As your most visible amenities, your properties’ patios and decks have the power to promote your brand promise — or break it. Here’s how to ensure a pattern of quality, safety and daily delight alfresco style.
Spring’s warmth and joie de vivre is returning color to the Northern hemisphere — and your newly revived residents are itching to celebrate the season by spending long hours on your outdoor patios. Are your open-air amenities ready for action?
The plight of your patios lies at the intersection of landscape design, construction, seasonal maintenance and resident lifestyles. They serve as your 3- or even 4-season property centerpieces — setting the mood and supporting the spirit of your communities. To a high degree, they’re the most visible as well as the most vulnerable of your multifamily amenities.
Year-round exposure to the elements, subjection to all manner of resident behaviors, less-than-ideal design and/or shoddy construction work has the potential to create safety hazards, eyesores and extra labor for your teams. Keeping your outdoor gathering areas in tip-top shape really is no picnic (or barbecue).
To your residents and prospective new customers, a patio is worth a thousand words (whether well-maintained or not) and your brand promise is reflected in your attention to their design and upkeep. As NMHC’s Multifamily Disruption Report notes: “People today are looking at spaces not only as serving a function but also as providing an experience. And the apartment industry is beginning to get that.” So as warmer weather draws many of us out from our winter hibernation, it’s high time to check on your patios, decks and outdoor spaces for safety and quality — and evaluate the experiences they create.
Below we cover 2 ways you can achieve higher quality and safety compliance, and encourage respectful resident treatment of your patios and decks to foster maximum enjoyment and reduce labor for your onsite personnel.
See #1 for guidelines on how to level-up your property walks, so your common area patios and decks get properly inspected and maintained across your portfolio.
See #2 for tips on assessing and responding quickly to resident unit patio violations, so you can win the resident behavior “culture war” at your properties.
"People today are looking at spaces not only as serving a function but also as providing an experience. And the apartment industry is beginning to get that."
#1: Perfect Your Property Walks
As you prepare your properties’ common outdoor spaces for cookouts, lazy lounging and bare feet, ensuring your personnel are routinely inspecting your patios and decks will keep them usable, safe and quality-assured.
Poorly monitored and maintained shared patios at your properties preclude residents and guests from being able to enjoy them without risk. Deficient drainage that results in slippery surfaces. Uneven settling of pavers that creates trip hazards. Loose slabs. Jutting-out bricks. Crumbling concrete. Storm-damaged shade structures. Decayed wood. Rusted railings or fencing. Neglected lighting. Pest infestations. Broken property grills. Hazards all! Even the type of soil underneath your hardscaping can give you headaches if it doesn’t absorb water well or compacts further than expected.
And then there are threats more specific to issues of usability and quality, like stains due to filth, mold and algae, and zealous weeds you might swear are sticking out their tongues at your best efforts to control them.
Quickly identifying and deploying appropriate resources to address issues like these requires that you establish property visibility — in real time. Performing regular inspections is the way to establish property visibility. And recording documentation is how you reduce liability. But if you’re using a paper or manual system for inspections, reporting lags far behind; both time-wise and quality-wise. Neither give you instant shared access to inspections, causing communication between your head office and property staff, or even between property staff like your management and maintenance teams, to suffer.
Naturally, we at HappyCo have a lot to say about property inspections, since building best-in-class mobile inspection tools happens to be our forte. Again and again we’ve encountered multifamily companies striving to create the true property visibility they need to optimize their Net Operating Income (NOI) and protect themselves from legal and insurance risks. But collecting standardized portfolio-wide property data often proves to be exceptionally difficult using their current inspection systems. And when their teams aren’t collecting actionable onsite data, decision-making at the top is negatively impacted. So it might be time to put down the clipboards and move to real-time property operations with the right mobile inspection solution.
Below are some patio inspection and maintenance tips to keep top of mind as the weather warms up.
- Grills, hibachis or barbecues are involved in an average of 8,900 home fires per year, with drier regions especially at risk. Inspect and address the leading causes, including failure to clean the grill, positioning too close to flammable materials, leaving them unattended, and leaks or breaks in gas grills. Check your state laws and local regulations for restrictions on grills and open flame cooking.
- Confirm downspouts are channeling water away from the area (and into your rainwater collection system).
- Winter freezing and thawing can wreak havoc on wooden decks, pergolas and shade structures — avoid collapse by tightening, repairing or replacing guard rails, planks, support columns, anchors, fasteners, screws, bolts, or beams as seasons shift.
- Detect, deter and control pests.
- Check for and remove storm debris after severe weather events.
- Be aware that wood in contact with concrete is likely to rot, as concrete acts like a sponge, drawing moisture from the ground and keeping the wood constantly wet.
- Stay on top of code updates for decks and patios in your area and adjust your outdoor spaces and maintenance processes accordingly. California legislation (SB 721) requiring inspections of elevated surfaces like balconies, decks, stairways, walkways and entry structures was introduced after a balcony collapsed in Berkeley in 2015, killing 6 people and injuring 7.
- Use child-safe and pollinator-friendly chemicals for cleaning, pest and weed control (a white vinegar and salt solution is said to work well on weeds, but can kill all plants, not just weeds, so be careful! For areas between tiles or pavers, the salt can keep weeds from regrowing — but again affects all plant growth, so apply with caution.)
- Installing certain features like patio covers may require special permits from your municipality — stay on local government’s good side by obtaining the right permits.
- Uphold your patios’ ADA compliance and check grip strips and other safety features while you’re at it.
"Since implementing HappyCo, we’ve seen an almost 10% increase in the Quarterly Property Inspection scores over the last year — giving us confidence our properties are maintained at even higher levels of quality due to property staff paying more attention to details and to the more comprehensive inspection walks made possible by the HappyCo software."
Senior Regional Manager, GoldOller Real Estate Investments
If your properties feature pools and playgrounds as well as patios, establishing a rock-solid system of record to protect residents and disprove claims of negligence becomes even more critical. Bring on inspection tools that make life easier for your staff, remove the burden of paper or poorly designed software from your organization, and “case dismissed” will be music to your ears.
#2: Wisely Assess and Respond to Resident Violations
Compared to regulating resident behavior, you might think tackling drainage issues and wood rot is a relative breeze. It’s one thing to ensure you and your teams are doing what you can when it comes to landscaping, property conditions and safety, but it’s also critical to partner with residents and foster a sense of mutual respect and duty toward their personal patios, balconies or decks. Managing resident relations well helps you maintain fire code compliance, pest prevention, and aesthetic appeal, plus create a community of renters who have faith in your property manager to enforce your policies.
"It’s also critical to partner with residents and foster a sense of mutual respect and duty toward their personal patios, balconies or decks. Managing resident relations well helps you maintain fire code compliance, pest prevention, and aesthetic appeal, plus create a community of renters who have faith in your property manager to enforce property policies."
The first step is to be clear and open about your policies. Common patio “house rules” and restrictions include:
- Prohibiting personal storage of items in entry ways, patios, decks, etc.
- Keeping areas that are visible to the outside neat and free of clutter like trash, laundry and furniture (unless specifically designed for outdoor use), dead plants, empty boxes, and children’s toys (especially large ones like sandboxes).
- Barring commercial activities that include visits by customers or clients or storing inventory/supplies.
- No temporary structures like tents or trailers.
- Placing responsibility for guest conduct on the resident.
- Keeping areas free of wires and cables.
- Grill Procedures: regulations on multifamily grills vary by state; since grilling can be a high risk activity, firmly communicate your rules to residents.
- Policies around decorations, keeping potted plants on ledges, and more.
Each quarter and each year brings an opportunity to reevaluate and update your patio policies, but you also need to ensure your inspection and maintenance workflow reflects any important changes in order to be successful. With safety, quality, visual appeal and community order as your goals, you can task your inspectors to assess and issue patio violations to residents by documenting breaches with photo evidence on a mobile system, which will also give you the flexibility to update and dispatch forms instantly as you adjust patio violation policies.
Reports can be emailed immediately to the violating resident, complete with photos and comments, making the process of staff-resident communication quicker and quelling disputes. Doing so prevents abuse of your renter agreements and halts a culture of wrongly taking advantage of publicly visible unit patios, decks, and balconies at your properties.
Listen to and consider resident complaints when deciding on policy changes. And be open to finding common ground if the issue at hand doesn’t constitute a legal infraction or infringe on habitability. Showing your willingness to meet residents halfway can make your communities feel more welcoming.
Be known for peerless properties with perfect patios.
Establish and maintain unquestionable quality, rock-solid safety and daily delight at your outdoor gathering spaces with HappyCo’s mobile inspection tools.