Over the past month, Grace Hill, a software company that surveys multifamily industry, has been working with some 1,600 multifamily clients to help them to determine exactly what they should tell tenants about coronavirus infections in their buildings. Many have been struggling to navigate not only the legal limits as to what they can say as well as best practices, CEO Dru Armstrong tells GlobeSt.com.
First, the obvious: When a resident notifies property management that they are confirmed as having COVID-19, the property manager has a set of policies to follow that applies to not only to the residents but also the employees, she says, which includes precautions that need to be taken, such as deep cleaning of public space. Also, if they choose to inform residents—and many property managers have—of an infection, they cannot disclose the resident’s name or any additional information that could be used to identify that resident.
“There are both legal and practical reasons for that,” Armstrong says. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits disclosure but perhaps more importantly, residents are not legally required to admit their health status, and this is information that property managers want to have. If the residents think they will be outed, they will be less inclined to let property managers know about their status, Armstrong explains.
“The best practice today is to make a disclosure and notify residents but not provide identity so residents can take precautionary measures,” Armstrong says.
However, there is a growing sense that this may not be a good idea going forward, Armstrong says. Especially in peak cities such as New York, some property managers are taking the view that such disclosures, which are not required, only increase the stress among residents, who should be assuming that the coronavirus is everywhere.
“What I am starting to hear in New York is as the percentage of population goes up in confirmations some property managers are changing gears and have notified residents they will no longer disclose and residents should act as if there is the likelihood of an infection in the building,” Armstrong says.
“Property managers are trying to strike a balance in making their residents feel safe in their homes while taking preventative measures to prevent an outbreak. This is shifting day by day and region by region as to what policies and procedures they are following,” she says.
This is not to say property managers are scaling back their communication with tenants. One best practice they are following is to keep the communication lines open, explaining to residents very clearly about the preventative measures they are taking, Armstrong says.
“The other thing we see property managers do is communicate what services they are providing to residents and what they are not. Right now for maintenance, most property managers are only providing essential services.” The property manager should be very transparent with residents in how they are handling service requests, she adds.
Property managers are also being proactive in asking residents questions about whether they have been exposed when they do take a maintenance request, Armstrong says. “That allows them to prepare the maintenance technicians.”