As the sirens steam by with the wild weather battering much of the east coast this month many property managers may be already fielding distraught emergency phone calls. And if not they are mentally preparing for the possible onslaught of calls, messages and emails with damage, emergencies and concerns.
This can be a difficult time for even the most experienced of us, not to mention those without experience in dealing with natural disasters on their portfolios. If your office has an emergency/disaster procedure, it’s time to implement that.
Otherwise, here are some some tips to help you deal with the next few days or any future disaster:
Get yourself organised
Consider how to best utilise your trust accounts software, CRMs, social media and e-marketing platforms during this time to communicate with your clients of emergency details and updates.
You could update your voicemails to provide updates and instructions on lodging requests
Utilise your email out of office/auto reply to give them instructions and expectations on response times and updates
Consider postponing any non urgent tasks such as scheduled routines, meetings and repairs that are not necessary at this time. People are usually fine with delays as long as they are communicated with.
Consider creating a form or checklist for incoming repairs to ensure all necessary information is collected to minimise back and forward contact.
Check your legislation
Different states have different legislation on responsibilities during disasters, what is deemed uninhabitable (when a lease is effectively terminated) and where landlord obligations lie in regards to re-housing, rental compensation etc. Evacuate properties only where necessary, click here for information on NSW legislation.
Get ahead with tenants
Where possible, send a bulk SMS or email out to all of your tenants providing sympathy for anyone experiencing issues, instructions on who to call for emergencies - i.e. SES
Consider emailing them with instructions of how to best lodge any repair requests with your office in order to help you best deal with them, asking them to include photos/videos for instance.
Also consider providing details of any emergency evacuation centres that have been set up in the local area.
Pre-frame with them that you will have a influx of repairs to deal with and that response times may be delayed.
Consider advice around switching off electricity and gas in extreme cases
Send a bulk communication out to your landlords too letting them know that you’ve provided emergency details to tenants and that you will be working through the maintenance issues in order of urgency.
Remind them of their emergency repair clause within their agency agreement and that whilst every attempt will be made to keep them up to date, with the increased workload there may be slight delays in keeping them communicated while you prioritise getting the repairs attended to.
Perhaps consider pre-framing the possibility of rent reductions and uninhabitable premises.
Ask them to provide up to date insurer details if you do not hold them on file
Remember that for many their homes and belongings have been damaged of destroyed, everyone handles these situations differently and you may come across upset and seemingly unreasonable people.
Try approach all calls and situations from an angle of empathy even if you are feeling stressed and the other person is irate. You may take on the role of a pseudo counsellor at times. Remember the importance of listening and do not take anything personally.
Look after yourself, fielding angry and frustrated phone calls can be very draining. Try to ensure you look after your own health and wellbeing. As they say sometimes you need to fit your own oxygen mask so you can best help others.
Where possible speak to your contractors in advance to determine their work load, expected response time frames, and their best suggestions in minimising damage to the property in the meantime, knowing where they are at will help you communicate with your tenants and landlords.
Consider contacting additional contractors to help with the additional workload during this time, speak to friends and family to see who knows other reliable contractors – ensure you get a copy of their insurance details first.
Triage all incoming issues.
Whilst continuing to log all repairs into the system as normal, consider setting up a “triage” board or spreadsheet in your office with a rating or category system to log each issue that comes in- similar to what they have to do in an emergency room in a hospital. This will help you immensely when you’re feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do first.
Each few hours, re-group as a team and reprioritise what you are working on.
Give support staff dialogue
Provide your reception and support team with the best dialogue to be answering phone and message, minimising stress of incoming calls, ensuring they know all information to collect so there is minimal going back to tenants to ask for more information.
Be as meticulous as possible in keeping records and documentation. Especially where it comes to do with compensation or time away from the premises. Keeping thorough notes and documentation on the situations, it will make your life easier when processing insurance claims, rental compensation and resolving issues down the track.
Where tenants are requesting compensation, remember that a landlord is not required to compensate a tenant for damage to the tenants belongings, this would need to be covered by their own contents insurance- the tenant should be advised this at the start of the tenancy.
Remember it is okay to defer this conversation, when requested you can let the tenants know that whilst you can’t promise anything you will work on coming to an agreement in regards to this, but your main focus is getting the issue resolved right now.
If the tenancy is ended permanently, no rent is payable from the day the tenant moves out. Any rent already paid in advance must be fully refunded to the tenant.
If the tenant moves out temporarily or continues living in the partially damaged premises, the rent should be waived or reduced. Whether any rent is payable at all and, if so, the level of reduction will depend on the extent of the damage and the amount of use the tenant has of the premises.
My least favourite part but check if your managing agency agreement includes a disaster management fee. After all, if a natural disaster occurs your management resources will be pushed to the limit and you may need to pay existing staff over time. It may seem harsh to push for this during during a time of hardship however ensuring your agency is remunerated adequately for managing properties through a natural disaster is important.
Once everything has died down be sure to acknowledge the good work and dedication you and your team have exhibited during this time.
Review how it went, what worked well, what didn't work well and what do you need to change/implement to ensure it works better next time.
Above all, stay patient and calm, if you feel very overwhelmed, I suggest taking a moment to breath and re-organise yourself. And if you need any help or support, contact me via email or on 0413897076.
What other tips to you have for dealing with disasters? Post here to share with your peers.