Rental Unit Maintenance Requests During COVID-19

Generally, a landlord has a duty to provide fit premises. Meaning, it is the responsibility of the landlord to make repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a suitable and safe condition. If a landlord is aware of a hazardous condition, he or she has a legal obligation to correct the unsafe condition.

Also falling under the umbrella of landlord responsibilities, is tenant safety. In fact, the purpose of North Carolina’s statute requiring landlords to provide fit premises is to promote the safety of tenants. Thus, it is arguably the responsibility of the landlord to minimize and prevent the spread of the coronavirus to their tenants.

As the state of North Carolina works to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, many landlords and property managers are left wondering what their responsibilities are. While a number of directives have been issued from both the state and federal government concerning legal alterations made in the wake of COVID-19, there has yet to be any instruction regarding the legal responsibilities of landlords and property managers in fulfilling maintenance requests.

Steps Landlords Should Take During COVID-19

While it is difficult to control what happens in a resident’s unit, landlords can take proactive steps concerning the common areas of the residential community. For example, landlords can close community pools, gyms, parks, playgrounds and community centers to limit the spread of COVID-19. These are simple measures that illustrate good practices and a sense of responsibility.

Additionally, in light of social distancing requirements, landlords may want to consider updating their maintenance policies in response to the coronavirus. In making such updates, consider the following:

  • Online maintenance requests
  • Prioritize maintenance requests
  • Essential vs non-essential repairs
  • Social distancing during repairs
Online maintenance Requests

Already practiced by many apartment communities in North Carolina, the easiest and safest way to collect maintenance requests is by offering online service request options for residents. This would allow tenants the ability to file a request without having to make physical contact. Also, by having tenants provide detailed descriptions and upload photos of the problem area, landlords are able to evaluate the issue and determine a course of action for fixing it without having to first see it in person.

Prioritize Maintenance Requests

Once a request has been received, landlords should work with their tenants to determine the urgency of the maintenance request. Landlords should address pressing issues first to minimize damage to property and tenant’s person. When prioritizing requests, landlords should be prompt to repair any essential fixtures, such as heat, running water, and plumbing. In this current pandemic outbreak, it maybe necessary to delay some repairs that are not essential.

Essential Repairs

While the safety of tenants is paramount, keep in mind the safety of the property. By failing to address property issues in a timely manner, landlords could possibly face the creation of unsafe and costly damage, which could subsequently cause harm to tenants.

Social Distancing During Repairs

Prior to entering the rental unit, landlords should lay out a plan with maintenance staff to repair the issue in a safe and efficient manner. This plan should be communicated to tenants to ensure all parties involved in the maintenance request are fully informed.

Per CDC guidance, landlords should also stress that maintenance staff and tenants alike practice social distancing and other safety precautions when performing necessary repairs. Precautionary measures could include:

  • Requesting that tenants remain a minimum distance of six feet away from maintenance staff throughout the repair process;
  • Have maintenance staff keep the same social distance from tenants;
  • Ask tenants if they are willing to wear a face mask, or perhaps stay in a separate room from the problem area while the repair is being conducted;
  • Provide adequate safety and personal protective equipment for maintenance staff to wear while conducting unit repairs. Such as:
    • Face masks
    • Gloves
    • Booties to cover shoes. If unable to provide booties, ask that maintenance staff remove their shoes prior to entering the rental unit if the work to be performed allows them to do so safely.
Speak to a Lawyer

During these difficult times it is crucial to have a plan in place for maintaining rental properties at the adequate legal standard per North Carolina law. It is important to know and understand your legal obligations as a landlord to provide a fit premises for tenants while also preventing the spread of the coronavirus throughout the rental community.

If you are a landlord or property manager in North Carolina and are uncertain of what services you are legally required to offer to tenants amid the coronavirus, contact one of our experienced landlord/tenant attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, for guidance on what is considered to be essential maintenance and how best to provide these services to tenants during COVID-19. We can help you understand your legal rights and how to protect yourself from legal ramifications. Call our office at (704) 370-2828 or fill out our contact form. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville, and Monroe.