As the sirens steam by with the wild weather battering much of the east coast, many property managers may be already fielding distraught emergency phone calls. And if not, they are mentally preparing for the possible onslaught of calls, messages and emails with damage, emergencies and concerns.
This can be a difficult time for even the most experienced of us, not to mention those who are dealing with a natural disaster for the first time. If your office has an emergency/disaster procedure, it’s time to implement.
Otherwise, here are some some tips to help you deal with the next few days:
- Get yourself organised
o Consider how to best utilise your trust accounts software, CRMs, social media and e-marketing platforms to communicate with your clients of emergency details and updates.
o Update your voicemail to provide information and instructions on lodging repair requests.
o Utilise your email out of office/auto reply to give your client instructions and expectations on response times and updates.
o Consider postponing any non urgent tasks such as scheduled routines, meetings and repairs that are not necessary at this time. People are usually fine with delays as long as you communicated with them.
- Check your legislation
o Different states have different legislation on responsibilities during disasters, what is deemed uninhabitable (when a lease is effectively terminated) and where landlord obligations lie in regards to re-housing, rental compensation etc. Evacuate properties only where necessary. For information on NSW legislation, click here.
- Get ahead with tenants
o Where possible, send a bulk SMS or email out to all of your tenants providing sympathy for anyone experiencing issues, as well as instructions on who to call for emergencies.
o Consider emailing them with instructions of how to best lodge any repair requests with your office, asking them to include photos/videos for example.
o Also consider providing details of any emergency evacuation centres that have been set up in the local area.
o Ensure you advise that as you will have an influx of repairs to deal with, response times may be delayed.
o Consider advice around switching off electricity and gas in extreme cases.
- Prepare Owners
o Send a bulk communication out to your landlords as well, letting them know that you’ve provided emergency details to tenants and you will be working through the maintenance issues in order of urgency.
o Remind them of their emergency repair clause within their agency agreement and that whilst every attempt will be made to keep them up to date, with the increased workload there may be slight delays in communication while you prioritise the repairs.
o Perhaps consider pre-framing the possibility of rent reductions and uninhabitable premises.
o Ask them to provide up to date insurer details if you do not hold them on file.
o Remember that for many their homes and belongings have been damaged of destroyed, everyone handles these situations differently and you may come across upset and seemingly unreasonable people.
o Try approach all calls and situations from an angle of empathy even if you are feeling stressed and the other person is irate. You may take on the role of a pseudo counselor at times. Remember the importance of listening and do not take anything personally.
o Where possible speak to your contractors in advance to determine their work load, expected response time frames, and their best suggestions in minimizing damage to the property in the meantime. This will assist with providing accurate communication to your tenants and landlords.
o Consider contacting additional contractors to help with the additional workload during this time. However, ensure you get a copy of their insurance details first.
- Triage all incoming issues.
o Whilst continuing to log all repairs into the system as normal, consider setting up a “triage” board or spreadsheet in your office and categorizing each issue that comes in, similar to what they have to do in an emergency room in a hospital. This will help you immensely when you’re feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do first.
o Each few hours, re-group as a team and reprioritize what you are working on.
- Give support staff dialogue
o Provide your reception and support team with the best dialogue when speaking with your clients, to minimize the stress of incoming calls and ensure they know the detail of information to collect.
o Be as meticulous as possible in keeping records and documentation. Especially where it comes to compensation or time away from the premises. Keeping thorough notes and documentation on the situations, will make your life easier when processing insurance claims, rental compensation and resolving issues down the track.
o Where tenants are requesting compensation, remember that a landlord is not required to compensate a tenant for damage to the tenants belongings, this would need to be covered by their own contents insurance – the tenant should be advised this at the start of the tenancy.
o Remember it is okay to defer this conversation, when requested you can let the tenants know that whilst you can’t promise anything you will work on coming to an agreement in regards to this, but your main focus is getting the issue resolved right now.
o If the tenancy is ended permanently, no rent is payable from the day the tenant moves out. Any rent already paid in advance must be fully refunded to the tenant.
o If the tenant moves out temporarily or continues living in the partially damaged premises, the rent should be waived or reduced. Whether any rent is payable at all and, if so, the level of reduction will depend on the extent of the damage and the amount of use the tenant has of the premises.
o Check if your managing agency agreement includes a disaster management fee. After all, if a natural disaster occurs your management resources will be pushed to the limit and you may need to pay existing staff over time. It may seem harsh to ask for this during during a time of hardship, however ensuring your agency is remunerated adequately for managing properties through a natural disaster is important.
Most importantly, remember to stay patient. If you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to breath and re-organise yourself, and if you need any help or support, don’t hesitate to get in contact via email.
Please feel free to use the Emergency Management Checklist that we have created for you to use in these situations and contact us by phone or e-mail if you need any assistance during these times, we are here to help!