Multi-family apartment communities have always presented unique challenges to the people who own them, work at them, and live in them, but the COVID-19 pandemic created situational difficulties on a scale most of us have never before witnessed.
FACS works with multi-family management teams nationwide, so we’re positioned to not only help staff navigate the normal maintenance issues but advise them on how to respond to special problems brought about by the virus.
Our aim is to share knowledge the FACS team has gathered during these trying times in the hope that the observations we’ve made will give owners and management personnel ideas they can use to better serve the residents of their apartments or hotels.
Multi-Family Properties and COVID-19: Candid Observations
- FACS clients expressed confusion and found it difficult to organize responses to potential exposures at the onset of the pandemic. Property managers found that coordinating a cleaning time was troublesome, and the work was often delayed. This created considerable stress and exacerbated the potential health risks presented by the situation. Management should document the experience, then review their actions to inform and expand the current strategic plan. Don’t let the lessons learned slide by. Learn from them and streamline your process.
- Multi-family management teams often needed to operate with fewer employees as the virus spread. Whether due to actual illness, fear of illness, or the reluctance to hire help during an unsure and unsettling time, the workforce reduction further exacerbated the challenges of multi-family community maintenance and management. Teams were forced to operate leaner and with more efficiency. Document the methods employed to date. Keep looking for ways to get even better at keeping the workflow going when the staff level is low.
- Apartment community managers and services managers began to work remotely rather than report to the office. The reduction in onsite staff created more problems and residents sometimes felt abandoned and frustrated by the reduction in face-to-face communication options. Many companies have found the work-from-home option can cut costs and improve production for some employees. Others aren’t able to accomplish nearly as much and need to be onsite. Record your findings. Become willing to make further adjustments as needed. Find ways to keep staff productive even when they must be at home. Train staff on tools that help them work remotely.
- Many tenants also began working from home, so the demand on HVAC systems increased proportionately. Given that air conditioning units are normally placed inconspicuously in an apartment, the FACS team recorded a steep increase in the number of leaks. These were a primary source of mold growth and damage to the underlying structure. Many instances could have been avoided or the impact lessened by simply contacting residents to educate them on what to look for and how to report suspicious conditions. Some teams placed phone calls to residents rather than knocking on doors. Others filmed a video of how to check for leaks in common areas and asked residents to review it. Not only does this level of communication reduce maintenance costs, it shows the residents that management cares and is on top of the situation.
- Tenants often delayed reporting of maintenance needs. Fear of potential exposure to the virus by workers entering the premises led to the development of secondary issues that would normally not have come into play. An unreported leak under a sink, for instance, can lead to problems that may not otherwise have developed. Here again, communication is key. Whether by phone, by letter, or by email, it is crucial that management teams make special efforts to assure tenants that help is always available. FACS incident managers can provide science-backed data and help management develop COVID-19 procedures for vendors to assure tenants that proper precautions are being observed.
- Apartment community and hotel managers often began forgoing the competitive bid process and/or relying on initial response vendors to perform restoration work. That decision reduced traffic to the affected units or areas, but also tended to increase associated costs, since the vendors were required to perform work outside of their normal duties. Given the strong public relations component in multi-family marketing and the real threat of COVID-19 spread, the tendency is to err on the side of caution. While that stance can certainly be advisable, there are normally ways to work around obstacles. Since FACS maintains ongoing relationships with their vetted incident response contractors, for instance, the trust level established can often be leveraged to create workarounds in the quotation process. Pre-established trust and pricing can save time and money for all concerned.
The FACS Response to the Pandemic’s Impact on Multi-Family Properties
Given the reduction in onsite staff, we asked FACS-vetted vendors and FIRM (FACS Incident Response Management) personnel to expand their documentation and transmission of pertinent information to management and owners. They are quite literally serving as “eyes and ears” during this unprecedented period. FIRM incident managers review those reports then send pertinent data to the appropriate management team, regional office, or corporate office.
FIRM teams have also taken on additional roles to fill the gap in available staff. We’re creating incident reports for general managers, coordinating the incident response vendors more closely, and performing additional verifications. We’ve also created a special vetting process for vendors able to operate in units directly affected by COVID-19.
FACS advice to property managers includes creating a standardized daily update document for vendors to complete before leaving the property. The information collected will minimize communication issues inherent in remote work. All vendors, regardless of trade or project, can use the same form. Property managers are also advised to use the standardized vendor updates mentioned above to stay informed on vendor activity.
When COVID-19 decontamination is required, FIRM directs the response with science-based expertise. We’ve seen the overall incident count at multi-family properties increase by as much as 45 percent when residents and staff members were afflicted by the virus. Given the special public relations and legal issue concerns faced by owners of multi-family apartment communities and hotels, FIRM ensures the cleanup is carefully documented. FACS teams consistently deliver a professional and thorough approach to public health issues.
Because the pandemic is putting financial stress on many multi-family property companies, we’ve identified protocols to help relieve that stress. FIRM teams seek to lower incident and restoration costs by providing approved vendors at predetermined rates, to monitor that work daily and make incident reports available to staff 24/7, and to review each invoice for accuracy on behalf of FIRM clients.
We’ve also developed targeted training programs for onsite maintenance teams and developed additional response protocols for emergency response vendors. FACS’ FIRM personnel coordinate all COVID-19 cleanups and verify the procedures taken.
The FIRM teams seek to provide quick and credible responses to emergencies, maintain accurate and reliable communication with management and owners, and provide data that is both comprehensive and trackable.
To get priority help building your own COVID-19 response and restoration strategy or to speak with us about how FACS can help, call (866) 637-9924 or use the contact form.