Ask member support: managing new tenancies during the COVID-19 pandemic
My organization is unsure about how we should handle unit turnovers. We have a new resident who has arranged to move into an apartment next week. Is it okay to have someone moving in or should we try to reschedule if it’s at all possible? We also have some units available that we’d like to fill – is it possible to show units or enter into new lease agreements at this time?
We understand that there is a lack of clarity around what services housing providers are able to offer right now in terms of managing unit turnovers. The fact is that you can apply discretion in your unit turnover procedures but you should first check in with your service manager to see what they recommend and to ensure you understand any directives they have in place.
We recommend that you update your business continuity plan with procedures for managing new occupancies of empty units, move-out processes, and new leases in occupied units if they are not already in place.
New tenants moving in
For new tenants who have a signed lease, you must allow them to move in under the terms of the lease to remain compliant with the Residential Tenancies Act. If the tenant is willing to sign a lease amendment, you may be able to amend the start date of the lease. However, we recommend that you arrange to have them move in on their scheduled start dates, as their previous leases are likely expiring and they will need to take possession of the unit to remain housed. Social distancing requirements will likely be in place in one form or another for some time and there will be a limit as to how long tenants can delay their moves.
Moving services are considered essential and have been excluded from Ontario’s closure of non-essential workplaces. If new residents have planned to use a moving service, they may find that companies have modified their services or ceased operations temporarily due to the pandemic. Encourage soon-to-be residents that you know to be using a moving company to check in with them regarding any changes to their services.
You can help new residents move in safely by taking steps to ensure that the movers are practicing social distancing and that staff who enter the unit are following health and safety protocols in washing their hands diligently. Hopefully, you’ve been able to install hand sanitizer dispensers in common areas to assist with hygiene practices. You may also apply a screening protocol to limit access to the building to only staff who are not showing symptoms.
Showing units and entering into new leases
Empty units are of course a major concern in terms of lost revenue. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for every organization. Much of what you can do will depend on your staffing levels, budget and available skillsets. Check out Pandemic Planning for Non-Profit Housing Providers for tips on determining staff member’s areas of expertise and how to utilize them effectively. Here are some of the things your peers are doing to manage viewings and new tenancies:
- Limiting viewings to empty units only, using protocols to maximize health and safety including sanitation and social distancing.
- Testing new processes that allow tenants to select a currently-occupied unit sight unseen to limit contact with others. If you are interesting in implementing this, check with your service manager to confirm if you can exempt these selections from tenants’ first refusal of offer permitted by the new RGI regulations.
- Moving to electronic, “contact-free” lease-signing and rent payment protocols.
- Limiting maintenance and construction activities on unoccupied units unless staff are able to complete the work needed to limit the number of contractors entering the building. You may find that suppliers are closed or limiting their operations, making it difficult to get supplies such as flooring that may be needed to refit units before a new tenant moves in.
- Preparing vacant units for rental in the future but halting new occupancies for the time being.
For more suggestions and practices, we recommend that you review the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) resource Finding and Securing Housing in a Pandemic.
Housing providers are finding themselves in uncharted territory. ONPHA is committed to tracking evolving practices and procedures for unit turnovers and other points of complication for operating community housing during a pandemic. Visit our COVID-19 updates page to keep on top of the latest developments that affect you.
Have a question? Chances are, others are experiencing the same issue. Check out COVID-19 FAQ to find answers to some common questions and keep up to date with the latest legislation and practices, including changes to practices for managing unit turnovers.
As always, our member support team is happy to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get advice on challenges you may be facing or to share practices you have adopted to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.