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COVID-19 presents challenges at apartment complexes

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The COVID-19 outbreak is presenting some new business challenges at apartment complexes.

One local apartment complex on the southwest side of the city found out Friday that one of its residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The property is meant primarily for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Whether that individual is residing now at the complex or elsewhere could not be divulged to protect the privacy of the person, said Rose Silva-Smith, vice president for asset management for the property owner, YES Housing Inc. of Albuquerque.

But Silva-Smith said that the property management firm for the complex, Monarch Properties Inc., also based in Albuquerque, responded quickly.

She said the management firm placed a written notification letter near each door of the 52 units on Friday, quarantined the on-site staff to work at home for a while, temporarily closed common areas, and continued with its cleaning and sanitizing protocol for common areas three times a day. The management firm also posted notices on the property instructing tenants to wear face coverings while outside their units.

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“The Department of Health was engaged in the process,” Silva-Smith added. “They were called as soon as the management company was notified.”

Four tenants on Tuesday said they had not received the written notice on their doors, but an on-site employee of the property manager reiterated that notices were posted at each unit and many tenants from various buildings at the site did confirm receiving the notices.

“I think the management has done a good job of putting their own policies and protocols in place,” Silva-Smith said. “As soon as something is reported, they have acted upon it based on the policies they have put together, the protocol they have put together. And, again, they are following state and CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”

How apartment management groups are meant to deal with the coronavirus pandemic can vary from city to city, said Alan LaSeck, executive director of the Apartment Association of New Mexico.

“It is hard to say that there are overall rules or guidelines that apply,” he said. “There really isn’t a standard that everyone is held to, outside of state regulations or OSHA regulations (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).”

LaSeck noted that, even within New Mexico, some cities, such as Albuquerque, have issued their own regulations.

The state association has posted on its website many links pertinent to COVID-19 matters. That includes the links to the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that bars tenant evictions for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic and National Apartment Association and Institute of Real Estate Management webinars and resources. NAA and IREM resources provide what LaSeck calls “suggestions” for property managers.

A posted webinar included two property managers talking about their policies to give immediate notice of any COVID-19 diagnosis among staff or tenants and to quarantine any staff who tests positive or has had contact with someone who tested positive.

A request for information from the New Mexico Department of Health was not provided by press time, but its website (www.nmhealth.org) has links to the state-produced “All Together New Mexico: COVID-19 Safe Practices” to give guidance to various industries.

While there are no specific guidelines for multifamily properties, there is a section related to hotels, resorts and lodging businesses. The Department of Health website also has links to the CDC guidelines, which include recommendations for retirement communities, group homes and congregate living facilities for people with disabilities.

Those guidelines note that special consideration is sometimes needed in dealing with vulnerable populations, as they might be advised by their own health care providers to avoid face coverings or certain chemicals and sanitizers.

Cindy Clare, chief operating officer for Bell Partners Inc. and one of the speakers in a National Apartment Association webinar, said that residential property owners and managers often have stricter obligations to their tenants than commercial property owners. For instance, apartment managers have an obligation to both notify tenants and protect privacy, she said.

“We have to make sure that whatever information we give, we are not violating anyone’s privacy,” she said. “Particularly in the multifamily, it is more heavily regulated.”

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, which provides federally funded housing vouchers for some senior citizens and disabled people, also has a publication about COVID-19 practices. But it refers questions about tenants’ health and infection prevention to local public health departments and the CDC.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.