What a Landlord Needs to Do to Prepare for Disaster
While I was on vacation in Switzerland in September of this year Florida residents saw the awesome power of nature as Hurricane Irma tore through southern Florida. The strongest of its kind in over 10 years, Irma killed more than 100 people and caused over $60 billion in damage.
“Whenever something like this happens, I’m reminded of how challenging it can be for landlords to secure their tenants and properties in the midst of a crisis.”
- What do you do when an apartment fire wipes out a quarter of your units? How do you get your remaining tenants to safety and who do you call once the smoke clears?
- How do you handle forced evacuation due to a natural gas leak? What’s the quickest way to communicate the issue to everyone who needs to know?
- What do you do when a water pipe bursts on the fourth floor and causes significant damage to each of the apartments below it? Who will you call to do the remediation and how long will those units be out of service?
These types of crisis situations happen every day. Unless we, as landlords, prepare for them in advance, we’ll find ourselves scrambling to cover our bases.
That’s why I have a crisis management plan for every one of my properties. In the event of an emergency, I want my on-site personnel to know what they need to do to ensure the safety of every tenant and the security of the property.
Do you have a crisis management plan in place for your properties? If not, then keep reading as I share what I take to be four crucial elements in preparing your properties for a crisis.
1. Establish a Chain of Command
“When disaster strikes, someone needs to take charge — especially if you’re not close enough to the property to offer direct supervision.”
The first thing you should do in preparing a crisis management plan is to designate an authorized representative to act as your point person on site. He or she can be someone from your property management company or your on-site manager.
In your written plan (see step #3 below), you’ll declare your on-site point person and, from there, delegate further responsibilities to him or her along with any other staff you deem appropriate. When it comes to notifying residents, contacting emergency services, and engaging contractors, you want to make it clear who is expected to do what.
2. Set Up Simple Communication Channels
In the event of an emergency, you need a quick and easy way to get the word out to every tenant. In a smaller building, that may be as simple as sending staff to knock on doors.
In a larger complex, however, that just won’t work. Thankfully, digital technology has given us several ways to reach a large block of people in a short amount of time.
To that end, I’d recommend you set each of your tenants up in a mass texting service like WeText or Textedly. That way, when disaster strikes and you need to get the word out immediately, you can reach everyone without delay.
Once the dust settles and you’re ready to communicate more detailed information, email is a helpful tool. It is not, however, a reliable medium for urgent communication.
3. Develop a Written Plan
You should talk with each of your on-site staff members about their responsibilities in the event of an emergency. Still, you can’t rely on memory or personal judgment to prevail in a crisis. You need a written plan to make sure everyone plays their part.
In your written plan, make sure to highlight your top priorities:
- Safety – Warning your tenants of imminent danger and keeping them out of harm’s way should be at the top of your list.
- Security – Once you’ve ensured the safety of your residents, the property itself and its contents should be secured from further damage or potential theft.
- Settlement – After the tenants are safe and the property is secure, you can begin to call insurance claims adjustors, vendors, contractors, etc.
Include a property-specific evacuation procedure in your written disaster plan. Additionally, provide instructions for sheltering in place in the event of a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other natural disasters.
If you’ve hired a property management company, then they should have their own plan in place for these types of situations. Review it with your property manager. If they don’t have one, work with them to develop one as soon as possible.
4. Prepare to Respond to the Media
Whenever a crisis occurs at one of your properties, you can expect the local news media to follow closely behind. Unfortunately, you, as the landlord, can expect to be cast as the villain—regardless of whether or not you’re at fault.
As a rule, instruct your on-site personnel to defer all media requests directly to you. The last thing you want is one of your employees doing an on-air interview with your smoldering apartment building in the background.
Keep in mind that instinct #1 for most journalists today is to sensationalize. Keep your cool and calmly answer whatever questions you’re able to address. Assure reporters that you’re working swiftly to take care of your tenants’ needs.
Note: If there are any questions of legal liability, it would be wise to contact your lawyer before responding to the media.
Unfortunately, disaster strikes from time to time. There’s nothing you or I can do to prevent that. What we can do is prepare ourselves so that, when disaster does come knocking, we can address it with calm and prudence.
If you can learn to handle a crisis with the same diligence and care that you bring to every other aspect of your businesses, you’ll be prepared to weather whatever storm crops up in the future. All it takes is a little forethought and preparation.