Maintaining Rental Properties During the Coronavirus

By Ashley Paskill on April 24, 2020

The coronavirus has added new challenges to the way we live our lives, including being in quarantine. This can make it difficult to maintain your properties and prepare for new tenants while making sure your current tenants’ needs are taken care of. However, depending on your state, real estate is still considered essential since people need a place to live. You want to continue with your business as smoothly as possible and take care of your tenants and their needs, but you also want to make sure you, your staff, your tenants, and your family are all safe and well. It can be difficult to figure out how to balance everything and change your processes to increase safety, but it can be done.

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Increase communication

Communication with your tenants is always important, but it is even more crucial now, especially since they may be wondering how to move forward with certain things. It is crucial that you update them on things such as changes in rent, repairs and maintenance, and other issues that may arise amidst the crisis. Make sure your tenants have your email address and phone number and respond to them as quickly as possible. As soon as you make a change to your policies, let your tenants know so they stay in the loop and can adjust accordingly. Contact your tenants in their preferred manner, whether it is a phone call, text, or email. Also, be sure to update your property’s social media with important announcements for current and prospective tenants and send out a newsletter with an overview of changes happening. Go through your files and make sure you have updated contact information for all of your tenants, staff members, and outside vendors so you can contact them without any issues.

Dealing with rent

One of the main concerns about coronavirus is coming in contact with others who may have it or touching a contaminated item, including mail or money. To avoid both of these scenarios, set up an online payment portal so that tenants can pay their rent without sending mail or giving it to you in person. Mail is still a viable option, but mail services may be a bit slower throughout the virus. The portal should be easy to navigate and understand while ensuring the users’ security is a priority so their information is not breached. The website should have lease and payment information and announcements, especially if you are offering relief for those impacted by the coronavirus. The text should be easy to understand and legible. If the payment portal is separate from your website, make sure there is a link to it on your website so tenants, both current or prospective, can access it easily.

Since your tenants may have students who are unable to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you may opt to let them skip rent for a month or two. Just remember that these tenants may still need to have repairs done and you still have to help them. Be understanding in these situations since these are unprecedented times for everyone. It can be scary for you to not have money coming in for expenses, but your tenants are facing the same problems. Again, keep communication open so they feel comfortable reaching out to you with any concerns they have. You must also waive any late fees since there is a state of emergency. If you are offering rent assistance, be sure that you let your tenants know that it is only temporary.

Some of your tenants may not have let you know that they are struggling financially. If you do not hear from them by the delinquency due date, reach out to them. If you know that you have tenants who have not been financially impacted by the coronavirus, make sure they know that they still have to pay rent.

To help your tenants, even if they still are able to pay rent, consider offering partial payments. For those who have been financially impacted, help them find resources such as unemployment funding and food resources. If you wish to provide free rent, contact an attorney to ensure you do things legally. Otherwise, you should expect your tenants to pay back deferred rent, typically within six months depending on your location.

This situation can impact your ability to pay bills and have food on your table. Contact any creditors to see what your options are. In the meantime, consider finding food assistance if needed.

Keep common spaces and surfaces clean

This is arguably one of the most important things you can do. Have your cleaning staff regularly wipe down commonly used-surfaces such as door handles and elevator buttons. Encourage your tenants to do the same within their homes. If you have a common lounge, consider enforcing social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Close common spaces such as pools and cafeterias if possible. For spaces that must remain open, ensure that you have a strong cleaning plan in place.

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Have your employees work from home if possible

While this is not always completely possible, if you have employees that do a majority of their work on the computer and communicate through various forms of technology, consider having them work from home. You can have staff meetings on a video meeting platform such as Zoom or WebX. This is not possible for those who are cleaning or repair staff, but other employees have options. If there are certain employees that absolutely must remain in your offices, make sure you enforce social distancing and clean commonly used surface rigorously.

Be wise about repairs

While some repairs are crucial as they impact the well-being of your tenants, others can wait. For those repairs that can wait, reschedule them for a later time. Communicate with your tenants, explaining that this decision was made to promote the health and safety of them and your staff members. Ensure that you follow up at a later time to schedule a day to take care of these repairs. Doing so minimizes risk to your staff and tenants while allowing your team to focus only on emergency repairs.

For repairs that have to be taken care of as soon as possible, make sure your employees have protective gear such as masks, booties, and gloves as well as cleaning materials. Make sure your employees and occupants all feel well prior to entering the space. Schedule the repair for a time when your tenant may be out for a walk or doing grocery shopping in order to comply with the social distancing guidelines. Otherwise, have the workers stay at least six feet away from your tenants if possible. In either case, if you allow animals and the tenant requiring repairs has pets, make sure the pets are contained.

If repairs are simple enough, you may decide to have your tenants do them and help walk them through via a video or phone call. This helps minimize contact and will help tenants learn how to deal with possibly minor situations, which is important for students who may still be living in your properties.

Do inspections virtually

Thanks to technology, video inspections can be something that replaces the traditional inspection. As mentioned before, there are video meeting sites and apps that allow you to view your tenants’ living spaces without having to be there. When talking them through the process, be sure to give them clear instructions for how to check certain things. You can even have them take photos of each room and have them email or text the photos to you. However, you may not be tech-savvy. You may opt to postpone the inspections to a later date if you can.

Show your apartments wisely

If you have vacancies, especially since students may have already moved out, you may be tempted to get it ready to show to future tenants. Depending on your financial situation, you may opt to hold off until the virus tapers off. However, this may not be possible if you need money now. Technology can help you to show your properties without your prospective tenants having to step foot in them. You may opt to do a walk-through video that highlights the features of the space. Many real estate sites also have photo galleries, so the more photos you are able to post, the more accurate of a look the possible tenants will get.

If you are not technically inclined, you may decide to go ahead with the in-person showing. Be sure to promote social distancing and have hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies on hand. Also, have the prospective tenants wear gloves and a mask, and you should do the same.

You may also opt to set up a lockbox and have potential tenants come and view the rental space on their own. If you know they are coming, consider going in and cleaning after they leave or leave cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer out to make sure they help

Follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus

These guidelines are changing rapidly, but if it is absolutely necessary to go into your tenants’ properties for emergency repairs, make sure you follow the guidelines to avoid spreading the virus to your tenants and family. Wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks when working on the property and make sure you provide these for your employees. If you are not feeling well, even if you do not think it is the coronavirus, stay home, and encourage your employees to do the same. Also, avoid going if you know that you were around someone who has the virus. Encourage your tenants to reschedule the repairs if they feel ill or came in contact with someone who was sick. If you cough or sneeze, be sure to do so into your elbow and then immediately wash your hands. As soon as you enter the apartment or house and after you finish, either wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. If these are not an option, use hand sanitizer, but wash your hands as soon as you can. Wash your hands after using the restroom facilities.

Stay informed

Although it can be overwhelming and upsetting to watch the news and follow updates on the happenings around the coronavirus, the most effective thing you can do is stay informed about changes in CDC social distancing guidelines and closures for your state. As mentioned before, be sure to communicate any updates in processes or policies to your current or future tenants to help them stay informed. Staying informed will help you keep your tenants informed and will help direct how you hand certain situations that may arise.

Dealing with a lease legally

Since your properties may have students whose colleges and universities have shut down, they may decide to leave and go back to their parents. However, this may lead to a break in lease. You may opt to hold onto the security deposit as a lease break fee and let the students go. If other tenants are not students and have not been financially impacted by the virus, they have to stay and fulfill the requirements of the lease. Remember, leases are legal contracts and contracts have laws.

Be careful as to how much information you divulge

If you are aware of the fact that a tenant has contracted COVID-19, you do not have an obligation to alert the rest of your tenants, no matter how vague you make the information. Encourage the person who has the virus to self-quarantine and take extra steps to ensure that your other tenants stay safe. Increase your cleaning schedule, especially in common areas. Encourage your staff and tenants to wear gloves and masks, even within the property. Communicate tips for eliminating the risk of the virus on social media, in your newsletter, and on bulletin boards throughout your property.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful time for everyone as we navigate unprecedented circumstances and different types of stress. Helping your staff members and tenants by properly maintaining your properties and business is crucial to help them avoid unnecessary anxiety.

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