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Informed outsider: A lawyer looks at property management in the age of COVID-19

When it comes to multifamily property management, Matthew Stayman, a partner at Goodwin law firm and a member of its Real Estate Industry Group, knows a thing or two. Stayman has represented owners and managers of multifamily properties throughout his eight-year career as an attorney. His field of expertise includes negotiating joint venture agreements, property management agreements, and other contracts governing the ownership and management of multifamily assets.

We sat down virtually with the Boston-based Stayman recently to discuss how the multifamily landscape has changed in this new normal. Following are the insights he shared: 

IREM: How are social distancing and work-from home protocols impacting the layout of multifamily properties? 

Stayman: Obviously, for existing buildings, owners and managers must work within the confines of the spaces they have, which they can do with a mix of physical reconfiguration, such as moving the equipment in gyms, and the use of new and existing technologies, like programming keycards to grant gym access to a limited number of residents who’ve reserved time to use the facility. 

Some of the newer high-end multifamily assets with large, multipurpose common spaces are able to reconfigure those areas into segmented areas that can be used as work-from-home space, dining, and smaller gatherings. 

With respect to longer-term design changes to the layout of multifamily properties, perspectives on the impact of the pandemic vary. Some think more data and perhaps another lease cycle is needed to determine whether architectural changes to layouts--such as more balconies and other private outdoor spaces, as well as additional home office space--will become drivers of demand. But there are anecdotes indicating these changes are already making their way into development plans. The scope of these changes and their durability in the long term remain to be seen.

IREM: What other changes are you seeing to the design and management of multifamily properties as a result of COVID-19?

Stayman: We’ve seen owners and managers highly focused on access control, such as touchless technologies and heightened sanitization. Engagement with tenants has also been a hallmark of management during the pandemic, with increased communication necessary to promote social distancing in common areas, navigating rent payment disruptions, and even in some instances alerting residents to a case of the virus. Managers face the challenge of ensuring that personnel are enforcing requirements that masks be worn, that elevator capacity is limited, and similar rules are observed while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere.

IREM: Are such measures being undertaken only by owners and managers in larger portfolios, or are smaller players also participating? 

Stayman: Everyone is reacting to the pandemic, though we’ve seen the scope of activity vary based on the size of the property owner/manager and the demands of each property. Smaller owners and managers have tended to focus more on communication with tenants (particularly around rent), as opposed to the reconfiguration of space and the use of higher-cost technologies.

IREM: How do you see technology playing a role in this transformation? 

Stayman: The larger and more sophisticated owners and managers are keenly focused on how technology will play a role in addressing the pandemic. Touchless access technologies such as smart locks are a large part of the conversation, but there are many other technologies that have become increasingly relevant. These include the use of smartphone apps to increase engagement with neighbors, allowing them to share resources and solicit or offer assistance to other residents without physical contact. In the long term, I see enhanced internet connectivity and security as an imperative as many multifamily residents continue to spend more time working from home.


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