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Ensuring Safety in Crisis: A Property Manager's Guide to Preparing for Emergencies and Disasters

Ensuring Safety in Crisis: A Property Manager's Guide to Preparing for Emergencies and Disasters

As property managers, it is our responsibility to ensure that tenants are safe in your rental property. We also work hard to protect your investment. We can’t do that if we’re not prepared for unexpected emergencies and potential disasters. 

Unfortunately, emergencies and disasters, by their very nature, strike without warning. Sometimes, it’s serious enough to put lives in danger. More often, the emergency or the unexpected disaster will lead to expensive property damage and a disruption to the rental process. 

Whether natural or accidental, we want to make sure that if an emergency does occur, we have a plan to work our way through it that prioritizes tenant safety and property protection. 

Here’s how we can ensure safety in a crisis. 

Before the Emergency: How to Prepare 

There are steps you can take before a crisis lands on your doorstep. For example, if there’s a hurricane warning, you’ll have a few days to take in the patio furniture, stockpile water, and discuss evacuation and safety plans with tenants. You can have procedures in place for what to do if there’s a flood or a fire. 

Planning before the emergency can look like this:

  • Know Where Your Liability Lays 

Where are you most likely to have an emergency, and what will that crisis most likely be? 

An emergency is always going to be devastating. Even if it’s easy to recover from; a roof caving in, for example, or a fire contained to the kitchen, you’re going to have trouble rebounding, even as you work through insurance claims and repair and rebuild. 

Knowing this, you’ll want to prepare for these unpleasant possibilities by identifying any potential liabilities. Hurricanes can easily be a risk in Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Portsmouth, and the local region. There could be an unexpected snowstorm in the winter or a deep freeze that causes all the pipes to burst in your rental home. 

You know that there’s less of a risk of earthquakes. 

Know your ongoing risks and where your property is most vulnerable. Think about the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic; you cannot always see where those liabilities lay. But, when you do know where most of your risk can be found, you can take the necessary steps to mitigate it. 

There’s the risk that comes with location, and there’s also the risk that comes with your specific property. Get to know those as well. 

As property managers, we have found that emergency preparedness is one of the last things people think about when they’re renting out a home, but it’s actually one of the first things you should be thinking about, especially as an investor who owns valuable assets

  • Update Contact Information and Local Resources

Keep your tenants safe during an emergency by keeping them informed. They’ll need to have access to resources and helplines. 

One of the first things you can do to prepare yourself and your tenants for potential crises is to identify your local and state authorities. Make sure you have an up to date contact information list for your resident as well. Everyone will need to stay in touch with each other, so landlords and residents have to know how to contact one another. 

You also need the contact information for your city, state, and federal emergency responders. You’ll want to access any information that comes out of the city right away. If the mayor issues an order or the governor declares a state of emergency, you’ll want to know what’s happening so you can register the information yourself and share it with your residents. 

Quick access will make a big difference in how you respond during the actual event. 

  • Educate Your Tenants on the Property and Emergency Procedures

Help tenants keep themselves safe by ensuring they understand the functions of your property. They should know how to turn off the water and the gas. They should know where the circuit breakers are and what the evacuation routes are out of town. 

Share any information you have before tenants even move in so they can have an easy guide on what to do if there’s a crisis or an unexpected emergency. Tell them where all utility access points are. 

Put all of this in writing. Prepare a manual for your residents and include it with the lease agreement and their other move-in documents. If you can provide an emergency plan before the emergency occurs, you will be in a much better place and so will your residents. Your investment property will also be safer. 

Think about everything your resident might need to prepare, from the location of the shut off valves to the phone numbers for the Health Department or the CDC or Poison Control. Many times, it’s hard to think clearly in the heat of an emergency. It could be hard or time-consuming to find the right information, and that’s why it’s so important to be prepared and armed with information ahead of time. 

  • Communication Will Be Critical in Emergencies

Part of preparing for a crisis is setting yourself up for easy and open communication during that emergency. Communication will be one of the most important things to manage when people are scared and uncertain. We always say that over-communicating is better than not communicating enough. 

Roll out the emergency plan and its corresponding communication strategies with your tenants before the emergency happens. You might have a contact card for all your local and state authorities. Your residents can easily know how to reach the Health Department, the nearest hospital, the fire department. They can access information coming from the mayor or the governor’s office. The state or the city may put restrictions in place that affect your investment property, and both you and your residents will need to know about it. 

Put together a checklist for your residents, and then you will know that not only are you prepared – your residents are as well. This will put you in a much stronger position, making it easier to bounce back and recover from an emergency when you had those crisis plans in place ahead of time. 

Managing an Emergency While It’s Happening

When you’re in the middle of an emergency that affects your tenants and your rental property, there are some things that you need to think about immediately to stop the emergency and then respond to it effectively. When you get the phone call that every landlord dreads, you need to stay calm and think professionally.  

  • Stop the Bleeding

The first thing you want to do is to make sure the emergency doesn’t have an opportunity to grow bigger or more difficult. You’ll need a well-informed resident who understands what to do during specific emergencies. 

Stop the emergency by mitigating any further damage. This might mean turning off the water if it’s a flood from inside the house. Call the fire department if there’s something burning inside the house. During an emergency, you want to be sure your resident is doing everything possible to protect human life and to reduce the likelihood that the emergency will get worse. 

  • Assess the Damage

Once the initial damage is done and the crisis is stopped, the appropriate restoration methods can be undertaken. This is where the damage will be assessed and some context will be given to the overall situation. Water restoration companies can be called, for example. Insurance claims can be initiated. 

The first step is knowing who to contact and how to deal with the immediate response according to the situation. That first response will depend on the emergency; you and your resident will respond differently if it’s a maintenance emergency or a hurricane. 

  • Protect the Safety and Security of Your Resident

The first thing any good landlord will think about during an emergency at their property is the safety and security of the resident. There are people living in the property that you rent out, and their health and safety while inside that home is one of your greatest priorities. So, make sure you’re taking actions that reflect that concern for human life. You want your residents to know that they must get out of the property right away if there’s a fire. Make sure they know where the emergency exits are if they’re living in a multi-family building or an apartment complex. Help them to stop the emergency and get out of harm’s way. 

People get emotional. You’re running a business, but that business has people inside of it, and all of their worldly belongings are probably in your property. Your residents, understandably, are going to be emotional. That’s why it’s so important that you remain calm, professional, and reasonable. As the property owner, you need to provide leadership through any crisis. 

Time is of the essence during emergencies at your rental property. Take the necessary precautions so that you can minimize the damage done to your investment and your renters. 

Contact ManagementWould you like to talk about an emergency plan that’s specific to your investment property? We can help. Please contact us at Doud Realty Services, Inc. We provide expert property management in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton Roads, as well as surrounding areas such as Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Chesapeake, and Newport News.