As social distancing restrictions ease, property management companies are beginning to catch up on their backlogs of multifamily maintenance work orders.
The spread of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders have necessitated deviating from normal property management maintenance routines. A big challenge has been ensuring that properties continue to resolve work orders while maintaining social distancing protocol. Another is determining comfort levels between workers and residents.
At the onset of the coronavirus, many properties addressed only emergency maintenance requests. Other issues had to wait. Some encouraged residents to fix minor issues, offering instructional how-to videos for easy things like unclogging a sink or fixing a toilet flapper.
For bigger problems, apartment maintenance teams were dispatched, with technicians wearing personal protective equipment and observing distancing to reduce the spread of the virus.
Some property management companies are still operating with limited exposure to residents, but in areas where restrictions are easing, others have started addressing preventative maintenance and other non-essential work more freely.
Still, property managers remain mindful of safety protocols and resident fears about outsiders in their apartments.
It’s a fragile balance. Resident portal solutions and mobile maintenance technology are playing key roles in helping maintenance teams get caught up while reassuring employees and residents that necessary safety protocols are in place.
Addressing backlogs with DIY help from residents
Resident portals are bridging gaps between residents and staff through email, text, chat, and other forms of communication. During the pandemic, they have enabled residents to pay rent online, communicate with office staff, and schedule maintenance requests when visiting the front office wasn’t an option.
Apartment industry leaders say they have been forced to get creative with the portal technology just to keep maintenance processes going – with a little help from residents.
CamdenLiving has relied on ActiveBuilding to show residents how to address minor maintenance issues when technicians aren’t available. As residents do it themselves, the company is addressing backlogs of issues that require more experienced attention.
Executive Vice President Laurie Baker says CamdenLiving posted notice of minor issues that residents could address instead of requesting that a service technician enter their apartments.
At some properties, residents embraced DIY maintenance with a can-do spirit, knowing the maintenance team was just a phone call or text away if things went wrong. Baker said many tackled minor problems, which reduced the need for interaction and allowed maintenance technicians to address bigger issues.
“We've been very surprised at how many of our residents took care of some of the minor maintenance needs,” Baker said.
Creating comfort levels between staff, residents
Following up on work orders requested during the COVID-19 lockdown has been a priority at AMLI Management. Before working through its backlog of requests, the company established some ground rules to ensure resident and staff safety.
Using online communication, properties implemented pre-screening measures as a way to establish a comfort level between residents and multifamily maintenance personnel to get the necessary work done.
Before technicians tackle a work order, residents are first asked a few questions, including whether they have had COVID-19 symptoms. Also, technicians wear personal protective equipment when doing the work inside the apartment.
Communicating the protocols has assured residents and employees as non-essential work orders and routine maintenance are addressed.
“I think the key is ensuring that as we're working through the backlog of work orders, both our employees and residents feel safe and that they see us using PPE as we enter their apartments,” says AMLI President and CEO Maria Banks.
Underscoring the importance of multifamily maintenance
Baker says that while the do-it-yourself videos have helped residents resolve some issues, CamdenLiving is making sure residents are hearing from staff in real-time.
Like AMLI, the company is placing a big emphasis on following up on those minor issues.
“We are constantly communicating with them through our portal with emails, letting them know we're here for them,” Baker says. “If they have something minor that came up two months ago, we'll ask if it's still an issue. And many times, we're learning that they've already taken care of it. So we'll continue to work through that backlog.”
Tammy Freiling, executive vice president at Kairoi Residential, says her company is employing similar methods to get caught up.
“Taskforces” that specialize in certain areas of maintenance are addressing backlogs of work at some properties.
All these approaches underscore the importance of maintenance, which consistently ranks at the top of the list of customer satisfaction criteria in multifamily.
"One thing you never want at your property is a backlog of maintenance. It’s not good for residents, and it's not good for the property," Freiling concludes.
Learn more about providing peerless maintenance even in tough times at this link: facilities management.