Unfortunately, as states and communities reopen during the pandemic, many Americans continue to struggle with their own individual “new normal,” which can change from day to day and week to week, depending on each person’s occupation and circumstances.
For those who have found themselves among the record unemployment statistics, making the month’s rent may be a challenge for hundreds of thousands of renters. And returning to true normalcy does not appear to be on the immediate horizon, with health and financial emergencies expected to continue into 2021.
According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, approximately 43 million housing units are occupied by renters in the United States. Twenty-two percent of adults in the U.S. say they either changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did, according to the Pew Research Center. The U.S. economy added 1.8 million jobs in July 2020, and the unemployment rate stands at 10.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Property Managers Search for Answers
Consequently, local landlords and small independent property managers face new problems amidst the pandemic. They’re struggling to do their jobs while navigating unprecedented property management challenges.
The following Blueprint for Property Managers Navigating COVID-19 is based on insights from Keyrenter’s Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Marshall, as well as franchise owners around the country. Together, they respond to nine frequently asked questions Keyrenter’s professional property managers have been getting during the pandemic.
- Is it fair to evict someone who’s been furloughed?
The CARES Act contained a federal moratorium on evictions, but that measure expired on July 24, 2020, and only applied to federally subsidized or federally backed housing. As of the publication of this blog, Congress is still debating the future of this program.
States also have enacted their own eviction moratoriums. Local property managers need to stay updated on the rules and laws that govern their specific communities. But the laws deal with whether a landlord can evict, and whether you should evict is another matter.
Eviction is a drastic and unpleasant step for both the property manager and the tenant. It puts renters out of a home and can subject landlords and property managers to legal action.
To avoid eviction, managers should communicate proactively with tenants to find a middle ground. Make tenants aware of financial resources available to them from federal, community, nonprofit, and religious organizations.
Become familiar with groups in the community that can help tenants. Property managers should offer rental agreement contracts for partial payments until the tenant can catch up on their rent payments. Many jurisdictions also currently have rules against charging late fees.
- How do you swiftly address service requests during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In handling rental maintenance, partner with qualified contractors and repair technicians who take necessary safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tenants can be very uneasy about workers entering their quarantine space. To make tenants more comfortable, property managers can share health and safety protocols that maintenance crews will follow.
After the service technician leaves, encourage tenants to follow CDC guidelines to clean and disinfect the area where the technician was performing maintenance. Work with tenants who would prefer to wait for repairs and schedule non-emergency maintenance after this health crisis is under control.
- How to handle a maintenance issue at a property where a tenant has tested positive for COVID-19.
If someone in the unit has tested positive for COVID-19, it’s important to postpone maintenance projects, as much as is reasonable, until the person has recovered, and other family members have completed a self-observation period.
Due to privacy reasons, the property manager should not ask tenants whether they have been tested for the coronavirus. And legally, property managers are not allowed to share a tenant’s medical condition with other tenants.
- Appliance shortage – How are property managers handling this issue when an appliance breaks down?
A nationwide appliance shortage, caused by COVID-19-related supply chain issues, has resulted in difficulty obtaining refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines.
This is known as “The Bullwhip Effect,” in which small shifts in demand at the consumer level expand exponentially at the raw material end of the supply chain. In a situation like the pandemic, the shift in demand becomes so great that the demand on manufacturers at the raw material end is far beyond their production capacity.
Wait times for appliances have increased greatly, as have backorder issues with locating parts to repair common household appliances. 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.
- Should you extend the lease for a renter who’s uncomfortable moving at this time?
Moving from one residence to another is a big — and often stressful — undertaking for tenants even under normal circumstances. During the pandemic, the prospect of moving may be much more daunting. Moving involves interacting with others and leaving a current comfort zone that feels safe.
If a tenant is uncomfortable packing up and relocating at the end of their lease but does not want to sign a new year-long lease, consider offering a month-to-month rental agreement as a short-term option. Communication is critical; property managers should have a clear understanding of how long the tenant intends to stay and ask them to sign a short-term lease.
- How to handle a renter who is violating quarantine rules with big parties?
Renters throwing parties and bringing big groups together not only can increase the spread of the virus but also, at the very least, make other tenants nervous and afraid of potential spread. Neither is good.
States and local communities have specific guidelines for in-person gatherings during different stages of reopening. Property managers can keep tenants updated on current guidelines with helpful email communications.
If a property manager receives complaints from neighbors about a specific tenant, they can share neighbors’ concerns with that tenant. As a last resort, concerned neighbors do have the right to call the police if they feel unsafe. Property managers should obtain a copy of any police reports, to take future action if the situation continues to escalate.
- How are families handling properties of a relative who dies of coronavirus, leaving their property vacant?
The death of a family member is understandably an emotional time for relatives. This difficult time can become more complicated by state laws authorizing who can gain access to a deceased person’s personal property.
Property managers should be familiar with state and local laws, as well as language in the rental agreement regarding a deceased tenant’s property. Due to travel concerns during the pandemic, family members may need additional time to remove a loved one’s belongings. Property managers should be prepared to be patient during this process.
- How do property managers handle tenants who are abandoning a unit to move away from congested higher-risk metro areas?
Though some tenants may want to stay put and quarantine where they are, others instead decide to move, due to physical, emotional, and financial pressures, even though they may have no legal right to break the lease.
While some tenants may want to escape the city, others are moving into large cities to be closer to their jobs and avoid public transportation where the risk of coronavirus is higher.
Try to work out a compromise with the tenant before they move. If a tenant loses their job and wants to end their lease early to avoid financial hardships, it may be better to re-lease the unit and move on.
- The current tenant refuses to allow me to schedule in-person showings of a rental property. What can I do?
Under the lease, a property manager may have the authority to bring prospective tenants through the unit. However, consider options like a video walk-through of the property or showing the unit through a live virtual tour. Apps such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts can help facilitate in-person interviews. Property managers also can ask the tenant to 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 a tenant is uncomfortable with in-person showings, set strict guidelines to allay their concerns. Bring in no more than one potential tenant at a time, ask everyone to wear a mask, only the property manager may open doors or touch appliances, and everything is wiped down with sanitizing wipes after the showing.
About Keyrenter Property Management
Keyrenter Property Management is an industry leader in the United States for real estate property management, with thousands of client investors and tens of thousands of properties in our portfolio. With hundreds of offices across the country, Keyrenter is a household name known for its outstanding reputation, giving, and community service efforts through Keyrenter Cares.
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