Enter your email address for weekly access to top multifamily blogs!

TheBeckyCurrie

Customer Service, Leasing, Multifamily and Resident Retention

"Is this considered an emergency?"

Is this considered an emergency?

emergency service.png

Almost all apartment communities provide this service and in fact, consider it to be a part of their customer service/amenity package. We tour prospective residents and proudly boast this service.  We are here for you 24/7.  We compile a list of what is considered and emergency and then put in place our process to take these calls and manage them from start to finish.  With my organization, we take it a step further and offer extra features to both resident and management office.  Things like documenting the maintenance tech response time, sending a photograph of the responding technician to the resident via text message AND recording the call between the maintenance technician the resident.  These tools are helping our clients provide an even higher level of service to their residents.   One of the most useful features, in my opinion, is the call recording.  As part of my preparation for sales presentations, I listen to these calls.  I seek to find calls that will demonstrate the incredible value of being able to hear the conversations.  Almost every time I listen to these calls, I hear resident requests for one thing in particular that is not typically considered an emergency.  The common “non emergency” call I hear goes something like this.

Tech: Hello, this is Joe with after hours maintenance, how can I help you”
Resident: “Yes, I’m not sure this is considered an emergency, but my smoke detector is making a chirping sound and I don’t know how to get it to stop.”
Tech: “Yeah, it probably just needs a battery, we can come out and put a new battery in tomorrow morning.”
Resident: well, how am I going to be able to sleep with this chirping going on constantly, I have a big day at work tomorrow and I need my sleep.”
Tech: “you can just take it down and remove the battery, that will make it stop chirping for now and we’ll come out tomorrow and put in a new battery.”

Sound familiar?  Just this past weekend, I heard a news story about two small children who perished in a house fire because there were no working smoked detectors in the house.  When I heard the story, it really struck a chord.  Having worked onsite for most of my career, I remember these calls, I remember going into apartments for inspections etc. and seeing smoke alarms taken down and just collecting dust on a counter or a table.  I often wondered how long has it been like that.  And now, still hearing the calls where the resident is instructed to take it down and wait for the repair during business hours.  What if that is the night a fire starts?

It compelled me to write this brief blog to shed light on this since I hear so many tech’s tell residents that this is not considered an emergency.  It also makes sense to add this (if it’s not already) to our semi annual unit inspection.   Most communities enter the apartments twice a year to replace the furnace filters, are the smoke detector batteries also being replaced (not just checked) at the same time?  It also offers us the opportunity to catch the ones where the resident took it upon themselves to take the detector down and neglected to call us for repair or new batteries.

We all know how devastating a fire is any where it happens and it’s the one thing we, as property managers, pray we’ll never have to experience.  But if it happens at your property, this one thing could make the difference between a resident losing their belongings or losing their life.

 
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You need to proof read your post. Say we we take it a step further.
Great article though and great idea for smaller community apartment buildings.

  philip
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for your feedback Phillip! I really think any rental where maintenance service is offered would benefit!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is why I feel all units should have at least 2 smoke detectors in the unit. I do not think maintenance should go to a unit overnight to change a battery. It probably started beeping a few days before and they got tired of it beeping when they went to bed. Wired in with a battery back-up are the best ones to use.

  Sandy Martin
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm certain that current occupancy codes require multiple units in an apartment...such as 1 in the living room and 1 per bedroom. When you have townhomes or two story units, having at least one on each level would be key as well. I'm really happy so many have read this post!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

My heart rate went over 150 beats per minute and I could not sleep when my smoke alarms malfunctioned. The fact is, ALL smoke alarms DO beep when just ONE smoke alarm in the array malfunctions and beeps. By malfunction, I mean the unit keeps beeping when a good battery is installed! After a restless night and cardiac frights, and no response from my apartment management, I had to take out all three smoke alarms in my apartment to put an end to the beeps. It was not sufficient for me to remove the batteries; my smoke alarms WERE wired in. And let it be noted that when I sold my house and moved to an apartment, I gave away my ladder. In order to reach my smoke alarms I had to stand on a plastic step stool that I set on top of a chair. I saw no other way. For an elderly person, this is an insanely dangerous thing to do. And yet, the chirping was unendurable. So please reconsider your 4-sentence comment. Every single thing you said was wrong. a. Having 2 or more smoke detectors does not eliminate false alarms. b. Maintenance SHOULD go overnight to troubleshoot a beeping smoke detector. (You are incorrect in assuming that a battery-change will fix any smoke detector). c. You betray an attitude of contempt for your tenants when you speculate that anyone would endure "a few days" of beeping (and remember, each day is followed by a night!) before one night they finally got tired of beeping. d. Wired-in with battery backup may be "best", but you need a reality-check if you think they are fail-safe. You would be to blame if a tenant was injured by falling while trying to make the beeping stop. And to blame if fire broke out and went undetected because smoke detectors were malfunctioing. You would also be to blame if the stress and anxiety induced by the beeps precipitated a cardiac event. You may argue this point, but remember, the beep are engineered by very smart people to be intensely alerting and annoying.

  Missy Ferguson
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I don't think that maintenance should have to go out overnight to change a battery either, I agree with Sandy Martin. As part of our move in walk thru process we do show our tenants how to take the smoke detector down and change the battery so that they are capable of doing it themselves in cases like this.

  Candee
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you Candee for your feedback! I agree and with you on the battery topic...which is why it makes sense to cover that at move in, but also replace them semi annually. Chances are that if we are doing that on a regular basis the dead battery calls would be few and far between. I think it's great that we are having this discussion!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I feel that the smoke detector is our insurance to not only protect resident but also protect the property, the owners and investors. Yes, its expensive to send someone out at night to change the battery, but not as expensive as someones life! Never tell a resident to take the detector down!

  David
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks so much for your feedback David! I'm in 100% agreement with you! If we are taking the up front steps to ensure the detectors are inspected and the batteries are replaced regularly, the calls should go down, but if a call does come in...it's considered an emergency in my book!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article. I personally hate the use of an emergency "list" and this is yet another great example why. That is why we do NOT have a "list". We simply ask is this something that needs to be taken care of now or can it wait. Most cases the caller responds with wait. However, the scenario I like to give is a clogged garbage disposal. I would consider the smoke detector example you provide is more of an emergency. However, say you are preparing for a dinner party for several guests and the the sink gets clogged up. The design of apartments today puts the kitchen and/or sink right in the middle of the apartment. Now you have several guest soon to arrive and the sink is clogged full of water and food retirements. Is this not an emergency?

Simple - You will WIN more by providing the option than you will loose for paying a tech to visit the apartment home.

  Gene Harris
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

<p>Thank you so much for your incredibly good points in response to my post! You get the gold medal for the BEST response! I absolutely love your outlook on customer service! I bet you have some pretty happy residents and very low availability!! I think each property is unique and this would be ideal, but when the logistics don't allow this level of service...it makes sense to look to safety as the priority. I'm so pleased that so many have read this post and we are talking about it!</p>

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

1. Becky, thanks for such a great post. This obviously is an issue that so many communities deal with on such a regular basis. I think it was a good treatment of the subject and obviously was well written enough to really open up a discussion.

2. I really love Gene's response. This seems to be the perfect world way to deal with the situation. This type of philosophy allows the individual to have a specific level of responsibility in the issue. Obviously, there are some residents to whom every little thing is a catastrophic emergency and they will always absolutely have to have maintenance out. But, the majority of residents are likely to understand that they are calling someone in who is on call and can balance their need with this inconvenience. Residents are even more likely to be able to wait on a battery change if they have it explained to them that they are responsible for this part of home upkeep.
This also highlights the importance in a high level of training with the maintenance staff. If we move away from having a specific "list" of maintenance emergencies we start to rely on the individual judgement of each member of our maintenance team and therefore need to make sure that we instill them with the same company culture including that highest level of service.

  Elliot Rich
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you for feedback Elliot! Great comments and we both definitely agree with Gene's post for clear and obvious reasons! I love how much attention this post is getting if for no other reason then to get conversation started and the sharing of ideas! We are all in this together!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

<p>Our tenants are responsible for replacing the batteries in the smoke detector. If the smoke detector fails to test as working after the tenant replaces the battery we will install a new one.</p>

  Linda
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Replacing a battery isn't rocket science.

  Sarah
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for your feedback Sarah. No, not rocket science ;)...but there are some who aren't physically able to reach the smoke detector. At a minimum, it makes sense to respond to calls and determine how to proceed on a case by case basis. At the end of the day though...if they call and ask for help and we refuse, there is liability there. It's a small price to pay to protect the owner's asset not to mention the safety of the other residents in the building should the resident decide not to replace the battery but instead remove the detector!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Fire is one of my main concerns as a maintenance technician. San Diego requires smoke alarms inside every bedroom, within twenty feet of the outside of every bedroom door, the common area of every unit and on every level if the unit is more than one story tall. Also California requires a carbon monoxide detector on every level. Although battery replacement has been made the tenants' responsibility, if there is a problem with an alarm we have been replaing them with the ten year battery type. This allows us to confidently test the alarms during preventative maintenance inspections without wondering if the battery may be about to expire. These alarms are much more expensive initially but when you do away with ten years of service calls they obviously pay for themselves.

  Rusty Grant SDCPM Maintenance
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

<p>Thank you for your input Rusty! If you have the brand of that detector, others may want to look into it, please share!!?? <img alt=":)" class="kmt-emoticon" src="http://www.multifamilyinsiders.com/components/com_komento/themes/kuro/images/markitup/emoticon-smile.png" /> I love everything you said here!</p>

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is what we've been replacing our hard wired/battery backups with as they need changed out.

  PropertyMom
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I have to back Becky up on this one. I so, so, so, believe it is our responsibility to respond to this type of call out. Of course no one likes to leave a warm bed at midnight or come back at 6:30 pm to do it. However, even if you show a resident how to change the battery and even provide a spare battery, what happens if Mrs. Smith climbs on a chair and installs it improperly anyway? And there is a fire? Or, Mrs. Smith falls off that chair and hurts herself? As a renter, your Resident has the right to expect this level of service. To me - it is a LIFE SAFETY issue and as such should be considered an emergency.

  Mindy Sharp
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for backing me up Mindy! I'm just so glad we are all talking about this! I also consider the safety of the other residents in the building too! What if the resident just takes the detector down to stop the chirping and never tells us! Considering a change to the after hours calls is equally important to the regular inspections!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

My recommendation is to explain to the resident that the chirping means the battery needs changing soon, but the smoke detector will still work. The technician should ask them if they are able to change the battery themselves (many apartment communities require the residents to do this themselves). If they are unable to change the battery, then I would recommend that the technician go ahead and go out on the call. I would NOT recommend telling the resident to remove smoke detectors for liability reasons and safety. In addition, the smoke detectors should be checked quarterly, along with air filters, by the maintenance staff. Lastly, I would recommend installing 10 year Lithium batteries if your budget allows the added expense. This will greatly cut down on dying batteries.

  Rob Axtell
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great points Rob! Thank you so much for your feedback!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You should first check your state laws. In some states (not sure if it's federal) it's illegal to remove a smoke detector so perhaps some research is needed on this and the maintenance people need to be educated. Also, battery alarms doesn't just start going off like that. There's a gradual build up of the beeps that signify the battery is losing power. The situation is that your tenant ignored it to the point where they couldn't stand it anymore and finally got around to making the call. It's not an emergency if they've been dealing with it all this time and they can go one more night and you dispatch the tech first thing in the morning.
I realize that some may disagree with this however as important we consider the comfort and safety of residents I also consider it important to make sure my people have their downtime and not be pulled around for non-emergency issues. At some properties where there is only one maintenance person living on site to respond to emergencies and you can burn them out pretty quickly asking them to respond to non-emergency issues.

  Penny
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for your input Penny. I think there are so many great comments and suggestions to this post! I love that we are talking about it and together we can share ideas that will help reduce if not eliminate these calls altogether. But, on the chance we do get a call...I think safety has to come first. I love the suggestions about the regular inspections as well as the long life (10 year) batteries! Definitely worth looking into so that our technicians can rest easy, especially on the smaller sites where the same tech is perpetually on call!

  Becky Currie
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

It may appear that I'm contradicting my original statement, however when I have techs that try to use this as leverage they are reminded that although we take their personal time seriously they were aware of what was expected when they were hired.

  Penny
Load More

Comment Below

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.multifamilyinsiders.com/