With wild weather battering much of the east coast over the weekend, many property managers may have received distraught emergency phone calls.
And if not, they would have been mentally prepared for the possible onslaught of calls, messages and emails regarding damage, emergencies and concerns.
This can be a difficult time for even the most seasoned of us, not to mention those with no experience in dealing with the impacts of natural disasters on their portfolios.
Here are some some tips to help you deal with wild weather:
⦁ Get yourself organised
Consider how to best utilise your trust accounts software, CRMs, social media and e-marketing platforms during this time to communicate emergency details and updates to your clients. You could update your voicemail to provide updates and instructions on lodging requests. Utilise your email out-of-office/auto-reply to give clients instructions and expectations on response times and updates. Consider postponing any non-urgent tasks such as scheduled meetings and repairs that are not necessary at this time. People are usually fine with delays as long as you communicate with them.
⦁ Check your legislation
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. Click here for information on NSW legislation.
⦁ Get ahead with tenants
Where possible, send a bulk SMS or email out to all of your tenants providing sympathy for anyone experiencing issues and instructions on who to call for emergencies. Consider emailing them with instructions on how best to lodge any repair requests with your office, such as including photos/videos. Also consider providing details of any emergency evacuation centres that have been set up in the local area. Inform them that you will have an influx of repairs to deal with and that response times may be delayed. Consider advice around switching off electricity and gas in extreme cases.
⦁ Prepare owners
Send a bulk communication out to your landlords too, letting them know that you’ve provided emergency details to tenants and that you will be working through the maintenance issues in order of urgency. Remind them of their emergency repair clause within their agency agreement and that, while every attempt will be made to keep them up to date, there may be slight delays as you prioritise getting the repairs done. Perhaps consider flagging the possibility of rent reductions and uninhabitable premises. Ask owners to provide up-to-date insurer details if you do not hold them on file.
Remember that, for many, their homes and belongings have been damaged or destroyed. Everyone handles these situations differently and you may come across upset and seemingly unreasonable people. Try to 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-counsellor at times. Remember the importance of listening and do not take anything personally.
Where possible, speak to your contractors in advance to determine their workload, expected response time-frames, and their best suggestions in minimising damage to properties in the meantime. Knowing where they are at will help you communicate with your tenants and landlords. Consider contacting additional contractors to help with the workload during this time. Speak to friends and family to see who knows other reliable contractors – and ensure you get a copy of their insurance details first.
⦁ Triage all incoming issues
While continuing to log all repairs into the system as normal, consider setting up a ‘triage’ board or spreadsheet in your office and categorising each issue that comes in; similar to the emergency room in a hospital. This will help you immensely when you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know what to do first. Every few hours, re-group as a team and re-prioritise what you are working on.
⦁ Give support staff dialogue
Provide your reception and support team with the best dialogue to answer phones and messages, minimising the stress of incoming calls. Ensure they know all the information to collect, so you don’t have to go back to tenants to ask for more information.
Be as meticulous as possible in keeping records, especially when it comes to compensation or time away from the premises. Keeping thorough notes on the situations will make your life easier when processing insurance claims and rental compensation, and resolving issues down the track.
When tenants request compensation, remember that a landlord is not required to compensate them for damage to the tenant’s belongings. This would need to be covered by their own contents insurance; the tenant should be advised of this at the start of the tenancy. Remember, it is OK to defer this conversation. When requested, you can let the tenants know that while 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. 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. 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.
This is my least favourite part, but 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 overtime. It may seem harsh to push for this during during a time of hardship, but ensuring your agency is remunerated adequately for managing properties through a natural disaster is important.
Stay patient. If you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to breathe and re-organise yourself, and if you need any help or support, don’t hesitate to get in contact via email.
What other tips do you have for dealing with disasters? Post here to share with your peers.