Maintenance issues are all urgent now.  Landlords’ cannot wait for the COVID vaccine to replace a burnt-out light bulb in the laundry room.  A broken toilet can no longer be fixed when someone gets back from work at 5 p.m.  It needs to be fixed NOW.  Everyone is home.

We rarely need to make an appointment since everyone is home all day every day.  On the other hand, tenants are more willing to perform a maintenance item themselves if we provide the materials.  Some tenants would prefer that no third party enters their unit unless it is extremely urgent. 

Smoke detectors via amazon.com have become a common item sent to a tenant’s front door.  Carbon monoxide detector batteries, pest spray, and heater filters are just a few examples of items that tenants are willing to install/apply if we supply them with the essential materials.

Maintenance is an essential business.  Everyone needs a place to live.  All tenants expect their included amenities to be fully functional.  The main components of habitability include but are not limited to: heat/AC, hot water, cold water, power, water, sewer, flooring, watertight roofing, sealed doors/windows and openings.   For example: If one of these critical components fails; a landlord should have the issue resolved or in progress within 24 hours.

Take Precautions

Every tenant and vendor should wear a face mask, gloves and use hand sanitizer before entry.  Wearing foot booties is also recommended.  This process has become quite standardized but is worth mentioning as a reminder.  It is also a good idea to remind tenants to have an extra PPE supply for vendors entering the unit.  We have also had some tenants request that their unit be “sanitized” at our expense after a work order has been completed.  When is a tenant being reasonable vs paranoid?  Hard to say, but just try and make the best decision for all parties involved.  

Ask tenants to keep a distance while the vendor is onsite.  When tenants send a management company a work order they are usually pretty accommodating for the vendors.  It is best if the maintenance situation is described to the vendor and then they are given adequate air space to work.  We also prefer if the tenant is home to open the door due to the sensitive nature of people nowadays.  

Tenants are ultra-sensitive in this pandemic.  People are home now more than ever.  Your 40-unit apartment complex, (which previously did not allow business to be conducted on), now has 40 businesses running on multiple time zones.  More cars are home, more utilities are being used.  More garbage piles up.  Mountains and mountains of Amazon boxes fill your garbage enclosure.  You might have ordered an extra pick up and that is still not enough.  Remind your tenants to chip in and break down the boxes.  On the flip side, we have even fielded requests to stop cleaning the parking lot because dust was blown around the cars and nearby windows left open.  Normally, the parking lot would be empty, and tenants would come home to a clean parking lot.  Normally, windows would be closed because people are at work in a physical office.  Now they are complaining about their vehicles getting dusty and vendors doing their cleanup job.  It is an unusual situation.  Best way to deal with this?  Sympathize with the tenants and talk a solution through with the tenant and vendor.  We also started remodeling a vacant apartment during normal business hours and our tenant next door asked us to stop.  Of course, we do not want to interrupt our tenant’s important Zoom calls, but we must find a reasonable compromise.  We asked our contractor to work as quickly as possible and then we continued with the apartment turnover work.  

Case Studies

Case Study Example 1) Early on in the pandemic, at one of our complexes, we noticed the water bill doubled from the previous month.  We immediately took a survey and exterior physical inspection and there were no reported leaks.  We heard a rumor that perhaps the City did an estimate and would correct the mistake the following month.  A couple of weeks later, we were contacted by a tenant who stated she had a toilet constantly running.   Leaking toilets can be a horrible water waster.  She reported the leak but would not let us enter until one month later.  She had a terrible fear from COVID-19 due to a senior citizen resident in the unit.  This put us in a difficult situation.  Should we use the keys for entry with proper notice?  Will the tenant pay for the utility overuse?  Is secondary damage being caused by the leak?  After repeated requests to cooperate with us, the tenant finally committed to a firm entry date and the repairs were completed.  Luckily, there was no secondary water damage.

Case Study Example 2) California is burning again for how many years in a row now?  Tenants cannot leave the house because of COVID and can’t open the windows because of wildfires.  Are we now forced to provide AC as a habitability issue?  Well, the apartment didn’t come with AC so you don’t have to provide it.  However, it is good to keep tenants happy.  There are reasonably priced, through-the-wall units that run off 115-volt outlets.  Some landlords have even purchased portable AC units that they loan out to tenants on extreme heat days.  Some older properties combine multiple rooms on one 15-amp circuit.  One solution available to landlords is to first check your subpanel.  If your unit is occupied and if there is space (empty breaker slots) on your subpanel, run a dedicated circuit directly below the subpanel.  The tenant will then be responsible to run their portable AC to the desired location.  In a show of good faith, the landlord has provided a plug that they were not required to.  With an occupied unit, it is best not to create any potential lead-based paint/asbestos dust in the apartment.  In other words, if the subpanel is in the back bedroom closet and the tenant wants their portable AC in the living room, don’t agree to cut, patch and paint 40 feet of drywall unless you know all of the risks.  Try to find a solution to the problem without exposing yourself to legal issues.  Furthermore, make sure that the tenant’s AC is set up properly and not creating mold or water damage from the condensation exit.  Do not allow window AC units to hang off second story windows. 

Conclusion 

What has changed since the pandemic?  The procedure to change a garbage disposal has not changed.  The tools and parts are the same.  The appointments, personal protective equipment and attitudes have changed.  With the rental market turning on its head, tenants are now in charge.  Landlords should do reasonable upgrades to the apartments while the units are occupied.  If a landlord can get a tenant to renew for one year by installing new appliances in the unit (at a cost less than one month without rent), that is a good decision.  

 

Disclaimer: I hold a Real Estate Broker and CA General Contractor’s license.  However, I am not a lawyer, or CPA.  Each Owner’s situation is individual and unique.  I recommend you consult with your legal or tax professional for advice that fits your situation.  The information given in this article comes from a practical perspective.  We love all our clients, tenants and fellow landlords.  If apartments are operated properly, owners, tenants and landlords are all on one team. This article is written from the viewpoint of the landlord. For more information, contact Rob Chiang, CEO of RC Real Estate at  www.AptsManager.com.  408-646-4218 or [email protected]