Communicating with Tenants during COVID-19
Communicating with tenants during the pandemic can be challenging.
With social distancing, lockdowns, and safety measures in place, sometimes you can’t talk to your tenants in person like you used to do. Maybe they’re just terrible at answering emails, or maybe they’re using the pandemic as an excuse to dodge your calls when rent is overdue, but either way, having to rely on communication from a distance can be tough.
This can lead to a disconnect between you and your tenants, especially if you don’t have systems in place to communicate effectively through other channels.
So here are some ways to remain connected to your tenants and stay informed of what’s happening with your investment properties during any imposed COVID restrictions.
Keep consistent communication via contactless means
These channels are perfect for one-on-one communications:
a. Phone calls
b. SMS (texts)
c. Online messaging apps (Whatsapp, Viber, etc.)
NOTE: As we always recommend, make sure you document all communications for your records, as tenants sometimes have short memories, or will try to skew things their way in the event of a dispute. Take screenshots of your texts, etc., to make sure you always have communications saved on file.
However, depending on the age of your tenants, you may have to rely more heavily on phone calls (and good, ol’ fashioned snail mail), as they may not be savvy to online forms of communication.
If you’re a real estate mogul with several tenants, you may want to be able to send the same message to all of them at the same time. To disseminate information to all your tenants quickly, you can contact them through:
a. Create an email mailing group
b. Send out a group SMS
c. Use tenant management systems
Just make sure that you hide the contact info of each tenant from others receiving the message, to avoid giving away any sensitive information.
Inform them of your COVID-19 policy
You can assuage tenants’ concerns during these uncertain times and by implementing clear protocols for health and safety measures, and communicating these to all your tenants proactively. This is especially important in populous rental properties like apartment buildings, condominiums, and multi-family homes.
Below are common protocols being implemented in rental properties across the nation:
a. Request your tenants to report if they have any symptoms of the virus, or if they test positive. You need to
b. If there’s a potential COVID infection in your multi-family property, try to isolate the individual. This includes locking down the floor where the individual’s unit is located and asking them to self-isolate for 14 days, or until they test negative. Ensure that they have access to food, water, and other necessities while in quarantine.
c. If you have other tenants in the same building, announce the COVID case without identifying the individual, alongside your plan to contain the spread. This keeps everyone informed and assures them that you’re on top of the situation while protecting the privacy of the infected individual.
d. Draft a letter to send to all of your tenants, informing them of the proper reporting process and what you’re doing to adhere to health and safety guidelines during the pandemic. This will put them at ease, and save you a lot of time answering questions down the road.
Make communication valuable
YOU communicating with tenants is one thing. Getting them to respond is another.
If they see that you’re providing them with important news updates, essential advice, and information relevant to their tenancy, they might be more likely to engage with your communications overall.
Here’s some information that’s valuable for tenants right now:
a. Safety reminders and protocols
b. Official processes for reporting, especially if they show COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to it
c. Changes to the tenancy process (e.g. implementing digital rent payments, virtual inspections, etc.)
d. How to get in touch with you during the pandemic
e. Answers to any questions or concerns they have raised previously, or which you foresee being a concern in the future
If your tenants know your emails contain useful info, they might be more likely to open them (like when you’re sending a reminder about late rent payments).
Manage rent payment issues proactively
Partial, late, and missing rent payments are some of the biggest problems facing the rental industry right now. Here are some concerning statistics from the Economic Policy Institute:
a. Although the national unemployment rate decreased to 6.7%, this was largely due to people, the workforce—not people getting their jobs back.
b. More than a third (36.9%) of unemployed workers have been without jobs for more than 6 months already.
c. The pandemic unemployment insurance (UI) benefits will expire by December 26, leaving 12 million workers without a Plan B, and over 4 million others with depleted resources after Christmas.
The bottom line? The pandemic is making it more difficult than ever for tenants to pay their rent in full and on time, meaning landlords are feeling the strain as well. With mortgages, insurance, taxes, and bills to pay, the loss of rental revenues can be a huge blow to any rental investor, especially those with smaller portfolios.
In Michigan and the rest of the country, the eviction moratorium imposed by the CDC is coming to an end, so landlords can finally begin proceedings against rent-delinquent tenants. However, with a backlog of cases hitting courts, these proceedings could take significantly longer than usual – adding up to even more lost revenue for homeowners in the meantime.
The solution? Stay on top of your tenants!
There are a few ways you can do this, and hopefully, avoid an eviction scenario during the pandemic:
a. Set online alerts and reminders (via Google Calendar or a tenant management tool) to automatically inform tenants when payments are due.
b. Schedule automatic follow-up emails for any tenants who haven’t paid on time.
c. Offer incentives for early rent payment (like $50 off the next month’s rent).
d. Require tenants to inform you of any changes to their employment situation.
3. Encourage them to remain transparent with you about their financial situation and work with you for a win-win solution by offering a payment plan, if you can afford to do so.
At the end of the day, no one is going to be responsible for collecting rents, aside from you (unless you have a dedicated property management company). Especially in the current environment, it’s more important than ever to know what’s happening with your tenants and properties, so you can manage the situation before it gets out of hand.
The pandemic has affected every part of our world, forcing many to rethink the way they manage their rental businesses.
One of the best ways to keep your rental business operating smoothly through these unprecedented times is by communicating with tenants. Stay in touch with them, share valuable information for their benefit, have a clear protocol in place to manage possible COVID cases, and proactively follow up on late rents.
Your tenants are as much part of your rental investment as the properties themselves. Maintaining stable, open communication with them will help your rental business adapt to the challenges which the industry currently faces.
Have you been keeping in contact with your tenants during this pandemic? Any tips that we’ve missed?
Image courtesy of Cottonbro