HMO Investing Wendy Whittaker-Large  

Twelve Ways to Adapt Your HMO for Covid-19

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the whole world is going to have to adapt to the unusual and challenging situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with a vaccine, the variants suggest that as HMO investors we have to adapt if we are going to have a business that survives. I’ve outlined 12 Top Tips to Adapt Your HMO for Covid-19 if you want to stay ahead of the curve and have a property that is safe, well run and attractive for tenants. Applying these tips will cost some time and money, but could provide the edge for your HMOs to enable you to get through what could be a long drawn-out situation.

Desks. Now that working from home has become the new normal, having a desk space in a room will become a necessity for many tenants. If there’s little floor space, there are some amazing space-saving designs. A drop-down desk could provide the perfect solution.

Fridge and Kettle. Tenants appreciate having separate space in their room for storage of food, and to make a hot drink. There are pros and cons to this, such as breakages, cost and health and safety issues and risks. You could ask the tenant for a small deposit against breakages and to ensure that they maintain food safety within their room. This small touch can help them stay more comfortably at home and is a fantastic additional feature to advertise.

Regular Covid-19 Deep Cleans. You probably already organise regular cleaners in your HMOs but a regular extra deep clean is a good idea. Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing!  We now know that Covid-19 can live on surfaces for up to nine days and survives in the air for a few hours. It even survives on cardboard and paper. We also now know that the virus particles are shed through saliva and fluids coughed up from the lungs. And that the virus can also be shed from our faeces. (Nice!) Speak to your cleaning agency to discuss what their regime is and ensure that all surfaces are being both cleaned AND disinfected. Areas that can sometimes get missed are:

  • banister rails
  • work surfaces like desks, platforms and workstations
  • handles on doors & windows
  • control panels such as keylocks, or room control pads
  • light switches
  • taps, kettles, water heaters, fridges, microwaves and cupboards
  • post boxes and letter holders

In-built hand sanitisers. These are easy to install and avoid the problem of sanitiser solution bottles going missing.

Fresh Air! There is evidence that air flow dissipates Covid-19 from spaces, which is why outdoor meetings were allowed by the government early on in the slow release from lockdown. Stale indoor air increases the chance of the virus staying around, so make sure that your HMO is properly aired regularly. If tenants won’t comply, then at least when your cleaners are there, ask them to air the house by opening windows and doors.

WIFI. If you don’t already subscribe for superfast broadband now is the time to upgrade. Additional wifi boosters can be plugged in to areas of the property where reception is poor. With more tenants either working from home, reliant on deliveries, or looking for additional or new employment, their access to the internet is of supreme importance.

Communication Strategy. Update tenants with current guidance and information. Many will not keep up with alterations and changes from the government about social distancing and personal responsibilities, and will benefit from a regular email letting them know what the current rules and guidelines are.

Posters. We implemented a really simple poster strategy in all our HMOs. A simple, clear and direct message about hygiene, hand washing and social distancing is all that is needed. With over 150 tenants we have had NO reported cases of Coronavirus. Perhaps it would be a long shot to claim that was because of our posters!  Providing information that is regularly updated shows tenants that you are mindful of their health and safety and aware of the risks they are managing. Displaying these on noticeboards and in communal areas reduces the risk of anyone missing the information.

Policy for Covid-19. Whether or not you are managing your own HMO, it’s useful to consider the areas of your business that will be affected by Covid-19. Loss of rent is probably the biggest potential impact. Knowing your approach to bad debt and poor payers is crucial to ensure you survive, as many tenants will use this time as an excuse not to pay. Have a clear policy which starts with a conversation about reduced rent before you move onto more serious action such as eviction and a Money Claim Online process. Don’t be scared to follow this route if you need to.

PPE. Viewings of your HMO should be done with PPE to enhance social distancing measures. Ordering in some masks and gloves will allow you to stay safe and keep tenants safe.

Once monthly Covid-19 HMO health checks. Or what you might know as Risk Assessments. These may be required by Local Authorities in time, but for now, you may wish to undertake your own Covid-10 Risk Assessment by checking that information and guidance for tenants is up to date, that the cleaning teams have cleaned AND disinfected areas, and that tenants are keeping areas clean and clearing up after themselves. This is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘need to have’ in HMOs.

Provide Extra Cleaning Materials. Soap and water is still considered to be the best way to clean hands, surfaces and items that have been touched. This though doesn’t disinfect. So to be doubly sure, those surfaces also need to be disinfected. 

The World Health Organisation has said ‘In non-health care settings, sodium hypochlorite (bleach / chlorine) may be used at a recommended concentration of 0.1% or 1,000ppm (1 part of 5% strength household bleach to 49 parts of water). Alcohol at 70-90% can also be used for surface disinfection. Surfaces must be cleaned with water and soap or a detergent first to remove dirt, followed by disinfection.Cleaning should always start from the least soiled (cleanest) area to the most soiled (dirtiest) area in order to not spread the dirty to areas that are less soiled.’

While your cleaners will not use bleach-based solutions due to COSHH, tenants can use cleaners such as the ones in the picture.

I hope these tips help you ensure the health of your tenants and your business. As Charles Darwin said: ‘It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt  to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself’. Now is the time to adapt and change, and Covid-19 will force us to do just that if we are to survive.