Best Practices for Package Acceptance at Apartment Communities

The National Apartment Association has published a white paper outlining best practices for managing the increasing volume of package deliveries to residents. Below is an excerpt from NAA’s page where the white paper is free for NAA members. Remember, if you’re a PTAA member you’re a NAA member.

The number of packages received by multifamily consumers are growing each year, but the growth rate is slowing. RealPage analyzed package data from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2018: 2015: 25 percent growth over 2014; 2016: 20 percent growth over 2015; 2017: 9 percent growth over 2016.

Total Packages: All Communities Using Tracking

Isolating the peak holiday months each year, November and December, those two months consistently account for almost 20 percent of the annual volume. Package volume during those months is still growing but has slowed each year, with yearly numbers at 31 percent, 26 percent, and 6 percent, respectively, from 2015 to 2017. The decrease in overall percentage growth year over year can be attributed to how properties are better managing their package deliveries, such as by using technology, lockers, and storage. Growth in resident self-service, secure package smart rooms, and package locker delivery systems, in addition to some communities refusing deliveries, is reducing the need for staff to handle packages in their offices.

New rental housing communities must consider providing ample space for both delivery and storage, to ensure that the space can accommodate possible future needs such as smart-lock access and refrigerated storage. New properties should also consider placing trash and recycling bins close to the package room, to facilitate packaging disposal, and ensure appropriate Internet connectivity for delivery-related software. 
 
For established communities, the most utilized package delivery methods are holding packages at the management office, allowing package carriers to deliver items directly to the resident’s door, and offering traditional, United States Postal Service (USPS) mailboxes. Many apartment leasing offices adjust the hours they’re open to accommodate package pick-up, especially during the holiday season, when package storage areas can’t accommodate high-volume delivery days. Resident satisfaction is a top priority for most management companies, so instituting a smooth package processing system, from package acceptance to resident delivery, is essential.
 
This document is free to NAA members and details best practices for such methods and explores additional solutions to consider. The pros and cons of various package management systems are reported—steps that could save administrative time, protect properties from liability, bring in potential additional revenue, and, above all else, enhance the resident experience.

Unauthorized Pets Pose Problems, Technology Might Provide the Solution

Potential fraud related to Emotional Service Animals have been hogging the animal-related headlines in the apartment world over the last few years, but unauthorized pets continue to pose a large, and growing, problem for managers. From an article on NAA’s blog:

This often occurs when pet-free residents acquire a pet, pet sit or have pet visitors after initial move-in and do not report the pet activity to the community. With the rising popularity of gig economy businesses related to pet care, such as Rover and Wag!, more residents engage in some form of pet activity. To them, it might be ambiguous whether an animal they bring onsite is considered to be a pet at the community, if only temporarily.

The solution could be adopting technology that allows for pet screening up front instead of pet reporting policies:

For example, if Jason from 201-B adopts or pet-sits a dog that ends up biting a resident, the victim won’t take long to question the dog’s presence at the community.

Even if Jason’s dog is as sweet as can be and schmoozes nearby residents into becoming regular treat dispensers, the community is losing revenue. Jason certainly isn’t paying pet rent if he acquired the dog after his move-in date and never reported it and the dog might not comply with community regulations. Apartment operators often leave money on the table and increase their risk when pet-free residents such as this one end up acquiring a pet. The leasing team is often focused on other areas of business and are unable to stop and validate each dog they see during the course of their day.

Encouragingly, innovative solutions from third-party providers such as PetScreening.com, offer a way to close this loophole by requiring all residents – even those without pets – to acknowledge pet policies line-by-line during the application process. Pet owners set up an account and enter their pet’s medical and behavioral history for a small annual fee, enabling the community to have more visibility into their pet population and report any future incidents to a centralized database. Pet-free residents set up a free profile that requires them to report any new pet activity.

You can read the full article here.

When Owners of Assistance Animals Break the Rules

Rental Housing Journal had a recent article with some tips on how you can manage assistance animals on your property:

What can you do if owners of assistance animals break the rules?

You can take action when residents with assistance animals violate community rules. However, proceed carefully and consult your legal counsel.

 Give the resident opportunities to remedy the situation before taking steps to remove the animal.

Send written warnings recognizing that the animal is an assistance animal, and reminding the resident that they must follow reasonable rules of conduct.

 If the situation continues, let the resident know that if the problem persists the animal may have to be removed and alternative accommodations will be explored.

 Document disturbances or damage in writing and with photographs if possible. Phone or in-person conversations will not be as useful as written documentation if you find yourself in legal proceedings.

Having Hiring Issues? You Aren’t Alone

 

Source: Winston-Salem Journal

If you’re having a hard time staffing up your communities you’re part of a larger trend in North Carolina that’s particularly prevalent here in the Triad: lack of skilled, willing workers to fill open positions. From a report in the Winston-Salem Journal:

About half of North Carolina’s employers — corporations, small businesses, and mom-and-pop stores — are struggling to find qualified workers for open jobs.

The difficulties are even larger — at 61 percent — within the Triad…

In the Triad and other medium metro areas, 67.3 percent of employers cited employability as a challenge, along with soft skills (57.1 percent), technical skills (55 percent), lack of qualified applicants (54.1 percent) and lack of preferred work experience (52.1 percent).

So when you find yourself looking for a maintenance tech, again, just know that you aren’t alone in your struggles.

 

Best Screening Practices to Minimize Risk

Property Management Insider has a nice, 7-part list of the best screening practices to minimize risk. Here are just a couple:

2. Reduce subjective decision-making at the community level
Use automatic approvals based on your company’s rental criteria to simplify the move-in process and reduce individual decision-making, thereby reducing fair housing violation risk. Reserve manual approvals for borderline applicants and restrict the ability to perform them to authorized users…

4. Separate criteria for applicants and guarantors
Bad applicants should not be buried under exceptional guarantors. After all, the guarantor isn’t the one who’ll be living in your community…

Here’s a link to the full list, which also includes some tips about setting criteria customized for each community.

Startups Aim to Help Convert Units Into Short-Term Rentals

There are a few startup companies out there looking to help apartment management companies convert units into short-term rentals. From the Wall Street Journal:

Arlington, Va.-based WhyHotel aims to turn apartment buildings into pop-up hotels, complete with front desks and maid services, to help owners generate revenue while they are in the midst of finding full-time tenants.

YouRent.com of Miami leases sections of apartment buildings or even entire properties, bringing in designers to transform the units into hotel rooms. A soon-to-be-launched startup Parallel similarly will rent blocks of units from landlords, decorate them and rent them out to overnight guests with an in-house hospitality team.

Pillow Residential, which last month raised $13.5 million in funding, offers a platform that allows building owners to access information about Airbnb guests and see which units in their building are being rented out and when…

WhyHotel piloted its concept with 50 empty units in a Pentagon City, Va., building owned by Vornado Realty Trust . Prices were $179 to $329 a night on units that otherwise wouldn’t have generated revenue until they were rented to long-term tenants. The service ran from January through May, when there were enough tenants to bring the building close to full occupancy.

The rest of the article addresses some of the issues that arise with short-term rentals, the pros and cons from management’s perspective, and how some companies are using the availability of short-term rentals to help them market their traditional rentals.

NAA Report Explores Effects of Value Added Amenities

A report recently released by the National Apartment Association explores which amenities are most widely offered at both the community-wide and unit level and the impact those amenities have on rent and occupancy rates. Titled Adding Value in the Age of Amenities Wars the report details which amenities are most commonly offered and explores which are most effective in raising average rents.

Here’s a sample of some of the findings:

  • Top community-wide amenity: Fitness Centers
  • Top unit-level amenity: Washer/Dryer in unit
  • Percent of residents willing to pay a premium ($75) for hardwood floors: 49%
  • Percent of residents willing to pay a premium ($30) for granite countertops: 39%
  • Percent of residents willing to pay a premium for fitness classes: 46%

Finally, towards the end of the report is a graphic showing the impact of renovations on occupancy, broken down by apartment class:

Class A – Occupancy increased from 92.0% to 92.8%
Class B – Occupancy increased from 92.7% to 94.3%
Class C – Occupancy increased from 88.6% to 91.0%

You can read the entire report here.

 

Professor Learns Painful Lesson in Rental Best Practices

One professor who is going on sabbatical rents her place to another professor. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. Here’s part of the story:

In October 2015, as she was planning a semester-long research trip to Paris, Abel logged on to SabbaticalHomes.com to find someone to rent her house. The site bills itself as a sort of Airbnb for academics; its motto is “A place for minds on the move.” Abel, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, quickly received a bunch of responses, the first of which came from a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College named David Peritz…

Abel, now 71, didn’t feel much of a connection with Peritz, two decades her junior. Still, she thought to herself, “Oh, come on. He’s a professor.” She found him polite and gracious, and she didn’t bother asking for references, let alone do a background check. She didn’t notice until much later that his personal checks lacked a home address. Why would she? That was precisely the point of Sabbatical Homes; unlike Craigslist or Airbnb, it was opening your home not to random people, but to colleagues. (As the site’s founder put it in a press release, “There is an implicit degree of trust amongst academics.”) When Abel discussed her would-be renter with her husband, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology who spends most of the year at the University of Texas-Austin, she didn’t mention any misgivings.

I can just picture all of you property managers shaking your heads as you read that part about not bothering to ask for references or do a background check. As you can imagine, things didn’t go well.

A day after Abel cut her sabbatical short and flew home to confront Peritz in person, she sent him an email to confirm that she wanted him out so she could move back in on May 1.

Peritz responded several days later. He wrote that he wasn’t “presently in a position to vacate the premises.” He also told her he’d been in touch with an attorney, and said if Abel tried to evict him, they’d end up in court, which “could be expensive, time consuming and draining for both of us.”

Peritz also blamed Abel for his inability to find a new place to stay, claiming that she had “submitted a false feedback report” on SabbaticalHomes.com. The lawyer, he said, had called it a “textbook case of libel.” “I realize that your intentions in making that report were good,” Peritz wrote, “but it remains the case that what you reported was false and that we have been damaged by it.” He said if she was willing to negotiate or arbitrate a settlement, he was “amenable to releasing you from all potential liability that could result from your false report.”

You really should read the rest of the story. It’s a classic case of exactly how badly things can go when you don’t cross your “I”s and dot your “T”s. Or whatever.

NAA Whitepaper on Criminal Conviction Screening Policies

The National Apartment Association has just released a white paper titled Criminal Conviction Screening Policies: Best Practices to Avoid Disparate Impact Liability and it is a valuable resource for management companies evaluating their screening processes in the wake of HUD’s guidance last month. The white paper is divided into two parts: Part I deals with how to design criminal conviction policies so they are not susceptible to disparate impact claims of discrimination, and Part II explains how the concept of disparate impact liability emerged under the FHA and why HUD’s guidance has made screening policies a subject of increased interest for housing providers and advocacy groups.

This is truly a good resource, but as they write in the conclusion, the thinking on this issue is sure to evolve over time:

The analysis is admittedly an early assessment of the intersection between criminal screening policies and the HUD disparate impact rule approach. The way both HUD and the courts treat these types of disparate impact claims may (and, indeed, is likely to) evolve over the coming years as courts provide precedent for interpretation of the HUD Guidance and as HUD or Congress enacts further clarifying guidance, regulations, rules or statutes.

In the meantime, here’s a handy table of Do’s and Don’ts they provided in their introduction:

DosDontsGraphic

Here’s a link to the full PDF version of the paper.

Blue Ridge Companies’ Approach to Health Insurance

Blue Ridge Companies decision to go its own way for employee health insurance coverage was profiled in the December, 2015 issue of Units Magazine. It’s a complex issue, but as Executive Vice President Susan Passmore explains in the article, it’s an increasingly important consideration for all management companies. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Blue Ridge began its plan in May 2014 and currently 200 employees and 60 dependents are participating.

“You can convert fairly easily,” Passmore says. “In general, if you stick with the plan, over a five-year period, you will begin to see a trend that defines where your medical insurance dollars are being spent.”

Self-insured plans, she says, simply are not subject to all of the same regulations and fees as fully-insured programs. The result for us is approximately 3.5 percent less fees paid to the government.

Although self-funded plans have certain requirements, Passmore says her company is able to tailor a variety of services within each plan, based on her associates’ needs.

“No more are we at the mercy of fully-insured off-the-shelf design offerings,” she says. “By us reviewing and recognizing common claims usage, it allows us the flexibility to tweak the plan to fit the needs of our employees and reduce costs for our company.”

Blue Ridge uses a third-party administrator (TPA). And Passmore says large insurance company Cigna, which formerly administered her company’s plan, is still involved.

Blue Ridge outsources its TPA, who functions as a benefits manager and provides basically the same services as a traditional carrier…

Passmore says that most carriers, including Cigna, partner with the third-party administrators (TPA) to share their discounts.

“This allows health-care providers to file claims through the traditional carrier networks, and it allows us to benefit from the carriers’ negotiated pricing. The claims pass through the carriers’ pricing network and are then captured by the TPA and forwarded to us to pay.”…

“We need healthy associates to be successful so we certainly want them to seek care when they need care,” Passmore says. “Moving to a self-funded insurance plan really fits our company’s culture. One of our company’s tenets is ‘teamwork; appreciating self and others, having a balanced way of life and having fun together.’ Since our shift to this plan, our associates have become engaged in taking both individual and collective responsibility in the overall cost of health care.

“We know there will be accidents or conditions that result in really expensive claims. It’s inevitable. We have stop-loss coverage, which reimburses us for single-claim events that cost more than $50,000. Protection of stop-loss coverage is a must, and adding a separate organ transplant rider strengthens the protection against loss.”

You should definitely check out the full article here.