If you manage a commercial or residential property, you must ensure that you provide a high level of service at all times. In short, this cannot be a “9 to 5” arrangement, and you must be willing and able to spring into action whenever tenants encounter a maintenance problem. But how can you deal with those after-hours emergency calls? How do you set up a system that will allow you to be there when it matters while still retaining your sanity? Let’s explore the best ways for a property manager to handle after-hours maintenance.
Keeping Up with Preventative Maintenance
Before you think about setting up a system to handle your after-hours calls, you should do whatever you can to minimize the need for it. Unfortunately, you cannot predict unexpected issues, as they can happen anytime. However, you can certainly keep up with your preventative maintenance obligations and tackle repairs as soon as they are required.
If you provide a service like this, you must ensure your property is fit for habitation. You will likely need to conform to local rules and regulations, and you should reduce the risk of unexpected failure. Be proactive in preventative maintenance, so you can catch minor problems before they balloon into a significant repair or replacement. You will also reduce the associated cost and have a happier client base.
Get in touch with your vendors and ensure that you have a maintenance contract in place so that these companies will come out at a determined interval to check your HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems, pests, etc. They will also perform seasonal work, such as removing leaves and debris in the fall. They’ll also test your safety systems, such as carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and can look for any activity that may violate the lease agreement.
If you pay close attention to these issues, you’ll experience fewer calls. Your after-hours maintenance processes can handle the rest. That is what we will discuss next.
Establishing a Communication System
Give your tenants emergency contact information at the outset. Spell it out separately from their lease agreement so they know what they need to do. You will also avoid situations where they panic and call you directly in the middle of the night.
Remind them that in the genuine case of an emergency, they must first get in touch with the appropriate department. So, you should also include information for the gas company, the police, and other relevant organizations.
This is an excellent time to go into detail and include some information that could be valuable in an emergency. Tell your tenants how to turn off the water and where to find the fuse box. Anticipate some “more predictable” issues (such as a blocked toilet) and give them instructions that may enable them to handle the problem themselves. After all, many cases are relatively minor and may not merit an after-hours callout.
If you receive an after-hours call, you must gather the appropriate information. You’ll want to know the nature of the issue and whether it requires you to shut down utilities or other primary services. Is the issue so significant that the tenant may need emergency accommodation? Who do you need to contact to fix the problem?
From there, you’ll be able to determine how long this repair may take and who is liable for the damages, if anyone. Then, if you need to get in touch with an insurance company, you will have the available detail to do so.
As you gather the information, you must make a judgment call to determine if this is an actual emergency. If it is, you have to respond quickly and effectively. After all, this is your moral obligation and may well be a legal responsibility.
If it is not a true emergency, you must inform the tenant of your process. Clearly and calmly explain what will happen next, so they understand that you are doing everything possible to handle the issue.
Now that you know what kind of system you need to introduce, you must set sensible guidelines. Of course, your approach will vary depending on whether this is an emergency, so you will need to establish specific parameters.
Defining a True Maintenance Emergency
A property maintenance emergency threatens the health and safety of the tenant, others in the area, or the structure. Broadly speaking, you can break down these threats into specific areas:
Loss of electricity
Broken pipes or similar water emergencies
Significant drain blockage or backed-up sewers
The presence of carbon monoxide
Broken locks and associated insecurity
Still, some tenants may consider a specific event an emergency, whereas, in reality, it is not. So don’t be surprised if you receive a call if the tenant is without hot water or cannot flush the toilet properly. They may even call you if they cannot access their parking spot due to someone else’s negligence or if someone nearby is partying in the middle of the night. To avoid this disruption, you must clearly define what constitutes an emergency and even detail what is not. Make sure this information is displayed in the documentation very close to where your emergency contact number is located.
When you receive emergency calls, you need to set up a process so that you can handle each call effectively when it materializes.
Setting Up Systems and Processes
You could have a system that sends those calls directly to your maintenance team. If so, you need to make sure that they are capable of managing this type of system and that there will be someone available out of hours to process the call.
Alternatively, you can set up a recorded message on the end of a dedicated “emergency” number, where the caller will be prompted to leave a voicemail when they ring in.
Neither of these approaches may be seen as personable and may not generate an immediate response. This could aggravate the tenant or cause them to panic and act irrationally.
The better approach is to engage with a professional answering service. They’ll always be available and can act as a screening service for you as the property manager. This service will then engage with the maintenance team or other staff members.
An answering service will have other benefits as well. It may save you time and money by ensuring that non-emergencies are not treated like an after-hours emergency. It may also improve how clients perceive your operation.
You can also set up workflows and processes with your answering service. This will include scripts that should be followed, so your service is always delivered consistently. When you talk with a service provider, they’ll help to create these scripts for you. The process may also include a list of contacts that should be notified and any vendors that should be dispatched for particular problems.
Educating Your Tenants and Vendors
Let your tenants know when you’ve settled on a specific approach and determine how your after-hours maintenance system will work.
You must educate everyone to know what to do when something goes wrong. It is worth spelling this out as they may gloss over any information you put in writing. You should also set things out in an agreement, but a little extra time at the outset may be beneficial when something goes wrong.
Also, don’t forget to reach out to your preferred vendors. You may have HVAC, plumbing, and electrical contractors lined up, and they have agreed to perform a certain level of service in this situation. Make sure that you are all in agreement and have contracts in place. Then, you’ll know they will always be ready and willing to act whenever an after-hours emergency arises.
Absent Answer is a 24-hour, U.S.-based telephone answering service that specializes in property management. We field calls and provide professional customer service for property managers across the country and are willing to handle your after-hours maintenance calls as an extension of your business. Contact us today to learn more!