Q & A No. 12
Members can access our new COVID-19 Guidance Document, expanded FAQ and Lease Forms by logging into their member account and choosing Forms Library.
What if my tenant says they can't pay rent because of COVID-19?
Recommend they apply for renter's assistnace through the City of Berkeley's Emergency Relief Fund. You can find out more information here. It will allow tenants whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19 to request financial assistance to pay their rent. For more specific guidance on how to manage discussing non-payment of rent, log into our Forms Library and choose "COVID-19".
We have released guidance, expanded FAQs and forms for members only. These can be used to help you through the scenario of nonpayment of rent. Please understand that these are highly unusual circumstances and we are working with a multitude of resources to provide you with the best guidance possible, but there is no subsitute for advice from your attorney or rental property consultant. This includes an expanded FAQ, a Tenant Hardship Consideration Form and a Rent Deferral Payment Agreement Addendum. This forms are only available to members.
What if my tenant wants to break their lease early?
We recognize that this may be a very real possibility for some owners, especially if you rent to students. With classes at the University being moved to online forums only, and the threat of summer school also being cancelled, some tenants may need to make differrent plans for their living situation. Leases are contracts, therefore it is up to you on a case-by-case basis to decide what to do. Our FAQ in the Forms Library provides some additional thoughts on lease breaks.
What if I can't pay my mortgage or expenses on the rental housing? Are there any resources for me?
Our industry partners are working at both the state and Federal level to provide relief for mortgage payments and property taxes. We still maintain that the best way to stem the potential tidal wave of trouble is for tenants to be given financial assistance to pay their rent. However, if you have an income loss because of your own job, there may be resources for you. Check the Employment Development Department of California or the Governor's website for more details.
Is it true I can't evict someone during the COVID-19 crisis?
The City Council has passed a moratorium on evictions on March 17. It prohibits you from serving a 3-day notice for nonpayment of rent or serving an eviction for an Owner Move In during the course of the state of emergency. It's important to note that the moratorium does not absolve a tenant's responsiblity to pay the rent once the moratorium is lifted, however you will never be able to evict the tenant for nonpayment of deferred rent due to COVID-19. It will be your responsibility (and choice) to determine how you manage a tenant's inability to pay the rent.
Does my tenant have to stay in their unit during Berkeley's shelter in place? Can someone move in/move out of my unit?
The City of Berkeley's Health Official is recommending that citizens shelter in their homes and only move about for "essential business" only. We know there are a lot of questions about what constitutes "essential business" and whether moving in or out of a unit is permitted. While the order does not speak specifically to move ins/outs, we recommend using caution during this time. The City of Berkeley's FAQ document states that the intent of the order is to "ensure that people remain in their residences and minimize social interactions outside of their immediate family unit." However, we recognize that some people may need to move out to be with family or if they are a student, to move back home.
Can I have open houses for vacant or available units during this time?
Expanded guidance by the state have allowed for the showing of units in very limited instances. You must take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while showing the unit including limiting the unit to showing only to one prospective tenant at a time and the wearing of protective gear. This is a perfect time to learn how to utilize technologies that allow for "virtual showings" if you haven't already done so! Find more specific guidance on showings here.
How do I handle repairs during the shelter in place?
We recommend that your carefully consider each repair during the shelter in place. Emergency repairs are always recommended to be done, especially ones of health and safety. Others you may choose to push off until there is less risk of exposure to the Coronavirus. Be sure to communicate clearly to your tenants how you are making decisions on what repairs to do. You are still responsible for maintaining safe and habitable living conditions, and any repair request that involves issues of electricity, plumbing, heat or structural safety must continue to be responded to in a timely manner. We recommend all vendors, tradespeople or landlords wear protective gear at all time when working in and around the unit.
What if my tenant won't allow me or a repair person in the unit because they are scared of catching the virus?
First and foremost, it is important to recognize that managing people's fears during a pandemic or crisis is very important. There may be some tenants who may be very scared about the possibility of getting COVID-19. That fear must be balanced with making sure that issues of safety and health are being taken care of. If you have a repair that is an issue of health and safety, try to work with your tenant to assure them you are only doing what is highly necessary. See if the repair person is willing to wear fully-protective gear to help minimize their exposure to the tenants. If all else fails with the tenant, make sure to carefully document their refusal to allow entry, in case there is a question about the habitability of the unit in the future. At the end of the day, a tenant does have a right to refuse entry out of fear of exposure to the virus.
What if my rental housing has a common area space (i.e. patio, laundry room, storage area)? What responsibility do I have to disenfecting these areas?
Because we are in unknown territory with the pandemic, there are no specific requirements -- legal or otherwise. But it is recommended by the National Apartment Association and its industry partners, that rental housing providers step up their cleaning practices to make sure that they are properly (and more regularly) disenfecting common areas. This means wiping down high-touch areas (laundry machines, door handles, etc.) on a regular basis. We also recommend reaching out to your tenants and providing them with guidance on how best to keep both their units and common areas as clean as possible during this time of pandemic. You can also refer to some of the guidance provided by the National Apartment Association, listed in the Resources section below.
What if I believe my tenant has been exposed to, or has COVID-19?
It's very important to remember that whatever illness anyone has, there are privacy laws that limit what you may divulge to others, or what you may request to know from someone. If a tenant notifies you that they have been exposed, or that they have tested positive, you will need to keep that person's identity (and any supporting documentation) in confidence. If you suspect that a tenant has been exposed to the virus and/or has the virus, please contact the Alameda County Public Health Department to receive more specific guidance. They can provide advice on how to manage notifying tenants of the property, that someone in the building has or has been exposed to COVID-19.
Webinar: Coronavirus Outbreak: What Real Estate Managers Need to Know
Guidance on how to address the spread of COVID-19 and developing policies and procedures around the virus. Click here to listen to the webinar.
Frequently Asked Questions: Resident/Tenant Relationships, Business Operations & Cleaning
Answer to some of the questions about COVID-19 in rental housing. Click here for access.
Additional information from the CDC on cleaning recommendations for common areas can be found here.
Employees, Workplace Policies, Communications to Tenants & More
This guide provides some information about how to manage in a time of a pandemic, including what to do if a tenant has a known exposure to COVID-19. Click here for the "Pandemic Guide for Real Estate Managers."
City of Berkeley's Shelter in Place Frequently Asked Questions