What Property Management Firms Are Doing in the Midst of Coronavirus
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, property management firms are coming up with novel and brilliant ideas to help thwart its continued spread.
We are currently living through an event that is unprecedented in terms of the world’s response. Businesses are looking to the government for guidance on how to handle their affairs and the best practices to keep themselves and their customers safe.
Amid COVID-19, which has reached pandemic proportions, millions of people are losing their jobs or being laid off. This means multi-family properties will have more tenants on-site for longer periods of the day.
Property management firms are looking for guidance on how to deal with a Stay Home Order coming down from city and state officials.
The government recently approved a stimulus package to ensure the economy does not fail before the pandemic is over. However, there is little being done to assist property investors in dealing with controlling the virus.
If you’re in the property management business, you’re probably looking for answers. Keep reading to learn more about what management firms or doing in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Property Management Firms Wear Many Hats
Property management firms are a vital part of the property rental industry. When people invest in real estate it is with the expectation of making money. The profit comes in renting out the properties to earn residual income.
Investors don’t always have the time nor the experience to deal with the day-to-day operations of rental properties. This can be a huge undertaking when it comes to multi-family housing units and commercial properties.
There is so much to contend with including:
- Collecting rent
- Maintenance and repairs
- Tenant disputes
- Upkeep of the grounds
- and now the Coronavirus
Management firms now have the daunting task of not only ensuring the physical safety of tenants but also their health. The vast majority do not have expertise in viral containment.
Now they are in a rush to devise a plan to keep everyone safe and their properties free of widespread contamination?
Understand Your Role and Responsibility
A homeowners association (HOA) and a property management firm have different roles. How they perform during this pandemic will vary differently based on their structure.
An HOA is an organization that oversees and upholds rules for a community comprised of homeowners. They collect monthly HOA fees, enforce community rules, and initiate foreclosures if fees and fines are not paid.
The HOA has a responsibility during COVID-19 to communicate to residents, but they have less control over enforcement.
Property management firms have full control over enforcement and a duty to keep residents safe and adhering to official calls to action.
Property Management Firms Need to Communicate with Government Officials
Before devising a plan or making a statement to residents, property management firms need to consult with government officials. This includes information from the CDC, emergency management, law enforcement, and the National Apartment Association.
Many of these agencies are hosting daily news briefings or placing vital information on their websites. They also include data from other agencies they are working closely with.
If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask for a list of contacts you can reach out to for specific needs. Local government agencies want to get as much information out to keep their communities safe. If your community is being proactive in keeping residents safe, they will appreciate it.
Communicate with Tenants on a Consistent Basis
The tenants in your communities are just as concerned as you are. They are anxious to get information.
Families with school-aged children have another burden. Schools have closed, some for the remainder of the school year.
Kids are being taught virtually. For a family with no internet, it is one more thing to worry about. The parents who haven’t lost their jobs now have to worry about childcare.
For these reasons and many more, tenants are looking for clear direction on what their housing community is doing in this time of trouble.
Communicate to the tenants assuring them that you empathize with what they are going through. Let them know what measures management is taking to address their concerns and their needs.
If the complex has Wi-Fi, will it be opened to those with kids and no in-home internet? Tell them how the complex will address Stay Home Orders from local, county, and state officials.
Anything they need to know and any changes they need to abide by needs to be in the communication.
Research How to Prevent Spreading the Virus within the Community
COVID-19 seemed to have appeared from nowhere, leaving many companies unaware and unprepared. Now there is a lot of information available. Do your research to prepare your teams for an influx of questions from tenants.
They will be looking to the property management firm to help stop the spread of the virus in their community. Whether it is a housing development with HOA property management or a multi-family complex with property management, you will be the tenant’s direct contact.
For properties that host a website, getting information out will be easier because you can direct the tenants to the site for communications and updates. It is also useful to have some form of online community and texting capabilities.
Newer developments utilize mobile apps. As new information comes available to assist in containing the virus, you can convey that information instantaneously.
Create Employee Protocols
Housing remains a basic human need even within the COVID-19 climate. A decision will need to be made on whether to continue tours of the property or delay entering into new rental agreements.
It is easy to cancel all tours but existing tenants are another matter.
Upper management will need to determine who is essential and must remain on duty, and who may not be essential. They will also need to explore options for keeping maintenance and cleaning staff safe. Will they require protective gear or will there be a ban on entering apartment units.
If your property has an online management system, it is easier to direct people to the site and require all payments and questions to go through the portal. Where an online portal is not available protocols will need to be in place to adhere to crowd control and social distancing.
You’ll also need to be prepared to make accommodations for employees whose children are out of school. Or those that may have to tend to a parent or family member.
Consult with an Attorney
Unfortunately, there may be legal issues that arise in your handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is recommended that property management firms seek legal counsel to review any policies and procedures before disseminating the information to tenants or employees.
You always want to know your legal liabilities. With the seriousness of this situation, nothing should be overlooked or taken for granted.
For instance, as a property management firm, if a tenant or employee has tested positive, you may feel inclined to notify the community or people in the same building. However, due to HIPAA Compliance, you can’t give out personal identifying information such as their name, age, race, address, or current condition.
Legal counsel can tell you if a decision you are about to make can lead to a potential lawsuit. They can also tell you when you’re sharing too much information.
Devise a Plan to Address Fees, Fines, and Evictions
With many people being furloughed and laid-off, there may come a time when some will not be able to pay their rent. The government is issuing a moratorium on all evictions prohibiting property owners from evicting residents.
You’ll need to have guidance from the property owner on how to handle this situation. Questions to address include:
- Will late fees be canceled altogether?
- In what form should a tenant notify the complex if they can’t pay?
- How much time after things return to normal will tenants have to catch-up on rent?
- What happens if someone moves once property management firms can start collecting rent again?
- How to deal with tenants already facing eviction before COVID-19 started?
- Is rent forgiveness as an option?
Once a plan of action is in place send a letter to all tenants letting them know what to expect.
Getting Back to Normal
Since we don’t know how long this will last, it’s hard to think about normalcy. However, now is the time to devise a plan for when this is all over.
Employees will need to be called back to work, some positions will need to be filled. The community grounds and maintenance orders have to be addressed.
Assisting tenants with past due rents and lease renewals will also be a priority.
We’ll Get Through This Together
Property management firms are here to assist tenants to make their communities home whether they are buying or renting. Together, management and tenants can get through this. It is a learning process for everyone.
If you have questions, we’re here to help. Check out the information we already have posted on our website. Click here if you require additional information.