With the ongoing vaccine rollout and a new stimulus and relief deal in Congress, there is hope on the horizon that 2021 will bring an end to the economic pain brought on by the pandemic. Businesses can reopen, renters can get jobs, and landlords can get paid.
But there’s no question that COVID-19 has had an impact on the rental industry, and those repercussions will continue to ripple throughout 2021:
Continuation of social distancing
Even as people receive vaccinations, experts are predicting that mask wearing and social distancing likely will continue into the summer. For landlords, that means common area restrictions, video tours, and online leasing.
But it doesn’t mean landlords should abandon tenant screening policies such as “meeting” the prospective tenant and checking a photo ID. Online leasing is wrought with the potential for tenant fraud and it remains important to verify identity and qualifications, even if that needs to be done at a distance. See our post, Screening Tenants at a Distance.
Maintenance and repairs will require adaptation to social distancing restrictions. Many property managers are allowing tenants to choose to be outside their units while repairs are being made. That requires a high degree of trust, so open communication with tenants is key. Tenants need to know that maintenance workers are following safety protocols and are not prone to touching tenants’ possessions.
Service the top amenity
A year ago, landlords could showcase common-area amenities to attract the best tenants. Now, competent management is the top amenity. Listening to tenant concerns and keeping tenants safe by avoiding unnecessary in-person interactions such as tours or property inspections can earn respect — and high ratings online.
Some property managers are looking for ways to continue to offer a sense of community in light of the restrictions on common areas. Tenants are looking for ways to break the isolation without endangering themselves or others.
One management firm is hiring food trucks to deliver meals outside each Friday, and distancing grills and picnic tables for outdoor family meals. Expanding hours on common areas, providing sign-up sheets for laundry time, or providing larger spaces for package lockers helps tenants feel more secure at home.
E-newsletters or group texts help break the isolation for tenants. Some managers are providing community pages for shared messages or classified ads and games like resident scavenger hunts so tenants can interact safely.
Local health officials have been encouraging those who live alone to get pets to help with the stress of social distancing. Expect more tenants to want to keep animals in the coming months.
Studies show that allowing pets can attract the best renters and improve tenant retention. While there is a perception that pets will cause damage or drive away other tenants, rest assured that those problems can be overcome by accepting tenants who are responsible pet owners. See our previous post, How to Screen Tenants With Pets.
There has been a notable increase in tenant noise complaints during the pandemic. That’s no surprise given how many people now are stuck at home. With so many attempting to work at home, tempers are flaring.
Landlords may need to dedicate more staff time to resolving complaints, at least in the short term. Where providing written warnings and threatening eviction to quell noise may have worked in the past, this year is all about keeping the peace and encouraging tenants to cooperate with one another.
A blanket message that asks tenants to be sensitive to other people’s needs is a good start. That way, no one feels singled out. When a complaint arises, avoid threats, and look first to creative solutions that keep tenants calm and foster cooperation. For instance, ask feuding tenants to share information about their scheduling priorities and make compromises so everyone can do what they need to do.
Not all situations can be resolved so easily. Tenants who are persistently disruptive may fall within exceptions to eviction moratoriums, and a landlord may need to pursue that avenue to protect other tenants.
The House this month passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. The federal ban has been the reason for many landlords to restrict marijuana. Other reasons include an increase in tenant complaints over smell and secondhand smoke, the potential for crime, and the damage caused by growing plants.
Landlords who do not have a marijuana policy and wish to restrict marijuana use or growing at their properties may want to consult with their attorneys about necessary lease provisions for incoming tenants.
Local rental restrictions
Tenant advocates are using the pandemic to spur on new protections, and landlords can expect to see local lawmakers take up these issues next year. The most likely will be a push for “just-cause” eviction rules or bans on “renovictions, measures that prevent a landlord from taking a property out of service to remodel or convert to another use. Rent control likely will be in the news throughout the year.
Landlords nationwide have made headway against these measures given studies that have shown such restrictions scare away investors and reduce rental housing inventory. Participation in a local landlord association is a great way for landlords to make their voices heard.
It is likely landlords will see attempts to expand protections for tenants who receive government assistance. Landlords may be required to consider tenants on these fixed subsidies. That shouldn’t be a concern. Given the current economic upheaval, tenants on assistance are proving to be the most reliable. In areas that has passed source of income restrictions, landlords may need to update leasing policies and possibly rental applications to accommodate tenants who are not employed.
The best property management strategy for 2021 is to remain flexible. Encourage renters who are doing their best by waiving late fees, allowing shorter leases, accepting rent in installments, or waiving early termination fees so tenants who are in over their heads can move forward without wrecking their chances of finding another place to live.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks , and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.