When it comes to property management, few other aspects of your business carry as much risk as emergency maintenance. Solving critical maintenance issues quickly and correctly can make the difference between being a hero or being a villain in the eyes of your owners. Perform well and you save them thousands of dollars in unnecessary damages. Miss an emergency and you can become liable for damages you were responsible for preventing.
Only by facing risks head-on can you hope to eliminate them. Better days are ahead if you know how to plan and prepare for them. This article will help you plan for and improve your in-house emergency operation with these four necessities:
1) Know What Does and What Does Not Qualify as an Emergency
What falls into the category of emergency can often depend on who you’re asking—just ask a 911 dispatcher what kinds of calls they get throughout their shift. Sometimes requests that come in can be de-escalated to routine maintenance, or solved via troubleshooting over the phone. Other times, requests come in that need immediate action.
Knowing how each request should be treated is vital to building out your operations. Everyone on your team should have the same understanding of what kinds of issues are, in fact, emergency issues. At Latchel—a Rent Manager integrated provider that handles 24/7 emergency maintenance for property managers and landlords—emergency maintenance issues are defined by the criteria below (to meet legal requirements in all 50 states):
- Leaks that can cause property damage and/or mold. This includes roofing leaks, lawn/sprinkler leaks, toilet leaks and overflows, sink leaks, and HVAC leaks.
- No functioning toilets in the house.
- Sewage backups or sewage on premises.
- Water issues like no water, dirty water, or no hot water.
- No heat in cold weather (under 45°F; 55°F if young children, elderly, or sick people are present).
- No air conditioning in hot weather (over 95°F; 85°F if young children, elderly, or sick people are present).
- Security and safety issues (broken windows, broken/open doors).
- Cars blocked in by broken community gates.
- Electrical outages (not caused by the power company) and loss of power to medical equipment.
- Life-threatening emergencies like gas leaks, carbon monoxide leaks, and fires are directed to 911.
2) Create an Emergency Maintenance Standard Operations Protocol/Plan
Creating a plan is the best way to organize your thoughts and prepare for the unexpected. The size and scope of your emergency plans should vary widely depending on the size and maturity of your organization.
“Plans are worthless, but planning is essential.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Any good plan answers the following questions:
- What is the vision?
- What is the specific goal?
- How will you measure success?
- Who is responsible for what?
- When will each element be executed?
The vision here is simple—never miss a maintenance emergency. The goal is to have a rapid response. To measure success, set metrics defined around the size of your operations (track how many emergencies are diagnosed in a month and the response time of each). Define who on your team is responsible for what process. Define when, and in which order, each part of the process will be executed. Document all of it and make sure everyone on the team is on the same page.
3) Lock in the Process
The best-in-class emergency maintenance operations have the following stages:
- Receive the tenant request.
- Diagnose the tenant request.
- Troubleshoot potential emergencies.
- Dispatch the right person at the right time.
- Provide visibility to the right people.
- Confirm resolution.
Tenant requests via phone calls are typically the best for emergencies. When you have an emergency, you want to talk to someone right away. Tenants expect to be able to call-in their emergencies. If you don’t give them a phone line to reach you on, they will submit their emergencies online or worse, not submit them at all.
The problem with most online submissions today is they do not have a mechanism to alert you or your team that something needs your attention right away. Even with email alerts, there is no way to separate the signal (true emergencies) from the noise (regular maintenance requests).
Give your tenants a dedicated phone line to call and make sure someone capable of diagnosing emergencies is on the other end of the line.
4) Choose the right tools
By piecing together the right communication tools, you can ensure your process has strengths where your competitors have weaknesses.
Creating phone lines and routing calls:
Whoever you put on the front line for screening calls will eventually need to escalate to someone else for help. When this happens, you cannot expect them to keep calling someone repeatedly until they pick up. Instead, you should rely on a service that will call you and/or your team until someone picks up and responds. These solutions are from the IT world but solve property management problems, too.
Now you must decide what is best for you and your business. What do you outsource and what do you keep in-house? Be sure to track all components of the process—call receiving, diagnostics, troubleshooting, dispatching, and follow-up—and ensure you have a plan in place for every step. With Rent Manager’s newest integration with Latchel, you’ll have 24/7 emergency service via text or call for your tenants. Their team of experienced property managers either troubleshoot the issue to prevent property damage or unnecessary dispatching, or they send a service tech out to fix the issue. Emergencies happen, especially in the property management business. Keep your operation prepared and ready to handle any issues, whether it’s you on the other end of the phone or a company you trust.