6 Considerations for Addressing Building Maintenance Concerns During the COVID-19 Outbreak
As a building manager or owner, you have a lot of responsibility right now.
As usual, you are in charge of providing and maintaining tenants living spaces—their homes. But unlike life before the Coronavirus, that responsibility comes with even more pressure. People are spending more time in their homes, working from their apartments, and fighting off the possibility of getting sick. So, how can you keep your apartment building up and running when times are anything but normal?
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, maintenance concerns were a top priority for apartment owners and building managers. After all, you want your tenants to be happy and healthy in their homes. You want to provide a living space that’s functional and comfortable.
There’s no better way to keep your building free of vacancies than to keep your good tenants happy. Satisfied tenants pay their rent on time, they take care of their unit, and they will likely stick with you for the long haul. Tenant happiness hinges on their satisfaction with the way building management addresses their needs and concerns.
Now with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that you address tenants’ maintenance concerns. Renters may be working from their apartments and schooling their kids at home. In fact, many renters may rarely leave their apartments right now, making them extra aware of any issues that arise.
But how can you address the maintenance concerns of renters while still keeping your building maintenance staff safe and protected? How do you safeguard renters when maintenance staff enters their space? Moreover, how do you keep everyone healthy and happy during this difficult time?
Here are 6 essential considerations when addressing building maintenance during COVID-19.
1. Focus on Communication
Communication is a critical skill for building management in any situation, but especially during emergencies and stressful times. Even if you don’t know all the answers or aren’t sure of the best direction to take right now, simply acknowledging that you heard a resident’s concern can go far in building your relationship.
Send out regular emails or other communications to your renters. Let them know what they should do if a maintenance concern arises. Give them the number to the office and provide any information you have on timelines and procedures.
Of course, you should consult with your legal team to ensure that your communications are protecting you from any liability issues or concerns. Now is an important time to ensure you’re careful and deliberate with every interface.
2. Define What Constitutes an Emergency
Let renters know which emergencies are urgent and which concerns may wait until the pandemic is under control. Landlords and building managers historically follow a policy of “blood, flood, or fire” as non-negotiable emergencies. These are the times when you legally have the right to enter an apartment with minimal notice.
In other situations, you may need to be sensitive in scheduling routine repairs and addressing the issues of your renters. If you had planned building maintenance on the calendar, now may not be an ideal time. Consider that many of your renters are likely working from home, and a loud construction project could be disruptive. (However, if you have a high number of vacancies, it may still be a good time to take care of certain maintenance projects.)
Similarly, tenants should be made aware of minor concerns that don’t present an urgent safety hazard or significant discomfort may need to wait until we have more flexibility and freedom. Right now, prioritization matters when it comes to addressing building maintenance concerns during COVID-19.
3. Review Emergency Plans
As you triage and start to plan for necessary maintenance issues and repairs, it’s a good time to revisit and review your building emergency plans. Did the outbreak of COVID-19 take you and your management staff by surprise? Were you prepared for all emergencies?
Natural disasters like weather-related issues, fires, floods, and earthquakes can happen suddenly and without warning. You must have a building emergency plan in place (and your legal team must review the plan thoroughly). If the COVID-19 outbreak has revealed gaps in your policies and procedures, this is a great time to shore up those areas.
Several resources can help apartment owners plan. Check out resources from your liability insurance carrier, as well as:
- The National Multifamily Council
- The National Apartment Association
- The American Apartment Owners Association
- American Family Insurance
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
4. Encourage Safety First
Whenever you, your staff, or maintenance personnel need to enter an apartment, it’s critical to remember safety first. Under the current CDC guidelines, cloth face coverings are recommended in situations where social distancing isn’t possible. This is currently a recommendation (not an order), but it will likely make renters feel more at ease when maintenance staff enters their space.
In addition to masks, other PPE (personal protective equipment) like foot coverings and gloves should also be worn. Keep in mind—foot covering can present a hazard when climbing or performing maintenance, so urge your staff to use discretion.
The National Apartment Association recommends that maintenance staff change gloves each time they enter an apartment and wash hands thoroughly in between stops. Review the important handwashing procedures with your staff, including using soap and washing hands in hot water for at least twenty seconds.
5. Keep Workspaces Clean
Right now, it’s especially important to keep maintenance areas clean and organized (and the rest of your building too). Taking equipment from one apartment into another could present a (low-risk) contamination concern.
While it’s not likely that the virus could spread on the surface of tools and equipment, it’s still possible. Encourage staff to wipe off equipment regularly and don gloves, as mentioned above. Certain supplies are also hard to procure at this time, so maintenance staff should organize and inventory their materials to ensure they have exactly what they need for their routine jobs. Running to the hardware store has become more complicated with the COVID-19 outbreak, so avoid unnecessary trips when possible.
Similarly, Coronavirus impacts on the supply chain have arisen. While most building maintenance supplies are available, some certain parts and tools may be more challenging to dig up.
6. Train Front Office Staff
During this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to ensure you’ve cross-trained your entire staff. Front office staff should understand how to handle basic building maintenance calls, even if that simply means passing the request on to the right person. Personnel should also know how to determine which issues they can resolve by phone and which will require a maintenance visit.
Building management should always have someone on-site who knows how to turn off gas and water valves in an emergency and who understands your breakers and circuits. Also, someone on-site should always know important contact information and fully understand how your chain-of-command works during an emergency. Staff should also update renter contact information to ensure your records are up-to-date.
Staff should never work when ill. Maintenance staff should call in if they show any signs or symptoms of Coronavirus. In the past, many people felt comfortable working through a cold or powering through a minor bout of illness, but in this case, caution is about protecting everyone. Advise your staff that they should not risk infecting others if they aren’t feeling 100%. It’s especially crucial to note that many people experience few symptoms or may be infectious before they show any sign of illness. Staff should always wear PPE while working in your building. Revisit your safety protocol as needed to keep everyone updated on the recommended guidelines.
In many ways, the challenges of Coronavirus have given us an excellent opportunity to find the gaps in our systems and work to tighten operations.
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Making sure our customers have hot water has always been our main priority, and now more than ever, we are here for you. We will continue to provide 24/7 water heater services to our customers, ensuring you have the hot water your business relies on. Our office team is practicing social distancing by working remotely, while our service technicians and installing contractors are following extra safety guidelines to ensure they can service your building safely without putting themselves or your staff members at risk.
Our team at RWS has always viewed the relationship with each of our customers as a partnership. Through this partnership, we will work together and get through these unique and challenging times. As always, should you need service contact us 24/7 at 1-800-356-1444. Stay safe, and be well!