As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to upend everyday life, the multifamily apartment industry is evolving to allow itself to continue working safely, while still providing tenants the best possible living experience in today’s climate. Owners and property managers are still performing regular duties, such as showing apartments and fulfilling maintenance requests. However, it is anything but “business as usual.” In addition to the need for new protocols to protect staff and tenants, multifamily property owners and managers are having to deal with other unforeseen challenges of our new normal.
From HVAC issues to window and door replacement, these projects can only be put on hold for so long. As more and more people are working from home during the pandemic, everyday amenities are becoming more and more important. Whereas a tenant may have lived with a less than optimal HVAC unit or leaky, drafty windows in the past, they are now more likely than ever to submit maintenance requests for the repair and/or replacement of these units. The major factor in this is they now spend twice as much time in their apartment, as compared to before the pandemic. The graph, right, from apartmentlist.com, shows the typical renter’s day before the pandemic. Approximately half of a renter’s day was spent in her or his home. Because of social distancing and stay at home orders during the pandemic, the amount of time spent at home has nearly doubled.
In addition to social distancing, it is also worth considering changes companies will start to make regarding their “working from home” policies. The pandemic has forced many companies to figure out how to work remotely, quickly. Pre-pandemic, “at home” working was already on the rise. According to a study by flexjobs, “Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population.” With some of the larger Fortune 500 companies already announcing an extension in telecommuting through the end of 2020, it is clear to see that the trend towards working remote will continue to rise.
With a tenant staying in her or his unit twice as much as before the pandemic, owners are seeing sometimes dramatic increases to operating expenses, depending on how the specific property handles utilities. Tenants are now conditioning the unit to her or his preference for twice as long. Energy efficient windows, doors, HVAC, and major appliances are now more valuable than ever. Other items that renters have previously lived with are becoming more and more problematic. Drippy faucets will wear on them, as they listen to it the entire day. Peeling paint and outdated unit finishes will be her or his new, every day visual. Small deficiencies in apartment homes will now become much larger issues, in the eyes of the tenant. If capital improvement projects that were planned for an updated gym, unit renovations, or new windows and doors, are now delayed or cancelled, it is more likely than ever that the renter will consider moving, as our lives evolve to a new normal.
Many of these deficiencies can be easily handled by the onsite maintenance staff. However, many of these issues cannot. Before the pandemic, the property management staff would have likely scheduled a company to come and fix any of the issues that they could not handle themselves. This is now a much larger undertaking than before. There is now a litany of items the property management team must navigate in order to complete a work order that did not need to be considered before.
- Where will the tenant go when we are working in the unit? Coffee shops and other hang out places are closed. Most common area space in the rental community may have been closed as well.
- How do the property managers find qualified, COVID-safe companies? The property manager does not want to bring in a company that has lenient safety protocols. At the same time, they do not want to bring in a company that has stringent safety protocols, but performs substandard work.
- What measures will the property or contractor take in order to contain the workspace? Tenants do not want to come home and believe that contractors were in every part of her or his unit.
- What quality control methods does the contractor have in place? Limiting the number of trips into a tenant’s home is paramount. If the contractor does not have a quality control system, this will more often than not lead to return trips.
- What method will the property staff or contractor use to notify the tenant that the work is done? No tenant wants to walk in on work taking place in her or his home, nor do they the feeling, “someone has been in my home.”
Property management teams are looking for contractors that can evolve with them, helping to identify and answer these challenges. Construction, for the most part, is considered an essential business. It is especially challenging for construction companies that must work tenant-in-place, as seen by the list of questions above. It is important for the property to understand the challenges the contractor has, while it is equally important for the contractor to understand those of the property manager.
Aeroseal has identified three pillars that are the keys to success on all projects in our current environment.
This has always been a key to tenant-in-place work and has not changed. It has possibly become even more important. It is important for properties to know the availability of any and all items needed to close work orders. It is also important that tenants are able to be notified quickly and efficiently, allowing the tenant enough time to find an area outside of her or his apartment while the work is taking place.
The teamwork between the property staff and Aeroseal has never been more important. This is especially true as we work together in the uncharted territory created by the threat of coronavirus. The property manager needs a company that can adapt to the ever-changing environment of today’s multifamily properties. What worked for the property and contractor last month may not work in two months. Being able to work together will help overcome any obstacles that are faced.
- Safety, Security and Health
The safety, security, and health of all tenants, staff and workers on every property we are working on is of utmost importance. Contractors must have their own, site specific, COVID-safe plans. They must also constantly analyze current plans and identify any areas for improvement. Although no mitigation and response plan can assure the removal of all risk, contractors must maintain strong processes and controls related to every aspect of our activities while on a property, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Overall, it is important to realize that tenant-in-place work must continue. Owners and property managers want to maintain or increase occupancy rates, while keeping operating expense ratios at bay. Putting projects that were previously planned on hold could potentially result in the opposite of that. Aeroseal believes these three pillars will lead to safe, efficient multifamily projects, while maintaining the quality and service that our clients have come to expect over the past 20 years.
In order to provide our customers with as much information and support through this pandemic as possible, we’ve assembled a list of resources covering everything from tenant-in-place jobsite safety to general guidance for the construction workforce.
Aeroseal’s COVID-19 Jobsite Policies
Aeroseal is actively monitoring U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local government guidelines related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, also known as Corona Virus. Based on these guidelines, we have implemented the following Job Site Policies for all projects. In addition to these requirements, all Aeroseal Employees and Subcontractors should comply with any site-specific tenant-in-place policies as may be communicated by the Customer.
ANY VIOLATION OF THE PROTOCOLS WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE REMOVAL FROM THE PROPERTY.
Aeroseal Employees or Subcontractors meeting any of the following conditions may not enter a jobsite and should self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Has tested positive for COVID-19
- Experiencing any of COVID-19 symptoms, including:
- Shortness of Breath
- Has been in close contact with a person who is exhibiting symptoms of or who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Has recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19.
Each day before work commences, the Site Foreman must ask each employee / subcontractor if they meet any of the conditions listed under the attendance policy. If an Employee or Subcontractor indicates they meet any of the conditions, the Site Foreman should immediately:
- send the employee home; and
- contact the Aeroseal Project manager who should report to Aeroseal Corporate Administration.
Hand Washing & Hygiene Aeroseal Employees and Subcontractors are required to wash their hands frequently and in accordance with CDC guidelines. Employee and Subcontractors are recommended at a minimum to wash their hands:
- immediately prior to entering the jobsite;
- before breaks;
- after breaks; and
- upon completion of their shift.
- Employees and Subcontractors should avoid touching their face.
Personal Protection Aeroseal Employees and Subcontractors are required to wear personal protection on the jobsite to include:
- Eye Protection;
- Gloves; and
- Cloth Face Masks. Such personal protection is not intended to meet OSHA guidelines and cloth masks are not respirators as defined by OSHA 1910 Appendix D.
- Gloves and masks should be disposed or washed after each daily use.
Social Distancing Aeroseal Employees and Subcontractors should maintain 6 feet separation from others whenever possible as per CDC guidelines. If a job tasks require less than 6 feet separation, all efforts to mitigate any virus transmission should be followed.
- All Aeroseal workers should travel directly from their designated entrance/exit to and from their job site without stopping and congregating in common areas.
(1) While in common areas, contractors and workers must maintain a minimum 6’ from any other person at all times and adhere to COVID-19 best practices (See OSHA COVID general guidance below).
OSHA COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Workforce
OSHA is committed to protecting the health and safety of America’s workers and workplaces during these unprecedented times. The agency will be issuing a series of industry-specific alerts designed to keep workers safe. When working in the construction industry, the following tips can help reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus:
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
- Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus.
- Continue to use other normal control measures, including personal protective equipment (PPE), necessary to protect workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.
- Advise workers to avoid physical contact with others and direct employees/contractors/visitors to increase personal space to at least six feet, where possible. Where work trailers are used, all workers should maintain social distancing while inside the trailers.
- Train workers how to properly put on, use/wear, and takeoff protective clothing and equipment.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List Nor that have label claims against the coronavirus.
- To the extent tools or equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, workers should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.
- Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance, and use social distancing practices.
- Clean and disinfect portable jobsite toilets regularly. Hand sanitizer dispensers should be filled regularly. Frequently-touched items (i.e., door pulls and toilet seats) should be disinfected.
- Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns. For more information, please visit www.osha.gov/coronavirus
For more information about tenant-in-place improvements from Aeroseal or to receive a quote for a project, contact us here.