Rental Housing - Need to Know

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COVID-19 Update

Apartment Management, staff, and landlords need to be aware of the potential issues relating to the spread of the Coronavirus. Actions taken by local, state, and national governmental agencies should be followed as they may apply to your communities. Obviously, the precautions advised by health authorities should be strictly adhered to and followed as best as possible.

Should any general announcements or notifications be made to tenants?

Other than changes in the operation of the community, no general announcements need to be made regarding the coronavirus. As management and landlords, you are not experts in this area. Residents should be relying upon the experts to make decisions concerning their activities.

NOTE for HOPA COMMUNITIES (communities for older adults)
Because it has been determined that the most vulnerable persons to the coronavirus are persons with compromised immune systems and older adults, HOPA communities may want to review activities and uses of community areas. HOPA communities that have interior hallways and other interior common areas may want to increase the cleaning of those areas particularly with emphasis on areas which may be touched frequently (door handles, light switches, etc.).

The primary concerns are the continued proper operation of the communities during this outbreak. Landlords should be concerned about potential residents (applicants), current residents, and staff. The goal should be towards minimizing the potential of exposure to the coronavirus.

As to employees.

Consideration should be given to limiting exposure to others by restricting access to the leasing office. Requesting communication by telephone or email. Current residents should be advised of any restrictions and given options for effective communication with management.

  1. Limiting maintenance to units that have confirmed no sickness or symptoms. When a maintenance request for a unit is made, inquiries can be made to determine if anyone in the unit is sick or has been exposed.
  2. Management will still need to handle “emergency” or critical repairs. Repairs that can wait, can be delayed.
  3. Sick employees should be required to go home. Employees who know they have been exposed should be asked to remain home. (It is likely that in the next few weeks MANY of us will be exposed. Most will not know that they have been exposed. Normal precautions should be taken assuming that someone has been exposed.)
  4. Clean and disinfect work spaces and areas that are frequently touched. Avoid too close of contact with each other. Avoid handshakes, and other physical contact. Remind staff to wash hands frequently and avoid touching face.
  5. Management will still need to function with leasing activities. Be cautious with prospective residents and applicants.
  6. If Management is aware of someone exposed or sick, proper action should be taken to ensure that staff does not have contact. However, Management should be careful to not allow that information to be disseminated outside of the staff that needs to know. Sharing that information could violate privacy laws relating to the individual.
As to tenants.

No need for management notices on general information about the coronavirus. If notices are deemed necessary, then keep those notices specific to the community. Discussions about cleaning their unit, use of facilities, etc.

  1. You can and probably should restrict usage of the leasing office/clubhouse.
  2. Consideration should be given to closing of fitness facilities. If not closing, at a minimum
  3. Management should be posting on fitness room and other amenities that residents/users should clean the equipment themselves before use.
    Management should consider enhancing the cleaning of the amenities (both thoroughness and number of times)
  4. If you are able to provide cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer in the fitness area, that would be appropriate.
  5. If you are able to provide hand sanitizers in the clubhouse, leasing office, fitness areas, etc. that would also be appropriate and helpful.
  6. Management should cancel any parties or gatherings sponsored by management.
  7. Use of any of the amenities by a resident that might entail a large gathering should be discouraged or cancelled.
  8. While outdoor amenities can be prepared for summer use, Management should evaluate the timing of the opening those amenities until there is better information on the status and progress of the coronavirus.

There is nothing that would allow for a current resident to use the coronavirus to require more from management than the contract provides. This coronavirus “crisis” does not give any rights to terminate a lease or to require modification of a lease. Management may get a reasonable accommodation request concerning someone that is disabled and might have more vulnerability to the coronavirus. Those should be discussed with legal counsel to review. It would be an unusual situation where it would apply.

Provided by the Law Offices if Kirk A. Cullimore 801-571-6611

How to handle April rent payments/get-of-lease issues because of Covid-19

(please gold section with the same name for more info and forms)

While most tenants will still have the means to pay April rent, there may legitimately be cases where someone was sick or quarantined or lost income because of business closures. In these cases, it is better if we as an industry have a sensitive and reasonable plan in place to avoid government action, such as broader rent waivers or eviction bans that will affect all our customers.

If a landlord, manager, or owner is in a position to do so - we are recommending the following:

  1. If tenants have a problem paying rent, we suggest you have a process to qualify them. (Please see "criteria " link below), but your criteria would likely require they be current on rent up till now, that they demonstrate they tested positive for the virus, were quarantined because of the virus, or lost work/income because of the virus. It wouldn’t be a blank check for anyone, just those actually affected
  2. Tenants would sign an addendum outlining how they would pay back the deferred rent (please see "addendum" link below). Landlords would have the option of having one lump sum paid by a certain date, or splitting payments up over a period of months.

FYI on Student Housing – College students are being told to do all studies online for now, and some want to go home and get out of their leases. You are not required, even if you are a part of BYU housing, to release them. However, in the interests of goodwill, and maybe as a condition of signing a new lease ​next year, we ask landlords to try to work with tenants if possible. Lease buy-outs are an option.

Utah Earthquake Update

While the recent earthquake could have been a lot worse, and major damages seem few and far between, what should you do if one of your rental properties sustained damage?

First, contact your insurance and/or other professionals to assess damage and determine repairs. Some places are seeing water damage from pipes breaking. Get water turned off and have professionals diagnose the issues. Begin repairs. Communicate and work with tenants. Other places are experiencing gas line breaks; get the gas shut off and contact your local utility company for repairs. Again, communicate and work tenants.

If tenants are afraid to re-enter the building and want to stay somewhere else, we suggest you be sensitive and work with them. Landlords are not responsible to pay for hotel rooms or other expenses. That should be covered on their renter’s insurance.

In the rare case where the building is uninhabitable, landlords can serve a “Landlord’s Notice of Uninhabitable Premises”. This notice tells tenants they have to move, since the place cannot be made habitable in the required 3 days. All prepaid rent and deposit must be returned. The tenant has 10 days to move.

Frequently Asked Questions

You as the landlord/manager have no obligation for how people report and act while infected with COVID-19. Please see the section "As to tenants" above. However; we recommend tenants follow the CDC's guidelines for self isolation, physical distancing, and increased sanitation practice. You can refer all of your residents to these recommendations. 

While it is best practice to check your property for damage, leaks, and breaks there is no 'clearance' your property must receive in order to allow tenants to continue living there. If there is damage discovered and you are not in a position to remidee it in a timely manner the tenant may have the right to vacate the property. For more info see our section above on the earthquake or UAA education material on the Utah Fit Premises Act.

So far it appears that the measures taken by the president's administration only affects HUD loans and HUD owned rental properties; however, this situation is fluid and we will update you as updates come through. But for now it only affects those properties.

Right now the recommendation is that landlords, who are in a position to do so, work with tenants who may be struggling to come up with April's rents as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. For information on how to do so please see the section above titled "how to handle April's rent payment".

This is partially true. Right now the courts are not meeting as they are trying to practice social distancing recommendations. This is a very temporary situation that should only last a couple of weeks. Evictions are allowed to proceed forward but you should anticipate court proceedings to take a few weeks longer than normal. (side note: this is another good reason to potentially work with tenants struggling with April's rent if you are in a position to do so)

You as the property owner/manager are not required to do any of these things. However, it is best practice for all of us to do our part in helping prevent the spread of communal diseases. We would encourage you to take any appropriate action you see fit to play your part in this community effort.