Landlord Resource Toolkit: A Collection of Best Practice Resources for Landlords and Owners During COVID-19

As a landlord or building owner, you know that happy, reliable tenants pay their rent and keep your properties full.

But over the last six months during COVID-19, the landscape of rentals has changed drastically, and renters’ needs and capacity have changed too. Information and best practices have shifted as government regulations, health information, and the economic picture continue to evolve. Keeping up with this information can be challenging at best, but we’ve assembled a landlord resource toolkit to help you navigate some everyday situations and keep your reliable tenants as happy as possible.

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A landlord’s job is challenging, even in the best of times. If you use a property management company to help run the day-to-day business, your plate is likely still quite full. If you do it all yourself, chances are the last six months have been some of your tenure’s toughest.

We all know happy renters are easier to work with. Happy renters usually pay their rent on time, they’re satisfied with their dwelling, and they take care of their unit. When you need to make building updates or take care of repairs, they’re flexible and easy-to-work-with.

But over the last several months, everyone across the nation has faced the challenge of COVID-19. Many renters are spending more time in their apartments. They might be working from home, teaching kids from their living room, and spending much of their time inside their rental unit. They may also be facing health challenges related to the virus, whether it’s an illness from COVID-19 or related mental and physical effects of the stress.

Moreover, renters may also be facing financial hardships and difficulties that have left them unable to pay their rent on time. Navigating these new waters has increased the strain on landlords and building owners—making your already-full plate overflow.

It’s always best practice to seek professional legal advice as questions arise. Housing restrictions and regulations are tricky, and you need an advisor who can help protect your interests. With that caveat in mind, we’ve assembled a landlord resource toolkit with some links and helpful information for best practices during COVID-19. This information is a starting point, but you should always seek legal advice before you proceed.

Best Practices for Building Occupants’ Health During COVID-19

As a landlord, you can only take on so much responsibility for keeping your building safe from COVID-19. Renters are going in and out, and unfortunately, you don’t have control over their health or hygiene practices. The best way to keep your building safe is to familiarize yourself with how COVID-19 spreads, and the best ways to keep common areas as clean as possible.

Some steps for keeping your building safe include urging cleaners to pay close attention to all touchpoints throughout the building. Frequently clean areas like door handles, the front desk, common areas like the elevator or lobby.

Due to health privacy regulations, you may not even know if a renter tests positive for the virus or of cases in your building. Encourage staff to take the proper precautions under the assumption that everyone could have the virus. Share resources with both your staff members and tenants, so they know how to stay safe. Encouraging masks, offering hand sanitizer, and minimizing gatherings and visitors will help set the right tone.

For information about the virus:

The CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has become one of the most valued resources during the pandemic. They continue to update information regularly and share the latest findings about the disease.

John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

The John Hopkins site offers real-time mapping to help you know the risk in your area. The medical leader also includes helpful news on testing, tracking, and the latest resources on Coronavirus.

State & Local Health Departments

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Indiana Health Department are two helpful resources for our region. Check with your county and city health department to learn local regulations, restrictions, and the latest health advice.

Navigating Building Repairs and Updates During COVID-19

Should you need to get into a unit for repairs right now, you may have concerns about protecting your staff. Understand the risk of entering an apartment and know how to prepare your team with the right PPE and practices to keep them safe.

It’s also important to protect tenants during repair and update visits. During the shelter-at-home period, many landlords had to put projects and updates on hold. Only the most essential and urgent repairs were prioritized. Now, as we’ve learned some safer ways to navigate with the virus, some building maintenance has resumed, but staff should be cognizant of renters’ concerns.

Many renters are still working and schooling from home. Loud repairs can be disruptive and can add to the stress of the situation. To maintain tenant happiness and satisfaction, landlords should still use flexibility when working on less-urgent updates. Prioritize tenant privacy and follow agreed-upon timelines and notifications for non-emergencies.

For additional information about navigating repairs during COVID-19:

The Tenant Resource Center

Geared toward tenant rights, the tenant resource center still offers some excellent advice for landlords. The Resource Center helps put questions like “how to handle repairs,” in a tenant-centric framework, allowing you to understand some of their concerns.

TurboTenant

The TurboTenant blog also offers some great insights and information on tenant communication. Different tenants have different needs and various communication styles. Understanding how to best get the point across is incredibly valuable during this strange time.

Handling Rent Payment Issues During COVID-19

The touchiest area to navigate is rent payment. Under the current economic landscape, many people are struggling. In the early part of the pandemic, many states put a moratorium on evictions in place, to help tenants when they needed it the most. In early September the moratorium was extended federally by the CDC through the end of the year (superseding any state orders). While this needed relief helps renters keep their space, it puts a burden on landlords and leaves little recourse for dealing with bad tenants.

Tenants must fill out a specific declaration to prevent eviction and meet the requirements of the declaration. Tenants who don’t follow the guidelines can still be evicted (but again, landlords should seek legal advice to navigate this tricky area). There is guidance on the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection for tenants, but building owners may find the information helpful as well.

In March, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) put a hold on foreclosures for single-family homeowners and multi-family properties with federally-backed mortgages, offering forbearance, as long as evictions were suspended. This rule has also been extended. It’s important to note that both moratoriums and forbearance still require repayment in the future.

According to a survey conducted by landlord resource Avail, 12% of landlords surveyed went into forbearance on at least one of their mortgaged properties during the last six months. The financial stress has been difficult for everyone—building owners and renters alike. It’s important to work with tenants to pay as much of their rent as they can, and avoid ballooning debt they’ll need to pay back later, and to keep yourself afloat during this challenge.

No one wants to make the difficult choice to evict a tenant, especially not in these uncertain times. Evictions mean empty units, and those can be tough to fill right now as well. It’s essential to be aware of tenant rights and to consult with legal counsel before you proceed. Landlords should also familiarize themselves with the small business protections and assistance available, so they can stay afloat and bridge any financial gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is assistance available in the form of loans and mortgage delays, so if you’re facing a crunch on your properties, don’t despair.

For landlords facing financial strain, explore the following:

Goldman Sachs U.S. Small Business Resource Center

Financial giant Goldman Sachs has put together a comprehensive resource toolkit for small business owners (like landlords) and others. These tools include links to financial assistance, details about PPP loans, and mortgage assistance.

Bankrate Forbearance Program Listing

Bankrate has accumulated information for federal and state assistance and the forbearance information for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

SBA.gov Coronavirus Small Business Resources

The U.S. Small Business Administration has many helpful resources available on its website, including a comprehensive listing for small businesses affected by COVID-19 and a Disaster Assistance resource that outlines eligibility for SBA loans.

FHFA Guidance for COVID-19

The Federal Housing and Finance Agency has several items for homeowners and property owners who may have been affected by COVID-19 financially. These resources include many industry resources and news updates, as well.

Filling Vacancies During COVID-19

When you’re desperate for new tenants, how do you avoid coming off as, well, desperate? The key to attracting tenants during downtimes is to get creative. People are still leery of in-person apartment tours and leasing meetings. So offering options like virtual tours and leasing makes a massive difference in drawing in new renters.

Take the time to make a video and photograph the unit you’re hoping to rent. Even if it’s an empty unit, you can help potential tenants envision it as their new home. Don’t be afraid to narrate the video too—explaining that the box in the corner is a heater, or that you allow small pets can be beneficial to renters who are trying to decipher details from a video.

Another word of advice—don’t settle! It’s tempting to skip references and avoid screening when you have vacancies to fill. Continue to run credit checks (keep in mind credit may be impacted by financial hardships right now, so you may need to work with renters on their options). If you require proof of income, check their job reference, and make sure the pay stub is current. Again, if there are extenuating circumstances, you may have to adjust, such as requesting a co-signer on the lease.

For ideas on lowering vacancies, check out the following:

Avail: 6 Tips for a Virtual Apartment Tour

The guide from landlord resource Avail outlines ways to make a virtual tour more appealing to a renter.  Photos and a video can help you stand out from other rental options, especially when there’s a downturn in interested potential leasers.

Worthwhile Property Repairs & Improvements

Right now, it’s especially crucial to be discerning as you choose which building improvements to make. Here we outline a few of the best property repairs and improvements, no matter your budget or building situation.

Other Helpful Items for Your Landlord Resource Toolkit

You certainly aren’t alone as you navigate the new normal. Coronavirus has had a significant impact on many industries across the United States. Everyone is trying to get back on their feet and figure out how to best move forward. Likely, the virus will still be around for the near future, so it’s wise to take a conservative approach to changes for now.

Stay up on the latest resources and information to help you move forward. Here are a few landlord resource toolkits and guides we’ve found helpful:

National Apartment Association

The National Apartment Association has one of the most in-depth listings of resources for landlords during Coronavirus. Their database includes best practices for teleworking, guidance for your business model, collaboration tools, student housing guides, resident communication guidance, and much more.

American Apartment Owners Association

Similarly, the AAOA website provides another comprehensive landlord resource page that’s open to all guests. Their landlord resource toolkit includes legal webinars, sample forms, news, and assistance.

Lawyers.com

Internet research is no substitute for an attorney’s real advice, but Lawyers.com does offer a database of federal, state, local, non-profit, and private resources for landlords. This list can be an excellent place to get started, especially if you’re seeking basic guidance.

Nolo Network Blog

Nolo is an integration of several legal websites, including Divorcenet.com and AllLaw.com. They offer a listing of guidance and resources by state, including Wisconsin, Indiana, and other midwestern landlords.

Reliable Water Services is Here for You

Hot water is critical to health, sanitation, and safety in general, but it’s especially vital to the industries we serve—and the majority of those industries are considered essential businesses. As our customers remain operational during these unprecedented times, so does Reliable Water Services.

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 or staying 6 feet apart while in the office. Meanwhile, 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!