As landlords work through the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important not to lose sight of the need for active property management to minimize income loss day to day. For now, focus on the immediate:
Calm Your Tenants
As frightening as it is for landlords to lose income or fall behind on mortgage payments, many tenants are terrified that they will be rendered homeless and won’t be able to stay safe. Some are suffering from sudden job losses, or much worse.
The stress is palpable. People who aren’t used to spending the day at home are stuck there. Others feel crowded. That can significantly increase the likelihood of tenant disputes, complaints and property damage.
If you haven’t already, it is critically important to reach out to tenants, preferably by phone and individually if practical, to calm their immediate fears. Hearing from you and sensing your concern for their safety and your willingness to work out solutions to this crisis can be a great comfort to tenants — and a way to minimize income loss.
Work Out Payment Plans
Large property management companies report that they are willing to work out payment plans with tenants who have lost jobs or fallen ill. A common solution is deferring April rent and spreading that payment over the next 12 months or the remaining term of the lease. Other possible solutions could include applying prepaid rent or rent deposits to April. Hopefully, that will buy enough time for rent supplements or unemployment benefits to kick in.
In multifamily properties, avoid a blanket announcement regarding rent deferrals to discourage tenants who aren’t suffering a financial hardship from wanting in on the “deal” being offered. Some tenants are able to pay, and that cash flow will be important to maintain.
Don’t Threaten Eviction
The majority of landlords cannot evict tenants affected by the pandemic at this time, so there is nothing to be gained by threatening to do it. Instead, use the situation to your advantage by encouraging tenants to enter into a payment plan to make up rent over the term of the lease — and avoid being evicted over the summer. Landlords are more likely to win tenants’ cooperation by assuring them that they can stay in their homes to ride out the virus.
Landlords should stay out of occupied units for the time being. This is a bad time to conduct showings or to perform inspections or routine maintenance with a tenant in place.
If repairs cannot be avoided, sanitize surfaces before and after work is complete to protect tenants and contractors. Protect leasing agents by allowing them to distance from tenants or work remotely and provide employees with protective equipment.
Empty units must be cleaned more thoroughly than usual. This may require spraying disinfectant on surfaces including carpet. Sanitize safely. Don’t make matters worse by applying chemical solutions that are dangerous, especially to children or pets who will come into direct contact. Plan ahead because some disinfectant products may be in short supply.
If interacting with a new tenant, it is more important than ever to prequalify the person over the phone before agreeing to meet. There is no need to risk social interaction with a prospect who is unqualified.
Restrict Access in Multifamily
Close nonessential common areas like fitness or social meeting rooms if this can reduce the spread of the virus. Some areas, like laundry, should remain open to prevent tenants from traveling to other public places. Essential common areas will need to be cleaned and sanitized more frequently.
If possible, alert tenants to any amenity closures individually. That way, a tenant can express concern if this will create a significant hardship for them. Posting a sign on the door, especially one that contains the phrase “COVID-19” may cause panic if tenants assume that someone on the premises has been infected.
Don’t ask tenants about their medical condition. That may violate privacy and human rights statutes. If someone becomes quarantined, it is likely you will be provided information from a health official. Do not tell other tenants about someone’s condition unless instructed by the government to do so. If you are aware that a tenant has been infected but is not following a quarantine order, alert local law enforcement and ask for guidance.
Power in Numbers
Join and support your local landlord association to assure that landlord rights are being considered in any emergency legislation that addresses the rental market.
Meanwhile, explore the resources and networking opportunities offered by your landlord association. Use your free time to hone your property management skills as we all look forward to the return to normalcy.
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This post is provided by the Landlord Credit Bureau to help landlords and property managers reduce the risks of rental income loss and avoid rent theft. The Landlord Credit Bureau provides articles on Reporting Tenant Rent Pay and Tenant Screening to ensure necessary information is readily available to all Landlord & Tenants.
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The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.