Updated: Mar 7
The world hasn’t seen a pandemic in over a decade, since the 2009 H1N1 swine flu killed approximately 12,460 people, but the current COVID-19 one is hitting the population around the globe in a big way. Currently, there are more than 1,188,489 coronavirus cases, and over 64,103 deaths. These stats change daily, and they’re taken from the Worldometers Information on coronavirus.
Certainly the biggest impact is on the health of the population, as COVID-19 has been called ten-times more lethal than the regular flu. However, the virus is also taking its toll on multifamily properties, and many adjustments need to be made in order to keep the properties running efficiently, safely, and profitably. I’d like to share with you what we’re doing with our properties to mitigate COVID-19’s impact on our properties, with the hope that you can use some of these ideas and strategies on your own properties.
Start with Safety Precautions
The safety of your tenants and your employees is paramount, so there are several precautions you can take that help to minimize exposure to COVID-19. For example, any areas where tenants may congregate, including the lobby areas, club houses, gyms, or dedicated workout areas should be closed until health officials declare social distancing is no longer needed. Even outdoor areas, like basketball courts or fire pits where tenants tend to socialize should be closed and considered off limits.
One of the keys to surviving this crisis economically is to continue to rent vacant units. But it’s tough to practice social distancing when you’re taking prospective tenants on a tour of the property and available apartments. The answer: offer virtual tours. I’m not suggesting you go out and hire a video crew; simply use your smartphone and take videos of your model apartments, if available, along with a walking tour showcasing the highlights of your property. That might include recreational facilities (pool, tennis court, exercise equipment) and beautifully landscaped grounds.
We also sent a letter to all our tenants and educated them about social distancing, sheltering in place (if that’s been mandated in your community) and other Center for Disease Control guidelines like hand washing, hand sanitizers and other measures people can take to be safe from the coronavirus.
With many areas under a shelter in place mandate from their governor, as well as a mandate that only essential businesses be open, you should limit maintenance work to critical jobs. For example, if an HVAC isn’t working, that would be considered critical.
If an HVAC system is broken, or a unit has no running water or a backed-up sewer line, maintenance is definitely appropriate. I have our maintenance people use the downtime to plan for projects we were going to do later in the year, just as long as they can do the work remotely. For example, if we’re planning on implementing a green program at our property, maintenance people can begin to research new faucets and other parts needed for the programs implementation, so they are ready to be purchased once we get back to a normal workflow.
Maintaining Rent Collections
One of the keys to keeping the property economically viable is to maintain rent collections as high as possible. If a tenant claims to have lost a job or has been given reduced hours, require them to fill out a questionnaire and show proof of their unemployment claim. This will enable them to be put on a payment plan for their rent, but be sure they understand that it doesn’t mean that the rent is forgiven. That’s why it’s important for you to require proof to prevent tenants from taking advantage of the situation, who might decide to stop paying rent even if they still have a job.