The government’s recent announcement regarding the gradual and careful reopening of British Columbia’s economy has raised questions for rental housing providers and tenants alike. As always, we take our lead from Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Health Minister, Adrian Dix, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. As of today, and for the foreseeable future, there is no change for the rental housing sector. BC remains in a Provincial State of Emergency and this will likely be renewed for a further 14 days when it expires on May 26th.
As an indication that this emergency is not over, Minister Farnworth said the following in a May 13th media release “as we look forward to increasing our social and economic activity in B.C., we must remember that the fight against COVID-19 is far from over…Our province continues to be in a state of emergency, and we will continue in our co-ordinated response to keep people safe, support our health-care system and ensure our supply chains are secure.”
So, while many industries are seeing some gradual reopening, rental housing providers should continue to operate in a manner that is in accordance with Ministerial Order M089. Once this order is lifted, we will need to slowly and carefully transition back to our normal operation of business. It is too early to say what that transition will look like but there are new industry best practices that will likely remain for an extended period, such as the closure of non-essential common areas and reduced entry into tenanted units.
Common Areas – Cleaning
Landlords should regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Regular household cleaning products are effective against most viruses, and you can also use 1/50 solution of bleach and water (e.g. approximately 20 ml of bleach per litre of water or 2.5 ounces per gallon) as an effective disinfectant. While we cannot recommend a specific schedule for cleaning, the following was included in a BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) document on COVID-19 and Multi-unit Residential Buildings:
“Regarding the frequency of cleaning, most recommendations range from one to several times a day. Public Health Ontario currently recommends cleaning high touch surfaces twice a day in public settings, although daily traffic through the area should also be considered. Building management may also have to contend with staffing shortages amid high demand for extra cleaning service and illness amongst custodial staff.”
The BC CDC has also released a laundry room poster which covers best practices when using this service.
Common Areas – Closures
Practicing proper social distancing requires that people that do not live together to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres apart. As this is generally not attainable for the regular use of common facilities such as pools, gyms, or games rooms landlords are encouraged and empowered to restrict access to these facilities during this emergency.
Repairs and Maintenance
As a safety precaution, we recommend landlords review their delivery method for in-suite maintenance and repairs to occupied units, to reduce risk to staff, contractors, and tenants. To reduce exposure, landlords should prioritize urgent repair requests and defer non-urgent in-suite repairs and maintenance.
One method that can be helpful to building managers to assess situations is utilizing online services such as skype or facetime video calls. These services allow a building manager, at the invitation of their tenant, to remotely view the inside of a rental unit and the affected building element.
Showing Rental Units
Showing a tenanted suite at this time is not recommended even with the consent of a tenant. Our general advice for right now is to not show tenanted suites. Where possible, limit showings to already vacant suites. When showing any suite, we encourage extra precautions to prevent transmission. These precautions include:
- Avoid shaking hands and keep your distance
- Instruct potential tenants/purchasers to not touch anything
- Wipe down door handles and anything that you touch when showing the unit
- Wash your hands before and after showing the unit