As the country grapples with the question of how to reopen safely and sanely, one of the main questions is whether shared outdoor recreation spaces can play their traditional part in summertime activities. What is summer without its pools, barbecue areas, and picnic spots?
While public facilities are subject to the rapidly changing -- and often very confusing -- mandates of community and state government, shared amenity spaces on multifamily property are almost an extension of the residents' homes. They expect access the same way people with pools in their single-family home backyards do.
To keep people sweet while also staying safe, how are community managers and corporate apartment complexes managing summer season in the age of physical distancing? Here are some of the rules and regulations we've seen larger developments rolling out successfully.
Lower occupancy -- 50% is the standard
This is often enforced by removing half the lounge chairs or other seats, as well as by having posted signs and spot checks. Since it's not the easiest thing for building management to be in a disciplinary/antagonistic role against residents, the removal of furniture and/or spacing furniture further apart helps achieve the needed result without confrontation.
But in a break with standard poolside practice, management in some places may instead ask people to bring their own portable outdoor chairs. This definitely was not the norm pre-pandemic, but "BOY beach chairs" is among the CDC's latest recommendations -- presumably because it's easier to do this than to have staff sanitize all chairs properly after each use. This may make sense for your community if it's spread out and near public recreation areas -- residents can just use their fold-up beach chairs poolside instead of at the beach.
Signups to use limited amenities
It wasn't unheard of before the pandemic for some complexes to require advance reservations for the grills, wet bar area, or clubhouse. This strategy is more popular than ever, because most people actually want some method of orderly sharing. Even before the pandemic, jostling for a place in the queue wasn't a favorite pastime, but now, safety is a factor as well as convenience. As a landlord or manager, you can use an email/call-in reservation system if you don't have a homeowners association (HOA)/residents' website.
Asking residents for signed "assumption of risk" waivers prior to access
Like many new strategies currently being tested, this one is certainly controversial. Collecting waivers releasing the building from liability used to be a step that only haunted houses and medical facilities worried about. Now, all multifamily landlords and community managers need to weigh the pros and cons.
On the one hand, it does emphasize the fact that a risk exists and that the building can't do everything to eliminate it. On the other, it allows people access to spaces and protects building owners from financial liability for the factors you can't control.
This new practice is perhaps the silver lining in the clouds for most residents. Almost all building managers feel obligated to splurge on daily cleaning -- not just once a day, but throughout the day in high-touch areas.
For management and owners, this is not so much of a blessing, since it does drive up expenses. However, as an owner or manager, look at it as being nudged into doing what you maybe should have done all along. Yes, the motivating factor was this virus, but there are plenty of other health conditions that people can pick up from a minimally kept-up pool zone, so maximum cleanliness is always a good idea.
To dive in or to stay dry? That is the dilemma
Landlords, like all business owners, find themselves in an ever more uncomfortable situation, as the defined shelter-in-place orders of spring give way to people's need for socialization and normality. From a resident satisfaction standpoint, if people pay a premium for shared amenities, they expect access to them. But from a risk assessment standpoint, owners must proceed with great caution.
There is no single proven way of keeping everyone happy right now, but in the "new normal," these are the measures that so far are proving somewhat effective.
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