BY: Neidy Pinuelas, Asset Management Chair

Property Management Inspections during COVID-19

Governor Newsom proclaimed a State of Emergency as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic in March of 2020, several property management entities halted the property inspections to slow the spread of COVID-19 to protect both tenants and their employees. Questions arose on what is property management doing to complete their property inspections and comply with CA civil code 1941.1(a), which indicates a dwelling will be considered uninhabitable if it substantially lacks any of the standards as described in Section 17920.3, or 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code; and for those properties acquired using federal funds, to also comply with 23 CFR 710.201 (a) which indicates the State Department of Transportation (SDOT) has the overall responsibility for the management of real property interests on its Federal-aid projects ensuring compliance with the requirements of this part and other Federal laws and regulations.

As residential real estate services were deemed an essential service per the Cyber Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), some property management procedures involved visual drive-by exterior inspections conducted by the agency and rely on photos submitted by the tenants for interior maintenance concerns.

On the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) web page the following questions were asked:

Q: What is the recommended Best Practice for property managers who wish to show a tenant occupied property or must enter to make necessary repairs during the corona virus pandemic?

A: The C.A.R. Best Practices Guidelines recommends that you only enter the property if the tenant expressly consents to allow entry and after having advised the tenant of the dangers relating to having persons enter the property. Moreover, both the tenant and the person entering will declare that they are not afflicted with a COVID 19 respiratory illness to the best of their belief. C.A.R. has the PEAD form for this purpose.

Q: Are property managers or workmen legally allowed to interact with a tenant face-to-face?

A: Yes. As an essential service, property managers are legally permitted to perform their work even if it requires a face-to-face interaction. However, repairs should only be made when they are “essential.” For example, maintenance and repair of plumbing, heating, electrical, safety, habitability and sanitation will necessarily be essential maintenance. While cosmetic repairs such as painting and upgrading appliances would not. There may be more restrictive local laws. For example, while the city of Los Angeles does designate property management as an essential service, it also requires a mask to be worn during any face-to-face interactions as well as maintenance of social distancing rules. Some localities require the posting of social distance warning signs at the entrance of multi-unit dwellings. While most of the Bay Area counties which previously excluded real estate as an essential service have amended their ordinances to align with Governor’s order, there may still be some counties that adhere to the more restrictive standard.

Ultimately, Agencies should continue to follow Best Practice Policies and Procedures. It is recommended that no more than two persons should enter the property at the same time, follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, wear a mask, wear disposable gloves, and keep six-foot distance. Discussion after inspections should be conducted by telephone, email, or any other virtual communication rather than in person. It is the responsibility of the local agency and the SDOT to ensure compliance with managing all occupied properties acquired for the project(s) until disposal.

For information on Property Management guidance, please follow Caltrans Chapter 11 of the Right of Way Manual. This chapter is detailed in Landlord Tenant laws, including new statutes. Caltrans Chapter 13 of the Local Assistance Manual has been updated to reflect clarity of the disposal expectations of excess property.