Tenant Communications during Covid-19
By Kim Schmitt
Operations are still changing by the minute. Landlords and Property Managers have had to make quick business decisions and establish a clear plan for communication with tenants.
First and foremost, Landlords and Property Managers need to collect and properly disseminate all available contact information for your staff and tenants. Have alternative communication methods established (website, app, text), in case physical contact gets disrupted again as Covid-19 mandates change.
Remember that Covid-19, social distancing, and isolation will affect everyone differently. You will have tenants that lose jobs, that get sick, that may lose loved ones, are forced to homeschool their kids, or become extremely depressed. With this said, it is important to realize that these are not “normal” times and understanding this will make you a better Landlord or PM.
Your tenants will continue to have many concerns, so sending reminders via email can help ensure that scheduled appointments are kept and rent payments are under control. Do not look at this as “babysitting”. Look at this as protecting your interests, being proactive and showing that you have a good understanding of where we are today as a whole.
As you communicate with your tenants, think about the following questions:
Have you communicated changes in operating hours, available services, scheduling maintenance repairs, communication channels to the Property Manager, and safety protocols to tenants?
Have you communicated protocols for when maintenance goes into your tenant’s homes and during workorder scheduling? Are you asking if anyone has been sick or are currently sick in the home? Are you asking outside contractors what their protocols are during Covid-19 so that you can relay this to the tenant during scheduling?
If a Tenant or Staff Member Gets Sick
If tenants or staff members are diagnosed with COVID-19, your obligation to notify tenants will vary according to lease terms, public health mandates, state regulations and industry standards.
Your online services are a keystone of keeping up with rent payments as the world reacts to the coronavirus. Instruct tenants to use web-based services, apps, and portals to make rent payments whenever possible.
Rental owners and managers are STILL facing the reality that many residents will not be able to make their rent payments – likely through no fault of their own as businesses are closing once again across the nation. Your tenant communications plan should include instructions for tenants with economic hardships to contact you to discuss options.
Effective September 4, 2020 through December 31, 2020, there was a federal moratorium on residential evictions due to failure to pay rent put into place because of the impacts COVID-19 for tenants that meet certain criteria. I would not be surprised if this gets extended well into 2021.
The federal moratorium order offers five reasons evictions can move forward: criminal activity, threats to other residents, damage to property, violation of building codes or violation of any other aspect of a lease. With this said, use caution and pick your battles wisely. Make sure that you fully understand what this moratorium means as a Landlord or Property Manager.
As a side note, have you reviewed your property insurance coverage so that you understand specifically what types of incidents are covered? (What will happen, for example, if a tenant receives a positive COVID-19 test and the virus spreads? Could you be held liable and if so, how can you prevent it?)