What Shelter-in-Place Means for Apartment Management Companies
**A quick disclaimer that PTAA is not qualified to offer legal advice, so as always if you have any questions please contact your attorney.**
Cities and counties throughout North Carolina are beginning to issue "shelter-in-place" orders in an attempt to slow or prevent the spread of the Corona-19 virus. In every case we have seen so far the management of apartment buildings has been included in the list of essential services, which means that management companies can have team members work on site as necessary. It is being reported that Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County will have a countywide "shelter-in-place" order effective 5 P.M. on March 27, 2020 and that Winston-Salem will also have an order effective 5 p.m. on March 27, 2020. PTAA has reached to all of the local municipalities to urge them to include multifamily management in the industries that are considered critical and we are confident they will do so.
PTAA has also received several questions from our members about the steps they need to take in response to these orders. The National Apartment Association has provided some guidance that you can find here: https://www.naahq.org/news-publications/guidance-naa-members-concerning-shelter-place-orders Some important considerations from their guidance to highlight here:
If you fall under a “Shelter in Place” order, we advise you take the following precautions:
- Limit onsite employees, maintain limited staff to ensure continuity of basic operations (service request management, rent collection and payroll, etc.).
- Where possible, limit in-person transactions between staff and residents. Consider implementing digital payment and maintenance requests or offer secure drop boxes. Note: Please review applicable state laws, which may prohibit landlords from mandating that residents pay rent online.
- Suspend all non-essential maintenance and repairs. Service requests should be categorized between essential (HVAC, hot water, plumbing, etc.) and non-urgent (upgrades, cosmetic repairs, etc.).
- Share staffing updates with residents and ensure emergency contact information is available. When possible, use multiple communication platforms such as email, community bulletin boards and notices to individual units.
- Contact vendors to determine availability for emergency maintenance needs. Ensure alternative arrangements are available.
- Continue move-out walk-through inspections when requested by residents, per legal requirements. However, follow appropriate social distancing protocols. Ensure the residents desire inspections in the current environment and, if the request is withdrawn, get it in writing.
- Consider providing virtual and low-contact showings to prospective residents. These could include virtual tours or allowing a prospect to enter and tour a unit on their own. Be sure to disinfect high-touch surfaces between showings (including door knobs, light switches, etc.).
We have spoken with some of our members who have properties in parts of the country that already have shelter-in-place orders; their companies have developed form letters to give their team members to be used in case they are stopped or questioned by authorities. We have a couple of samples of these letters that can potentiall by modified for use locally, but we HIGHLY recommend you have any letter you create reviewed by your attorney or other qualified professional. If you would like to see a couple of sample letters please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, we also recommend that each company contact the state to apply for "essential business" status. Here are instructions that were provided to us by the Apartment Association of North Carolina:
"NC Emergency Management has a process to vet businesses TO DETERMINE IF THEY ARE ESSENTIAL BUSINESS SUPPLIERS and allow them the ability to continue operations an emergency is declared or a shelter in place order is issued should their usual operations warrant such.
Businesses should email email@example.com. In the email, they should provide the following:
- Business name
- Point of Contact including:
- Nature of their business and why they are critical to continue operations
- Business website
Please be aware that the BEOC (Business Emergency Operations Center) is experiencing a high volume of these requests, so the response could be delayed."