The status of the coronavirus outbreak has changed dramatically over the last three weeks and even on a daily basis, and those in the property management and operations side of the industry have had to scramble to address the problem and come to terms with what it means for a property and its tenants.
Sam Chandan, Associate Dean at New York University’s SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate, said of all the impacts to the real estate industry, perhaps the most immediate has been to operations.
“Probably where we’ve seen the more significant impact in response is in building operations, whether it’s multifamily or office buildings,” said Chandan, adding that industry members should particularly mindful of “operationally intensive” properties like hotels and senior housing.
Lincoln Property Co., one of the largest managers of multifamily rental properties in the U.S., has looked to leading industry association groups like the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council for guidance since the outbreak.
“We’ve been taking an “Educate & Communicate” approach, ensuring our employees and residents alike are well-educated on the virus and the best ways to prevent further spread,” a spokesperson from LPC told Multi-Housing News.
The company has been communicating regularly internally and has been regularly updating its residents and directing them back to the CDC and WHO websites for more information. LPC teams are being encouraged to greet each other, residents and guests without shaking hands and have updated their pandemic illness and related policies, including increased cleaning in offices and commons areas, canceling resident social events and preparing overall business continuity plans.
“We are seeing more virtual meetings and quite a few client and business trips have been cancelled,” the spokesperson added.
A ROAD MAP GOING FORWARD
NMHC has just released a thorough guide for rental apartment firms on how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Through 12 sections, the guidance covers everything from developing a response plan to understanding legal liability and obligations.
Here’s a point-by-point summary of NMHC’s official guidance “COVID-19 Preparedness for Apartment Firms”:
Develop a Plan
Multifamily firms should create a crisis team of senior executives tasked with creating a plan and carrying it out—whether it’s a global pandemic or a natural disaster.
Stay up to date
Firms should keep a close eye on the government agencies like the CDC, as well as local and state health departments, to stay current on the latest information and resources available.
Talk with Employees and Residents—Constantly
Make sure you have accurate contact information for staff, residents and suppliers and stay in regular communication. Also, develop alternative means of contact in case regular forms are disrupted.
Prevent the Spread of the Virus
The most important part of any plan is preventing spread within you own community. Practice proper cough etiquette, wash hand frequently and stay home if sick. Property managers should focus on sanitizing work areas, common areas, commonly touched areas and providing hand sanitizer.
Establish a Protocol for Leave, Telework and Travel
Operators should develop an employee leave policy that includes telecommuting, staggered schedules and generous leave. Make sure to consult with counsel on any federal, state or local legal requirements about mandating employees work during an outbreak or take leave without pay.
Address Impact of the Virus on Employees
The CDC suggests several provisions for companies to address the impact on their employees, including cleaning common areas, purchasing excess supplies ahead of time, encouraging flu vaccinations and allowing employee absences due to illness or family member illness.
Have a Contingency Plan
With the potential for loss of staff and on-site personnel, many communities will need to scale back or cut back on services. Fitness centers, pools and community rooms may need to be closed. Consider buying materials in advance before shortages occur.
Get Familiar with Legal Issues
Firms should understand liability in cases of resident illness, employee exposure to sick residents, evictions and employee leave scenarios. Consult with your attorneys and review local, state and federal laws to determine what is required of your firm during an outbreak and to make sure you’re in compliance.
Work with Residents on Late Payments
With many Americans expected to suffer income loss as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, NMHC encourages members to work with residents on payments plans and agreements and make sure to put them in writing and waive late fees and other costs over a 30-day period.
Get Prepared for Self-Quarantining Residents
It’s likely that firms will have residents who have to self-quarantine. Property managers should be prepared to suspend access for service requests unless in an emergency, follow local health agency guidance regarding cleaning, and support the resident while protecting privacy.
Prepare for the Aftermath
Planning for an outbreak should include planning for what happens after it’s over. Experts recommend companies evaluate their insurance coverage if revenue or damage losses were incurred, check in with affected residents, revisit HR policies and evaluate your firm’s response plan for any possible modifications for the future.