Over the past several weeks, we’ve all been inundated with news about the pandemic. In that sea of constantly changing information, two facts are emerging. Social distancing and stepped-up sanitation measures do work to slow the contagion. And, with no cure at the present time and no vaccine expected for at least a year, COVID-19 is going to be around for a while.
That doesn’t mean we need to accept our current living conditions as the new normal. Hope is on the horizon and we will get back to familiar territory. In the meantime, though, we need to adapt and find the safest and most sustainable ways forward.
Here are some strategies that can help landlords navigate the weeks ahead:
Screening Tenants at a Distance
It always has been important to prequalify rental applicants before considering a property showing to avoid liabilities and wasting time. But in today’s environment, prequalifying prospects is absolutely essential. Right now, every social interaction counts. Why risk meeting with someone who ultimately will be rejected?
It remains important to verify a person’s identity before agreeing to lease the property. In past weeks, that was as simple as meeting face-to-face and asking to see a photo ID. Today, it means taking health precautions, like a face-to-face meeting over Skype and reviewing a scanned ID.
Focus on whether the face on the screen and the one on the ID match. From there, compare information provided during the prequalifying call — like current address — with the ID and then with the information provided on the rental application.
When meeting in person, continue to keep your distance, even if no official order is in place.
Watch for Scammers
At a time when it seems the world is upside down, tenants may get the impression that rules are out the window. Be clear in your rental ad and subsequent communications that tenant screening policies still are in place.
Professional tenants will find ways to use this crisis to their advantage. Stick to your tenant screening policies as best you can, making adjustments to keep a safe distance. Prequalify renters, verify identity, check references, and run a credit check just as you would in any situation.
Online applications are a major source of tenant fraud. That has not changed. Do not rely solely on documents when screening tenants. Find a way to verify identity and verify the information provided in the application. Speak with rental applicants multiple times to see if the information provided remains consistent.
Touring an occupied unit has always been tricky. Just ask any realtor. Potentially disgruntled occupants are all too happy to share their complaints with a prospect. Plus, the unit likely will be cluttered or messy and that doesn’t show well.
Right now, the problem is compounded by the risk that the current tenant won’t leave — or can’t leave — when the lease expires. Stay-at-home orders or quarantine may get in the way.
If possible, wait until the unit is vacant and disinfected before allowing property tours.
Instead, show off the unit digitally with a photo slideshow or video made from a patchwork of existing photos, like the ones used in the last rental ad. The property walk-through can be the last step in the leasing process.
If you don’t have photos and your current tenant is leaving voluntarily, ask him or her to take a few shots and send them your way. Chances are your tenant would rather play amateur photographer than risk a stranger in their space.
Perhaps the only fortunate side of coronavirus germs is their susceptibility to everyday disinfectants. Soap and water along with household disinfectants likely are enough to remove any risks.
While there are stronger cleaners available, it is important to know how these are to be applied. Look to the professionals before attempting any do-it-yourself treatments at the unit. Otherwise, you risk your own health and that of the next tenant.
On the other hand, natural cleaners like vinegar or other homemade concoctions may not be enough to kill germs and offer only a false sense of security that the unit is habitable for the next tenant.
Some cleaning companies are small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and may not be available when you need them. It may be necessary to check in with vendors and get on schedules farther in advance than usual.
Landlords with multifamily units have been encouraged to limit access to common areas where tenants might be at risk. The question now is how long to institute those restrictions before tenants feel they are not getting the value from their leases.
Landlords must balance providing what was promised in the tenancy agreement, meeting current emergency orders, and keeping the premises habitable.
The best strategy is to discuss the issue with individual tenants (virtually, of course) and get their input. There may be some things tenants are willing to give up, like playground equipment and community kitchens. Other areas, like laundry or conference rooms may be more important, especially where tenants are trying to work remotely. In those instances, work out ways that tenants can keep those places safe, like agreeing to wash their hands before they enter the rooms, or applying disinfecting wipes after every use.
Be a Friendly Voice
With tenants receiving conflicting messages during this crisis, landlords need to be the voice of reason. But this goes beyond educating tenants on their responsibilities under the lease agreement. Landlords also need to stay in touch.
Good communication with tenants has always been the cornerstone of business success for landlords. Today, being away from work and from friends and family is generating extreme levels of stress, loneliness, and a sense of isolation for many tenants. Don’t underestimate the value that can come from reaching out to them in a candid and compassionate way during this crisis.
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.