by Wendy Simpson
Remember what they say about the best laid plans? They often go awry.
Long before the coronavirus outbreak was classified as a pandemic, many apartment management companies created crisis plans for the possibility of widespread disease. So much for planning. It’s painfully clear that the plans were merely guidelines based on hypothetical situations.
Nobody has navigated these waters before. And those who had plans in place likely didn’t anticipate the global scale of COVID-19. While crisis plans provide a solid foundation to build upon initially, the response from the multifamily industry continues to evolve. The plans we had already required more than a few updates.
By now, apartment managers have all subscribed to social distancing recommendations, enhanced cleaning measures and amenity closures. Right now, we’re working through new payment agreements with renters who lost jobs or suffered reduced wages. But we also need to develop protocols for potential situations that might still arise.
Stay current, stay flexible
Don’t wait for updated information to come to you. Identify expert websites that frequently update their data and messaging. The National Multifamily Housing Committee (NMHC) regularly updates the research and recommendations on its website. The Centers for Disease Control website provides current information and instructions for essential tasks like disinfecting your property and making your own facemask. Stay informed and ready to react as recommendations change. The protocols we implemented when the pandemic began may only loosely resemble those that we have in place when the crisis is done.
Make sure residents know what to do if they get sick
We need to prepare for the reality that a resident or associate might test positive for COVID-19. It’s imperative to put together a plan to safely maintain operations should your community be directly impacted. It’s just as important to share that plan with residents and associates. Err on the side of transparency. Open communication establishes trust and prevents panic.
Above all, we need to be there for our residents. Not all residents will have a local support network to fall back on if they become ill. Property management teams should provide as much assistance as possible in advance. Distribute the appropriate contact information for local health services, including the numbers for testing or treatment. Encourage residents to call 211, a universal number that features community information and referral services. It connects callers with appropriate community-based assistance and government agencies. Most states currently feature COVID-19 services on their 211 platforms.
Encourage residents who can pay rent to pay
As more states ban evictions and apartment management companies offer rent payment plans, some residents might take advantage of the situation. We never want to underestimate the financial impact of this crisis, but those who can afford to pay rent should be encouraged to do so. Before residents opt for a temporary rent payment plan, make sure they are aware of the implications of that decision on the remainder of their lease term.
Safely manage move-outs and move-ins
Most residents will probably renew their leases and stay in place during the pandemic. But there will be a few scheduled move-outs that can’t be postponed. To preserve the cleanliness of the community as belongings pass through the property, develop clear procedures that maintain the safeguards you have put in place.
We need to know who is coming to our communities. Urge residents moving in or out to vet their moving companies and ensure they are taking precautions. Also, help to coordinate the moving process as much as possible. Simple steps such as designating a single route through the community can minimize the need for follow-up disinfecting efforts.
Like the crisis plans we had in place prior to COVID-19, our efforts to preemptively identify and address the scenarios we might face in the coming weeks won’t be perfect. But they will put us in a better position than starting from scratch when the moment arrives.