The Landlord Guide to Outbreak Control Efforts for COVID19 Coronavirus

The current strain of the coronavirus has officially been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, making it essential that everyone take steps to stay healthy and avoid spreading the virus. 

Property managers, landlords and housing providers should take steps to protect and educate themselves and their residents. 

This article offers tips, advice and best practices for property managers and landlords regarding the coronavirus. 

The typical seasonal viruses cause the common cold and flu which can escalate to pneumonia or worse. Below are best practices to aid in the coronavirus outbreak control efforts within your rental community.  

The bad news: This new virus is unpredictable at this point in time.

The good news: Collectively, we can help slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable population.

How to Prepare for the Coronavirus

Can anyone be completely prepared for the unexpected and unpredictable? 

Pilots never know when they will hit turbulence, but the plane is always checked over before takeoff, training is ongoing, and flight crews are always at the ready for whatever comes next. 

Preparation isn’t having all the answers or escaping harm but rather the process of staying ready for whatever comes next. 

Education
Educate yourself so you can educate others. Curated resources are provided throughout this article to use in keeping current and sharing information with your residents. 

The two most useful links on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19 also known as SARS-CoV-2) come from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

These two resources above provide information for the general public, health officials, and governments. To address the rental industry, and specifically rental communities such as apartment complexes, these sites might also provide some insight: 

National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC): Coronavirus Preparedness for Apartment Firms

Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) is offering this downloadable, printable located here: Pandemic Guide for Real Estate Managers

Changed Thinking = Changed Habits
Life as we know it is now changed in ways we can’t even fathom. Your tenants will be looking to you for guidance and reassurance during this upheaval. To be the calm in their storm, you will need to dig deep and stay level headed yourself. 

We also collectively need to start changing personal habits like refraining from touch. These habits are ours to break individually to impact the collective. Both staying calm and changing our personal habits must start with changing our thoughts. Mindfulness is key! Be in the moment, be present, be proactive.

Preparation isn't having all the answers or escaping harm but rather the process of staying ready for whatever comes next

Rental Industry Outbreak Concerns and Suggestions 

Cleaning and Disinfecting
For areas that are kept open to the public, you will need to provide a heightened level of cleaning standards. Take special care to disinfect handrails, stairwells, doorknobs, light switches frequently. Some other areas that will need frequent disinfection would be laundry facilities, playground equipment, and community benches. 

Common Areas
Be prepared to close off common areas temporarily such as:

  • Pool areas
  • Clubhouse
  • Community centers
  • Fitness rooms

Prepare for Quarantines
As seen in the news China, Italy, and some regional areas in the U.S. are undergoing massive required quarantine. Experts are currently unsure if that will become a major factor throughout the US but many are suggesting self-imposed quarantines.

With that in mind, think about your office and daily activities that could be converted to virtual tasks conducted remotely. Then, think about your tenants experiencing work-from-home requirements, illness, or general quarantine. Special consideration may be required for adding the needs of residents within a duplex, condo, apartment building, or HOAs. 

Virtual Office
Consider changing to a completely virtual office using online property management software which will allow you to:

  • Work from home or log in virtually from anywhere 
  • Give your employees online access to the software to work from home
  • Sign up for online electronic rent payments
  • Offer tenants online portal access to pay their rent electronically
  • Stop accepting physical cash/checks. Many property management software solutions offer a third-party integration with PayNearMe allowing tenants to pay their rent by cash at convenience stores and other neighborhood locations. 
  • Use the software to send important information to your tenants by bulk email and/or text and SMS messages

Finances
Decide ahead of time how you will handle late payments. Many residents will not be able to work either because of illness or because their occupation doesn’t allow them to work from home. That loss of income will make tenants prioritize their needs (such as food, medicine, and toiletries) above rent payments. 

The Federal government is looking to waive federal income taxes this year and are pressing for the forgiveness of federal student loans and mortgages as well as other efforts to mitigate a financial fallout. Other countries are suspending mortgage payments during this epidemic. Now is a good time to consider your late fee policy and any rent concessions. 

Rental Inspections
Be cautious in planning and conducting rental inspections. Consider postponing them entirely if your area is experiencing a current outbreak. Another option would be to conduct virtual inspections using Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Facetime, Skype, or other video conferencing tools.

Vacancies
Depending on your local area, landlords may opt to use lock-boxes for self showings. Again, online video conferencing could be deployed so you can be there virtual while prospective tenants tour the unit. 

If need be, hire bio-hazard specialists or specialty cleaning crew to help you clean a rental after a move-out. Then, continue disinfecting between vacancy showings. 

consider your late fee policy during the coronavirus outbreak

Providing Safety Information to Your Tenants

As this outbreak becomes more prevalent in your area, take a page from the airline attendant flying through unexpected turbulence who keeps their passengers calm and safe. As a landlord, you have the same charge.

We can learn from airlines’ simple common-sense approach to educating on the unexpected: 

  1. Airlines have a visual handout, spoken instructions, and physically demonstrate safety advice. Provide clear and not over complicated information in many different formats to maximize reach, understanding, and compliance. 
  2. Cover basic and worst-case scenario information in a calm and informative manner.
  3. Just as the airlines instruct to put on your oxygen mask before helping those around you, guide your residents to first take care of themselves so that they can then help others.

Keep in mind that your residents will be looking to you for advice on what to do, especially in extreme circumstances, like a quarantine. This is especially true for managers in college towns, who’s primary residents are students who may crave reassurance and support while living on their own for the first time. One of the best things you can do is stay calm, be prepared, and help educate your tenants. 

Just like some airlines infuse humor into the preflight instructions, you can add some levity into the information you provide your tenants. 

Head on over to WashYourLyrics.com to personalize the handwashing instructions from the UK National Health Service with song lyrics to help people give attention to the full 20 seconds recommended for the task.

Shake It Off Taylor Swift Lyrics handwashing instructions

Generate your own handwashing infographics based on your favorite song lyrics.

 

Coronavirus Information Online

Blogs, the evening news, Facebook posts — the internet is inundated with opinions, hypotheticals, and fear. Separate from the noise and go to the experts to pull information to share with your residents. 

Up-to-date national information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) can be found located here: coronavirus.gov

From there, the CDC offers these pages of advice for the public that have resources, tools, videos you can copy and use in your tenant handouts and emails. Click on the headings below: 

Advice for the public

Helpful basic protective measure videos you can share with your residents. 

When and how to use masks

Currently, masks are only recommended when you are ill to contain the additional spread of infection. This page gives all the details on how to do it properly and when. 

Myth-busters

This excellent resource from CDC offering answers to common questions with World Health Organization (WHO) sharable graphics for your tenant handouts.

Here are two examples: 

WHO answers question regarding goods manufactured in china

 

WHO answers questions regarding hand dryers effectiveness against coronavirus

Final Thoughts

Although, now a pandemic, some still believe this is a non-issue that will blow over. Optimistically, we all hope they are correct. Having said that, this practical advice, as well as following expert and local governing advice extends kindness and care for the most vulnerable members of our population. 

At minimum, our actions will slow down all general contagions.
In a worst-case scenario, those same behaviors will contribute to saving lives. 


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