Clean taps, healthy communities

Prioritizing safe water in due diligence walks

Unsafe drinking water may have gained national attention with the Flint, MI crisis, but multifamily operators across the U.S. have long been on the hook to provide clean water for residents. Here’s how Due Diligence walks can prioritize the issue.

Unsafe drinking water may have gained national attention with the Flint, MI crisis, but multifamily operators across the U.S. have long been on the hook to provide clean water for residents. Here’s how Due Diligence walks can prioritize the issue.

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Unsafe drinking water may have gained national attention with the Flint, MI crisis, but multifamily operators across the U.S. have long been on the hook to provide clean water for residents. Here’s how Due Diligence walks can prioritize the issue.

Quality drinking water is a problem that’s far from solved in the United States, as the New York Times recently reported. A new study suggests up to 21 million Americans may have been exposed to unsafe drinking water in 2015 alone. After highlighting the Flint case, the co-authors note: “a surprisingly large number of local water systems serving millions of Americans sometimes contain unsafe levels of contaminants like lead, nitrates, arsenic, or pathogens that can cause gastrointestinal diseases.”

Making matters worse, the issue of unsafe drinking water is especially prevalent in areas where people face an uphill battle financially and politically: low-income rural communities, according to the New York Times. Minorities in particular suffer the consequences of faulty water systems, according to Texas A&M professor Manuel Teodoro, who argues: “The probability of drinking water violations is significantly greater in communities that are both poor and non-white.

By conducting water quality checks during a Due Diligence walk, multifamily operators can lead the charge preventing public safety hazards. Identifying these problems from the beginning can also prevent significant financial losses down the line — as long-term engagement with a municipality may be the only solution to protect people, as with Flint. In California, meanwhile, residents can withhold rent from landlords altogether if they deem their housing conditions uninhabitable — i.e. over certain water or mold issues that affect “the tenant’s physical health and safety.”

Thus, it’s valuable to understand the increasing focus on water quality issues across the U.S…

From Flint to California: the rise of water safety concerns.

child drinking

Indeed, the Flint, Michigan crisis has resulted in increasing media coverage of water safety hazards in multifamily communities and beyond. Researchers from the U.S. Water Alliance, for example, “found that in Lowndes County, Alabama, only 20 percent of the population is connected to a sewer system. As a result, people live with raw sewage regularly overflowing into their yards or backing up into their homes.”

To be sure, the problem of poor water quality isn’t confined to the Midwest or South. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made clear in his January 2019 State of the State address: “More than 1.5 million residents — north, central, and south, rural, and urban — are currently serviced by water with elevated lead levels.” Environmental and health officials estimate 350,000 New Jersey homes and businesses are connected to lead service lines that pollute their tap water supply.

Thousands of miles west in California, philanthropist Tom Steyer joined state leaders in late March 2019 to tour a part of Coachella Valley known for water safety concerns. The Desert Sun describes the group’s visit to a local elementary school, where “fire hydrants… don’t work” and an “outdated well” recently failed, both of which highlighted the need “for access to safe drinking water.”

Before exploring just how multifamily operators can identify these hazards during Due Diligence, it’s valuable to ask: what kinds of research efforts and political efforts are now underway to solve water issues?

Powerful research, changing laws: the fight against water hazards.

testing water

Fortunately, a burst of research on water quality issues could spell changing laws — and healthier communities — across the country. To some academics, the first step to fixing the problem may revolve around staffing shortages common in some rural communities.

Texas A&M political scientist Manuel Teodoro notes, “Many of these smaller utilities have just a handful of people who are charged with managing the entire system.” Teodoro suggests both a funding and organizational fix: “states might provide aid to help smaller water utilities merge and consolidate into larger systems that are better able to comply with complex safety rules.”

However, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is pushing for more support at the federal level. In Governor Murphy’s view, “outdated infrastructure is a national problem and it requires a national solution.” Like other states, New Jersey accesses “federal dollars from a revolving fund to finance water improvement projects.” Yet, it still cannot summon the budget to address all of the state’s water needs, which include modernizing hundreds of sewer treatment plants.

Nevertheless, there’s a growing push to solve water problems through political means; a 25-member task force formed by Jersey Water Works is working to “develop practical and effective policies for eliminating lead in New Jersey’s drinking water.” The goal: publish a report this September with both policy suggestions and action items.

In Baltimore, meanwhile, city housing laws are changing in part to prioritize water quality as a public health issue. A new rule for landlords forces all units to now meet a set of basic safety standards — “such as running hot and cold water, functioning toilets, safe electrical systems, a lack of water damage and smoke detectors.” Previously, only buildings with three or more units had to pass such inspections, but they made up the minority of housing offerings in the city.

Needless to say, operators who are looking to acquire a significant amount of units all at once will need an inspection process capable of catching glaring problems with water quality. Here’s how a mobile software solution can help during Due Diligence.

How to prevent another Flint? Due Diligence + mobile software.

On a basic level, Due Diligence walks are the prime opportunity to identify property concerns — and act on them. Using mobile inspection software can have a far more powerful effect than paper forms when it comes to discovering, documenting, and sharing issues during the walks.

For example, a mobile inspection solution can allow operators to set up required items on a Due Diligence walkthrough. It can prove game-changing for water issues, as property managers and maintenance technicians will not be able to submit their inspection unless they rate all required items. Here are several water-specific items to consider requiring in a DD walk:

  • Evidence of mold in pipes: yes/no
  • Leak from sink: yes/no
  • Hot water from shower system: yes/no
  • Bathroom sink water quality — pollution present? yes/no
  • Kitchen sink water quality — pollution present? yes/no
  • Kitchen walls — evidence of water intrusion? yes/no

Additionally, a mobile inspection solution can require that operators take a photo if they note that a required field such as “Evidence of mold” is rated “yes” (i.e. unsatisfactory) answer.

On a portfolio-wide level, operators can also receive far more reassurance using a mobile Due Diligence solution than the standard paper method. Due Diligence software that provides customized forms, real-time dashboards, and instant reports give operators the speed and accuracy they need for successful budgeting and bidding, as well as furnishing an accurate picture of conditions at a given property. If water issues surface in several communities under the same metro region, for example, operators may want to reconsider the value of acquisitions that could be plagued by water quality-control concerns for the long haul.

By conducting a Due Diligence walk with a mobile software solution requiring minimal training and offering detailed unit inspections, operators can trust that the data their teams capture on the ground has the power to shape the best business decisions — as quickly as possible. When it comes to water quality issues, it’s critical that potential buyers know exactly how to keep future residents safe. As Flint and other water crises demonstrate: tainted water causes a host of problems for residents from their physical health to their daily habits.

HappyCo’s Due Diligence solution makes water issues crystal clear!

Transform your property acquisitions with a mobile software solution offering the detailed dashboards, customized forms, and instant reporting you need to budget accurately and bid effectively! Learn more today.

Glennis Markison
About the Author
Glennis Markison
Senior Content & Webinar Producer

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.


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