The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting property management in many ways, with maintenance at the forefront of challenges. Never has the management of maintenance been more important. For years we have been driving home the point that maintenance management isn’t just the job of the lead maintenance person on a property; it needs to be a central focus of the site manager as well. In fact, when we launched our Certified Manager of Maintenance (CMM) training program decades ago our intended audience was property managers not lead maintenance staff. Over the years, attendance in CMM has evolved to where now we see about an even split between managers and maintenance staff in the program. One of the great things about having managers and lead maintenance staff learning together is it gives us the opportunity to have them practice the teamwork that is essential to high-performance maintenance delivery.
During the COVID-19 pandemic this teamwork is more important than ever. Management staff and maintenance staff need to be on the same page. Here are five areas that we cover in our CMM program that we think are of great importance to the delivery of maintenance during these difficult times:
Have a Clear Understanding as to What Constitutes Emergency Maintenance.
Many properties and management companies are temporarily limiting service calls inside units to emergency items only. This highlights the need for management and maintenance to have a clear understanding as to what constitutes an emergency. If you don’t already have a written list of typical emergencies, develop one. But keep in mind, not all emergencies are “typical” so while having a list is good, be careful not to be too rigid. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Keep Everyone Informed of Changes and Facilitate the Flow of Information.
Many properties are experiencing changes in hours, availability of amenities, even changes in staffing in response to COVID-19. Special effort must be made to ensure that all staff know what is happening and when. Also, be particularly mindful if staff from other locations are being assigned temporarily to a different location or are handling work orders at properties where they do not usually work.
We have long advocated having a property “football” that can be passed from maintenance person to maintenance person if staff who may be unfamiliar with a property find themselves responding to service calls. The “football” may contain such useful information as maps of the development, updated contact information, location of cut-off valves, mechanical equipment, and supplies, access codes and keys (if appropriate, and with proper security protections in place) and other useful items and information.
Also, if staff who are not usually assigned to the property begin to take on tasks that involve interacting with residents make sure they carry the proper credentials so that they can put residents at ease that they are legitimate personnel and, if possible, inform residents in advance as to who they might see on the property.
Communicate with Residents Clearly and On a Timely Basis.
It is very important that residents are made aware of how maintenance will be carried out during these difficult times. Whatever your plan is, communicate it with your residents and if it changes, communicate those changes. Stress that, first and foremost, you remain dedicated to providing the best possible service to residents and to the safety and well-being of residents and staff. Communicate in the ways that are most effective for your property whether that be with posted flyers, flyers delivered at each door, by email, or other electronic means. Be concise. Deliver the important information as briefly as possible. Emphasize the steps the property is taking to ensure the safety of resident and staff including the use of personal protective measures, additional cleaning of common areas, and, of course, any reduction or temporary closure of common areas and amenities.
(Remember communication is a two-way street: consider asking residents who are requesting maintenance to inform you if they or anyone in the household is experiencing flu-like symptoms so that you can determine the appropriate course of action).
Don’t Neglect Critical Preventive Maintenance, Particularly Life Safety Tasks.
Some maintenance activities can be put off until later, but do not neglect critical life safety work or work that can easily be accomplished that if delayed will have a significant adverse impact on the property.
Safety, Safety, Safety.
While it’s last on this list, it needs to be first in everyone’s mind. Follow the advice of the CDC, local public health officials, and, of course, your company and supervisors.
Many housing-related membership associations and other real estate organizations are providing guidance and suggestions on dealing with COVID-19 that may be useful to you. Below are just a few.
From the National Apartment Association, “How to Handle Maintenance During COVID-19” available free of charge to members and non-members at:
From the Rental Housing Journal “Rental Property Maintenance and the Fight Against the Spread of COVID-19” available at:
From HUD, not exclusively on maintenance but containing some good information and suggestions, “Questions and Answers for Office of Multifamily Housing Stakeholders” available at:
From the BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association International):
From the National Multifamily Housing Council: