Apartment communities across America are changing their maintenance practices in fundamental ways in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on circumstances, many have increased cleaning of common areas and limited maintenance to the interior of occupied apartments to emergencies. Management changes such as closing or limiting access to common areas, reducing or temporarily eliminating on-site office hours and other measures are also impacting maintenance. On-site maintenance managers and lead maintenance supervisors are having to adjust their daily maintenance programs to account for these changes as well as unexpected changes in availability of workers and contractors.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- As we teach in our Certified Manager of Maintenance program, having a clear understanding of priority is critical. Emergency work still must come first but it requires better preparation with respect to personal protection equipment, interaction and communication with residents and other measures. We also teach that preventative maintenance is the next highest priority, and while that remains true, maintenance managers need to consider temporarily modifying their PM schedules. For example, most if not all common in-unit PM can be postponed for a few weeks or months without having much long-term negative consequences. The exception would be life-saving equipment such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. In colder climates, changing in-unit furnace filters can be delayed a month or two, particularly as we are entering warmer months.
- Even if you are only doing emergency work in apartments, let your residents know that you still want them to call in all maintenance that is necessary. You want to make this point with residents for two reasons. First, don’t let your residents decide what is an emergency and what isn’t. They may be hesitant to call something in that you would consider serious enough to respond. Second, you want to have a good handle on the work requirements once things get back to normal.
- Assuming you are fully staffed, look for other projects that can be moved up in priority. For example, are there interior or exterior common area tasks that normally would be low priority that can be done now? If you have multiple staff members, choose tasks that can be done by one worker or that can be done in sequence to practice good social distancing.
- Consider adjusting your annual inspection schedule. It may be wise to postpone unit inspections to reduce person-to-person contact. Some common area and equipment inspections may be impacted, but for the most part, try to continue doing those inspections as best you can keeping safety foremost in your decision-making.
- Curb appeal is always important but, in some ways, more so during these times. Having a clean and appealing property can boost the spirits and confidence of staff and residents alike. Keep in mind that with more residents staying at home for longer periods of time, there will be a corresponding increase in certain janitorial, groundskeeping, and other related tasks.
- Adjust your inventory of supplies as best you can. While some supplies are in short supply, others are plentiful and, in fact, may be available at discount prices due to a temporary drop in demand. Keeping an eye on budgetary constraints, consider stocking up, particularly on items you know will be consumed quickly once you turn your attention to deferred maintenance work. Additionally, consider delays in typical delivery times when making these adjustments, especially at properties with lean inventory.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required changes to how and what maintenance is done in apartment communities, but it hasn’t changed the need for effective planning. Now more than ever, the management of maintenance, is critical to the success of a property.