As the coronavirus continues to impact the world well into fall, people are spending more time at home and avoiding unnecessary interactions with others. That increased time at home has put more pressure in particular on multi-unit apartment buildings, whose inhabitants have traditionally spent large portions of their time elsewhere.
Real estate industry intelligence firm Propmodo recently produced a report detailing how property managers can best prepare for both commonplace and worst-case scenarios during upcoming months with COVID-19, including information on how to deal with staffing and maintenance, increased stress on utilities, access control and more.
In terms of general safety, Propmodo pointed out the importance of keeping residents separate, developing a plan in case of an outbreak, maintaining clean surfaces in high touch areas and upgrading filtration and ventilation systems.
“Residents should remain in their units as much as possible to remain as safe as can be, and prevent build[ing]-wide outbreaks,” the report states. “While the CDC recommends people maintain at least six feet of distance between one another to help prevent the risk of passing the virus, research from the agency shows that viral particles can travel 13 feet while airborne, highlighting the need to maximize separation whenever possible.”
For air filtration, managers should aim for a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of at least 13 in order to filter out the coronavirus, as suggested by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
“HVAC systems that recirculate air throughout a building can help the virus spread,” Propmodo’s report reads. “At the same time, higher humidities can be beneficial since they cause aerosol virus particles to fall out of the air.”
One challenge that’s been ongoing throughout the pandemic has been the spread of misinformation. Unfortunately, no one is impervious to scams, and Propmodo warns that property managers should be on their guard for scams related to the virus and only share information with tenants that comes from reliable sources.
“The FTC compiled a useful list of tips for avoiding coronavirus-related scams and misinformation, and one particularly alarming bullet point is that individuals should ‘watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus,'” the report states. “There are numerous scams currently in use that attempt to sell things like fake virus test kits. It is important that managers do not recirculate this sort of misinformation.”
Leasing, rent and evictions
In early September, the CDC issued a federal moratorium on evictions through the end of 2020 for individuals who meet a set of criteria showing they’ve lost income as a result of the pandemic or could become homeless if evicted.
Propmodo notes that the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) has put together guidelines for how landlords can work smoothly with cash-poor tenants during this time, which include creating payment plans or considering waiving late fees and continuing to keep open lines of communication with tenants.
Many companies have already adopted such policies, but Propmodo’s report reiterated the need for management companies to adopt telecommuting policies and infrastructure in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and ensure that operations can continue to run smoothly in the event of a widespread outbreak.
Property managers should follow NMHC’s recommendations to “develop an employee leave policy that includes telecommuting, staggered schedules and liberal leave. Firms should establish protocol for employee/supervisor communication, cross-train staff in case of long-term absences and test telecommuting plans to ensure they work.”
Likewise, property managers should be sure to maintain an ample supply of PPE for staff at all times.
Utilities and internet
Most utility companies have plans in place in the event of significant crises, like a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, and the possibility of apartments losing utility service is relatively low. However, Propmodo notes that it doesn’t hurt to consider alternative options in case of service interruptions, like having backup providers available.
Residential internet usage has surged as work and schooling have shifted to the home, which may make some wonder if internet outages could be a possibility in the near future. Propmodo points out that most developed countries like the U.S. should not have a problem with increased usage, as internet infrastructure in these areas is built to withstand surges in activity.
The only way residents may be impacted by this increase in activity is through crashes of individual websites that receive heavy activity, like some videoconferencing services, in which case, managers may want to suggest residents opt for audio-only conferencing.
Vendors and deliveries
In the event of absenteeism as a result of outbreaks, and increased demand for delivery services, property managers may want to advise residents that certain amenities or delivered goods could experience delays or interruptions in service. In the event of an extreme outbreak, Propmodo pointed out that residents may need to take up essential duties within a building, like Solstice Residential Group’s management recently suggested.
CEO Alex Kalajian wrote a memo to the company’s buildings stating that residents may need to take on duties like “volunteering for performing essential building services such as security, lobby coverage, mail sorting and garbage collection.”
Although it may be tempting for property managers to ban visitors to buildings in order to manage the spread of the virus, Propmodo’s report states such measures will likely not be taken well by residents, “as was the case at one affordable apartment complex in Albuquerque, which banned most visitors earlier this month.”
Rather, managers can keep more control over comings and goings by limiting social events, move-ins and move-outs, apartment alterations or other activities that encourage visitation of non-residents.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced it’s postponing its REAC inspections for properties assisted by the agency, unless an emergency arises. Likewise, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services suspended non-emergency nursing home inspections back in March. Property managers should also avoid inspections in general, except in case of emergency.
While it may seem like a strange thing to think about these days, Propmodo notes that property managers shouldn’t forget about their marketing tactics during the pandemic.
“The Drum offers a useful list of tips for optimizing marketing communications to outlast the outbreak and wind up in a favorable position when it eventually blows over,” the report states. “While much of their advice is just good marketing planning (things like embracing marketing automation and increasing the role of social media), one point stands out in particular: the need to keep your business, whether it is consumer goods or an apartment, on the radar of your target market.”