Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tenant mold dispute grows

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Are you protecting your business with a Mold Addendum that goes with your lease? Mold is the big scare these days even though there is mold EVERYWHERE and there are only a couple strains of semi dangerous mold that are VERY RARE. I suggest all of those who don't want to breathe in any mold to NEVER go outside. 

If you are a tenant you need to notify your landlord immediately if you find any leaks. So they can be taken care of BEFORE mold starts to grow. If you don't and you are growing mold in your shower or something than you are a filthy individual and should really consider taking a class on cleanliness. 

If any of you LL's  need a mold addendum that lays out reasonable responsibilities of a tenant contact me.

Below is an interesting article posted in the Blacksburg VA area.



Tenant mold dispute grows
Tuesday, September, 27, 2011; 11:23 PM

Mold has left Stephen Noel without a clean apartment and living in his father's home in Christiansburg.

A neighbor noticed mushrooms growing under Noel's couch, as well as mold covering the carpet, over the summer.

After Noel contacted his landlord, cleaning services removed the mushrooms, as well as the mold covering the carpet. But residue remained on and under the flooring.

Because Noel and his roommate suffer from severe allergies, they had to move out of the apartment, which is located near Main Street and rented through Raines Property Management.

Noel says the apartment needs further cleaning, but he is in a battle with his landlord over who should do the job.

Greg Dudash, a Town of Blacksburg property maintenance official, said landlords are supposed to fix things under the Virginia Maintenance Code.

“The way the structure was built is the way it needs to be maintained,” he said.

The maintenance code requires landlords maintain the condition of the structure based on the time when it was built, but it does not require them to bring buildings up to modern standards if they are older.

Noel, a senior aerospace engineering major, was participating in a co-op last spring through the summer and was away from his apartment during that time.

He tried to sublease his room with another tenant, but the options fell through, so his neighbor used the space as storage while he was away.

When the neighbor was moving things in the apartment, he discovered the mushrooms and mold, which still exists to an extent.

Noel said Raines Property Management blamed him for the mold, saying that leaving a window open in the partially above ground apartment caused the growth.

Noel said the room was unfit to live in.

“It was barely breathable in there,” Noel said of the apartment. “There was a moldy and disgusting smell.”

Situations like these have resulted in blame games — tenants and landlords arguing over who is responsible for mold damage.

Dudash said if mold originates from structural causes, such as leaky pipes, the landlord is required to cover the damages.

However, if mold grows naturally because of the apartment's location, the landlord is not required to deal with the issue. For example, many rental houses have underground apartments, which are more susceptible to mold spore growth, Dudash said.

To combat mold and mildew growth, Dudash said many landlords have started providing tenants with dehumidifiers, which should be used and emptied about every 24 hours.

Many mold cases in apartments result from spaces being closed up during warm and humid Blacksburg summers, and students return for fall semesters to find growth, he said.

Mold growth in apartments has even often led to legal disputes between tenants and landlords.
According to the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act, rental properties covered by the maintenance code require landlords to comply with building and housing codes that affect health and safety.

The act also requires landlords to make necessary repairs to keep properties in habitable conditions and take action to prevent moisture accumulation and mold growth.

Under the act, landlords are required to disclose visible mold to tenants, and they reserve the right to relocate tenants, if the mold poses a health concern.

However, the act doesn’t cover some homes, like those owned by rental companies not meeting a required number of properties.

Issues with these companies fall under Virginia Common Law and have fewer landlord requirements.
Noel said he is considering legal action over the mold dispute.

He said he sent a letter after receiving legal advice, telling his landlord to fix the problem within 21 days, or they would terminate the lease in 30.

“There was a big lack of communication and an unwillingness to resolve this problem,” Noel said. “If we had known this was going to be such a big problem — as much as we love this apartment — we wouldn’t have ever done it.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sep 28 issue of the Collegiate Times.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tips for an Effective After-Hours Maintenance Hotline

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While it is easy to contact a property management answering service or call center and set up an after-hours maintenance hotline, making sure that it works well for you and your tenants requires a bit more effort. Below are some tips you can follow to make sure you are doing everything you can to get the most out of the service and keep your tenants happy.

1.     Personalize the service as much as possible

The default property management script that your call center provider has on file will get the job done, but it’s always better to personalize it to fit your business.

For example, the default way that operators answer the phone may be “Thank you for calling, may I help you?” Instead of leaving this the way it is, modify it to include the name of your property and the purpose of the line, such as “Thank you for calling Forest Pines Condominiums after-hours maintenance hotline, may I help you?” It’s a minor change, but it makes people more comfortable knowing that they’re calling your dedicated line.

Or, for instance, if the hotline will be used for apartments that are all in the same building and have the same address, make sure operators only request the apartment number. It’s annoying being forced to provide your entire address when all that’s needed is the number. This goes for properties in the same City and State, as well. No need to ask questions that you already know the answer to.

2.     Clearly communicate to tenants what constitutes an emergency

Your tenants should know what is considered an emergency by your company and what isn’t.  Unfortunately, property managers often give criteria to their call center but not tenants, resulting in a lot of heated conversations. Instead of just giving your tenants a number to call after office hours, give them the same list of emergencies that you give your call center and let them know what will result in an after-hours maintenance visit and what will hold for the office.

Alternatively, you can scrap the list of emergencies altogether, instead relying on a question that asks the tenant whether they feel their situation is urgent and requires attention before regular office hours. The potential for abuse here is obvious, but it’s definitely a more customer friendly approach. 

Ultimately, only you can decide what is best for your situation, but either approach will work well if everyone is properly educated.

3.     Stick to your office hours or prepare your call center to field additional types of calls

Understandably, having the power to forward your lines to the after-hours service whenever you want is sometimes too alluring to pass up.  If you’re going to leave the office or stop taking calls during your regular business hours, be sure that your call center is prepared to handle the different types of calls that they will be receiving.  It’s bad for business to force callers into a call center that can’t do anything for them and has no information regarding what’s going on in the office. By communicating with your call center and telling them what your schedule is and when you’ll be out, they will have more information to provide callers and be more confident handling your calls. In addition, the scripting and instructions they follow should be appropriate for type of calls they’re taking and what they are telling callers.

As an example, while it’s perfectly acceptable after-hours to tell a caller with a non-urgent concern to call back the next business day, it’s ineffective and confusing to be told that at 1 in the afternoon on a Thursday. Call centers can easily set up variable scripting, so make sure that you have them do so. “The office is out to lunch at the moment, but I can ask someone to return your call when they get back this afternoon” is much more appropriate.

4.     Take advantage of the additional services, functionality, and technology that your call center has available

Today’s call centers are more advanced than the simple message taking services that came before them. Sometimes just taking a message and delivering it properly is all that’s needed, but you should look into the additional features and technology that your call center has available in order to determine if there’s more they could be doing for you. If so, there’s a good chance the additional service will improve the effectiveness of your call center and improve the level of customer service they’re able to provide.

Examples of additional services include payment processing, scheduling showings on your behalf, and integrating with your CRM or database in order to look-up tenant information easier and automatically create work tickets in your system. Whether these services make sense for you often depend on your size and the investment needed to have the technology configured. When deciding whether to spend the extra money, be sure to factor in the time it takes you to perform certain tasks, whether the changes will reduce or increase your monthly bill (by increasing or reducing call times), and whether having a more advanced call center will help you decrease vacancies and improve the relationship you have with existing tenants.


I hope these tips make your call center experiences more prosperous. If you’re working with a reputable call center and they’re doing everything they can on their end, following this list should be all you need to make the relationship a success.

If you have any feedback on using an answering service/call center with your property management operation, I’d love to hear from you. Whether your relationship was a success or a complete disaster, I always find it advantageous to speak with people and learn more about what is working and what isn’t.


About the author:
Gere Jordan works in business development, marketing and operations at Continental Message Solution, Inc. (CMS), a nationwide provider of property management answering services and call center outsourcing based in Columbus, Ohio. He has experience designing and implementing effective call center solutions, improving communication workflows, and helping companies share their success via the web. For more information, or to talk shop, you can reach him via email at gere.jordan@continentalmessage.com 
 

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