Property management during COVID-19: Here’s what you need to know
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Owning and managing rental property has never been a walk in the park. However, the pandemic has created a high level on uncertainty regarding evictions, service requests, how to interact with tenants who have contracted COVID-19 and more.
Aaron Marshall, co-founder and CEO of Keyrenter Property Management, addresses some of the most pressing issues for property managers.
Is it fair to evict someone who’s been furloughed?
Although there was a federal moratorium on evictions, it expired in July and only ever applied to federally subsidized or federally backed housing. “The future of this program is currently being debated by Congress, but states also have enacted their own eviction moratoriums,” Marshall says. He recommends that property managers stay abreast of the rules and laws in their specific communities.
Eviction is a drastic step, and Marshall advises property managers to be in constant communication with tenants. “For people having trouble paying their rent, there are financial resources available from federal, community, nonprofit, and religious organizations,” he says. “Become familiar with groups in the community who can help tenants.”
Another option is to provide rental agreements for partial payments. “This will allow tenants to catch up on their rent payments — and be advised that many jurisdictions also currently have rules against charging late fees.”
Should you extend the lease for a renter who’s uncomfortable moving?
Understandably, tenants may not want to move during a pandemic. It’s difficult to ensure that movers are using masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer or that the truck will be sanitized or the moving blankets cleaned. They may also be apprehensive of even moving into a new place right now.
“If a tenant does not want to sign a new year-long lease, but they’re not ready to move out right now, offering a month-to-month rental agreement is a short-term option to consider,” Marshall says. “However, property managers should have a clear understanding of how long the tenant intends to stay and ask them to sign a short-term lease.”
Suppose your tenant is ignoring quarantine rules and having large parties?
Tenants who insist on large gatherings can also put other tenants at risk, but how can you handle this type of reckless behavior? “States and local communities will have specific guidelines for in-person gatherings during different stages of reopening,” Marshall says.
He recommends sending helpful email communications to tenants to keep them abreast of current guidelines. “If a property manager receives complaints from neighbors about a specific tenant, they can share neighbors’ concerns with that tenant.” Also, Marshall says that concerned neighbors have the right to call the police. “Property managers should obtain a copy of any police reports, to take future action if the situation continues to escalate.”
How do you swiftly address service requests during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Even though you’re trying to socially distance, service requests need to be handled in a timely manner. “Partner with qualified contractors and repair technicians who take necessary safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Marshall advises.
“To make tenants more comfortable, share health and safety protocols that maintenance crews will follow, and after the service technician leaves, encourage tenants to follow CDC guidelines to clean and disinfect the area where the technician was performing maintenance.” Some tenants may prefer to wait for non-emergency maintenance to be performed.
What about maintenance for a tenant who has COVID-19?
“If someone in the unit has tested positive for COVID-19, it’s important to postpone maintenance projects until the person has recovered and other family members have observed a self-observation period,” Marshall warns.
Also be advised that due to privacy concerns, you shouldn’t ask tenants if they have been tested for COVID-19, according to Marshall. “And legally, property managers are not allowed to share a tenant’s medical condition with other tenants.”
There’s an appliance shortage — what happens when one breaks down?
The pandemic caused people to purchase more appliances — for example, refrigerators and freezers, so they could stock up on food. At the same time, manufacturers slowed production. “Refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines are all in short supply due to supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus, and there are also backorder issues locating parts to repair common household appliances,” Marshall explains. “Property managers and owners should consider time and cost factors to determine whether an appliance should be repaired or replaced, and keep tenants in the loop to manage expectations.”
The current tenant won’t allow in-person showings of a rental property. What can I do?
Understandably, tenants are apprehensive of strangers roaming through their still-occupied space. But under the terms of the lease, Marshall says property owners may have the authority to let prospective tenants come into the unit. “However, consider options like a video walk-through of the property or showing another unit instead.” He recommends asking the tenant if they can make a video of the unit to share with potential renters. “Offer tenants a $25 gift card as a thank you for their time.”
If in-person showings are unavoidable, Marshall says strict guidelines should be set. “Bring in no more than one potential tenant at a time, ask everyone to wear a mask, allow only the property manager to open doors or touch appliances, and ensure that everything is wiped down after the showing.”
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