Multifamily N Illinois

Three reasons why apartment maintenance crews are your key to retaining residents in winter weather

Property management during a winter storm should focus on prevention, protection and people. Property management during a winter storm should focus on prevention, protection and people.
Gerry Tanzer, director of maintenance for RMK Management. Gerry Tanzer, director of maintenance for RMK Management.
Pedro Zavala, chief engineer and maintenance supervisor at RMK-managed Versailles on the Lakes Schaumburg, Illinois. Pedro Zavala, chief engineer and maintenance supervisor at RMK-managed Versailles on the Lakes Schaumburg, Illinois.

Midwesterners were served their first taste of Winter 2019 this past Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when Mother Nature dropped eight inches of snow on us. While we are tough and forge ahead no matter what, sometimes we need to rely on others to make life just a little bit easier for us.

One example: the millions who live in multifamily communities, for whom apartment maintenance crews are the weather event first-responders, making or breaking how well they cope with intense weather conditions. Our mettle was put to the test this weekend as we literally moved mountains of snow to keep our properties running smoothly. But we met every challenge we faced.

With over 6,000 apartment homes under management in four midwestern states, and forty years of experience, RMK’s maintenance team knows how to deal with snow, freezing temperatures and anything else Mother Nature has in store. Drawing on decades of property management experience, the RMK team has identified three key areas where maintenance crews provide valuable expertise and assistance to help residents weather a storm: prevention, protection and people.

Prevention

The first and most important step is preventative maintenance, and that starts well before the inaugural frost. While the rest of us are bidding adieu to Indian summer by dusting off our sweaters and scouting apple farms, building maintenance crews are hard at work testing heating systems, clearing gutters and roof drains, servicing snow removal equipment, stocking ice melt and rock salt and meticulously planning daily maintenance routines to make sure everything will run smoothly when that first snowflake falls.

The crews take inventory and place orders for equipment and supplies to make sure every property is fully stocked before the winter season begins. At RMK, our motto is “Prepare to be prepared,” so when the first winter weather event hits, our team is ready to spring into action.

We have tapped our depth of property management experience to create an exhaustive checklist of preemptive measures, and we conscientiously follow them. For example, we check heating systems three times a week to perform routine maintenance and reduce failures. While you may think roof drains only need to be cleaned during the rainy season, it’s actually just as critical in the winter, as a clogged gutter can cause a dangerous buildup of ice on the rooftop. We even keep an entire season’s worth of ice melt on hand—at all times—just to be sure we have enough to clear the walkways and roads should the need arise.

The maintenance team has a precisely planned route at each property for plowing snow on walkways and parking lots. From the starting point to which direction the snow is pushed to where the accumulated snow is eventually stored, every decision has an impact on how effectively our team can clear the property and make it safe for walking and driving.

Protection

In addition to snow, winter brings freezing temperatures that can wreak havoc on utilities. To protect pipes and reduce the likelihood of equipment failures, our team has established operating guidelines that have proven effective at maintaining functionality in adverse conditions.

Our day starts with a drive around the property to do a visual inspection and verify that critical first steps, such as snow removal, have begun. Keeping all thermostats above a minimum threshold of 65 degrees ensures the ambient air temperature is warm enough to keep pipes from freezing. By performing daily inspections of doors, windows and heating systems, we can identify trouble spots before they cause damage. For the same reason we also inspect vacant units routinely.

Water pipes are perhaps the most vulnerable to damage or failure in below-freezing weather. In addition to standard precautions—leaving water dripping in faucets and opening cabinet doors—we also step up preventative efforts to preserve heat in the building by installing high-grade weather strips on doors and wrapping exposed pipes with heat tape.

People

Weather also takes a toll on residents’ daily lives and the RMK team goes above and beyond to help in resident satisfaction, especially during the cold winter months. At any time, you might find our maintenance team clearing snow around a parked car, providing a jump start for a dead car battery or assisting with package deliveries.

Our goal is to ensure residents’ day-to-day lives continue to run smoothly even when harsh weather happens during the most inconvenient times—like a snowstorm before work. We over-communicate before and during a weather event so residents know what to expect and how we can help them. For example, we remind residents where to park during heavy snow days so snow removal can be done safely and efficiently.

As for the hard-working members of the maintenance team, they need protection during the winter months too. With an overnight snow, our day starts at 4 a.m., when we begin to clear the walkways, and the team is on duty until the last flake falls and the last path is cleared.

The days are long, and the load is heavy, so it’s important to make sure there are enough hands on deck to get the job done. Our team members rotate at regular intervals and take frequent breaks, especially for labor-intensive efforts like snow removal. A meticulously planned maintenance routine is also paramount, so everyone fully understands the role he/she will play in each day’s activity.

In addition, RMK encourages and supports the team to educate themselves and empowers them to make decisions in the moment on behalf of residents. The confidence and support of RMK leadership gives the maintenance team a higher credibility and value within the organization.

In short, we take our jobs seriously because we know how important it is to keep our residents safe and our properties protected. We are proud to be the winter weather first-responders for the thousands of residents we serve.

About the authors

Gerry Tanzer is the director of maintenance for RMK Management. Pedro Zavala is the chief engineer and maintenance supervisor at RMK-managed Versailles on the Lakes Schaumburg and the recipient of the Chicagoland Apartment Association’s 2018 CAMME award for best maintenance supervisor.