents to hotlines or outside resources for more information.

Can a manager ask residents not to gather in common areas and in front of the building?

Part of it will depend on the jurisdiction. If there’s nothing helping guide you on physical distancing, it might be more challenging to encourage residents to do so. If you are in a jurisdiction that does have guidelines, encourage them to practice that accordingly. If they don’t move, follow up through individual communication. If that doesn’t work, get help through the authorities.

How do you handle residents complaining about other residents not complying with social distancing?

Regulating behavior is one of the biggest challenges in property management. Thank the resident for bringing the matter to your attention and reach out to the individual resident who is violating the rule to encourage them to practice social distancing. The best you can do is try to facilitate the right behaviors. And again, if a serious violation occurs, rely on local enforcement to try and correct it.

Do you recommend virtual events?

Property managers are encouraged to reach out to their communities. If a property has a Facebook page, consider hosting virtual activities or engaging with residents on local restaurant recommendations, for instance. It can become another way to advance communication with residents.  

Some amenities are obvious to shut down, but are there others that aren’t as obvious?

Many residential communities these days have more communal areas—from lounge spaces in lobbies to party rooms or sundecks. It’s important to start considering that they aren’t a necessity for day-to-day living. Check with your local jurisdiction on what kinds of gatherings are prohibited and follow those guidelines.  

Laundry room use is a necessity, but for social distancing purposes, consider designating certain floors of a building to be allowed to use the laundry room on certain days.

Register for the next Snap Sessions in our series:

Snap Sessions: Navigating Gym Amenities During COVID-19

Snap Sessions: Managing Rents and Expenses During COVID-19

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