How To Handle Rental Maintenance During COVID-19

How to handle rental maintenance, along with personal protective wear and equipment, was covered by Paul Rhodes, National Safety and Maintenance Instructor at the National Apartment Association Education Institute, during a recent video.

Rhodes said in handling rental maintenance during COVID-19 the first thing in dealing with maintenance in our communities is that “everybody’s on the same page.

“I think that what we should be starting with is clear, consistent communication with our residents.”

Rental maintenance and communication with residents

“First, let’s make sure that we send out information to our residents, letting them know that we’re here,” Rhodes said. “We are still here to provide service that is expected because ultimately we’re looking to make sure that both our technicians, our buildings, and our residents are all being safe.

It might be a good idea to remind residents that if they call for service, we are going to be coming from other apartments and that we will be taking appropriate precautions.

It’s also a good opportunity to spread more good information. In other words, give the CDC latest guidance webpages or information, plus if there’s any local resources that our city or County or municipality has and can provide for our residents.

Fire, flood and blood emergencies

We want to make sure that our residents are aware of the fact that we are going to respond to an emergency, Rhodes said.

“As far as what constitutes an emergency that’s going to change community to community, or management company to management company, but the ultimate slang saying of fire, flood, and blood still does apply.

“Be sure that it’s clear what we’re going to be responding for and any phone calls, or email messages, or anything like that that comes in, we’re going to do and attend to as quickly as possible,” he said.

A good time for cross training for office and maintenance

Right now a lot of communities are experiencing some different working hours and different staffing levels with people working from home or more remote work occurring.

“Be sure that maintenance is familiar with the important aspects of procedures regarding a lease document. For instance, what are the lockout procedures that we are to go through to make sure that we do everything properly?

“If maintenance receives a message from a resident, or from a prospective resident, make sure that maintenance knows exactly the correct information to have on hand and what details are important and which ones aren’t.

“In much the same way that maintenance needs to train the office for service requests when we receive those, what all that important information is. What we’re looking for here is to make sure that everybody presents a consistent message, a consistent communication.

In the case of the office, “make sure that they know not only where important things, like cutoff valves, are located, but also how they work.

“When you turn a gate valve, you will have to turn that knob multiple times in order to shut off the water, but if it’s a ball valve, you only turn that a quarter of a turn.

“Be sure that the office, when they answer the phone, knows the practices, common communication skills for how to reset a breaker, a ground fault circuit interrupter, or a garbage disposal.

“This is also a good time for the entire office staff, and maintenance staff, to make sure that we have updated contact information and that everybody’s on the same page about who to contact in the event of what particular situation,” Rhodes said.

Gloves and personal protective equipment

In the precautions “we’re suggesting for maintenance include gloves. It’s a good idea to put them on in front of the resident, that way they know they’re fresh and know that we’re not using a leftover from different tasks or different areas,” Rhodes said.

Personal protective equipment for maintenance is important and can extend to everyone on staff. “Washing hands is the most important thing that we can do to prevent the spread of what is happening. And it’s a good idea to do it regularly. Make sure and follow all the guidance for at least 20 seconds using soap,” Rhodes said.

“Gloves should be used. A new pair for each apartment and task. Make sure that you order more before you run out. Yes, suppliers now are reporting that they are very, very short on stock. However, they will be getting resupplied.

“Be sure if you’re not familiar with the proper donning and doffing procedure, that’s just a name for putting gloves on and taking them off in a proper method, so that we’re not cross contaminating ourselves or our work areas.”

Be sure we keep our work areas good and clean. Not only that, even the World Health Organization (WHO) is talking about the fact that using gloves is not a perfect system. Washing your hands is more important than using gloves, and hand sanitizers should not be viewed as a replacement.

Wearing masks

Rhodes said, “Masks should not be used unless you’re a caregiver, or you are infected, or there’s a worry of you being infected.

“Those guidelines come directly from the CDC and the WHO. And a little side note, for those of us that happen to have a little bit of facial hair, if you are looking to wear a mask, if you have facial hair, they don’t do much other than make you look a little bit silly.”

Shoe covers

He said shoe covers are “wonderful items” as long as they apply to what you are doing. “If we’re going to go into a resident’s apartment and we have to get up on a ladder or we end up standing on a surface that is slippery or slick, shoe covers may actually provide more danger than then what they solve, or what they prevent from occurring.”

Is it an emergency? Can we solve this with a phone call?

How about some considerations or things to look at for all service requests, whether it’s an emergency or urgent?

When a resident calls maintenance the question should be asked, “Can we solve this with a phone call? In other words, can I talk the resident through a self-repair or self-care? What about our policies for suspending non-essential repairs? And what are we going to tell residents as far as a speed or a response that is going to occur?”

Entering the resident’s home

Maintenance should be aware of the fact that when we do go into somebody’s home right now with as many schools being closed, children are going to be home during the day.

“That means that when we go into a resident’s apartment and we’ve got tools and all of our working in working conditions, kids will be around. Please be aware of safety in the extra trip hazards that tools can have.”

Also since many residents are now working from home, maintenance needs to be aware that “noise or distractions for them may add extra stress. “

He said to remember the maintenance staff in this time of stress is “even more the face of  our management companies, our staff, our working family. And in this time of increased stress, smile. It’s very possible you could be the only outside person that a quarantined family, or a family that is staying safe in place, gets to see.

“We’re going to make it through this together and we can serve that purpose for our residents and for our communities.

“Ultimately, stay home if you’re sick. We don’t want to contaminate or we don’t want to contaminate our work environment or get anybody else sick that we’re around, especially carrying it back home to our families,” Rhodes said.

The NAA said in the release for more information on this topic and others related to COVID-19, view our coronavirus resources and guidance page where new resources and information is updated daily.

In addition, the NAA said they have a new email address, “Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or concerns you have to that email address and they will be addressed as soon as possible.”