Managing Multifamily Developments

Designing and constructing green buildings is the easy part — especially for nice, big office buildings where tenants have 10-year leases, or for retail centers with long-term clients. Or heck, even for schools, hospitals and civic buildings where the owner or end-user never changes! From a green perspective, that makes life so much easier for those who are actually managing and maintaining those projects. Turnover is low, capital improvements are way down the line, and outside of the general preventative maintenance and other daily activities, things can be pretty quiet.

Enter the wide world of multifamily developments — and green multifamily at that. Whether it is affordable housing or high-end corporate rentals, most multifamily housing shares the same characteristics — high turnover, lots of unit repairs and a whole lot of unreturned security deposits. Throw in dealing with all these issues on a green project and trying to maintain the sustainable integrity of the buildings, and you’ve got your hands full every time a lease comes due or a tenant scoots on down the road.

What becomes clear early on is the need for a green property management and unit turnover plan to be in place before the first occupant is handed his or her keys. I’ve recently finished a number of multifamily projects and had the opportunity to craft a few of these plans, and the earlier the jump you can get on it, the better. If it is new construction, it is ideal to craft such plans a few months before move-in dates, while you still have all the spec sheets from construction available, design team members are still talking to you and the general contractor is at the site. It is much easier to have all the necessary information gathered then and there while you still have the opportunity to discuss options with manufacturers, etc.

That being said, there are owners of millions of units of multifamily housing out there who might want to start managing their properties in a more sustainable fashion and can still create a comprehensive green property management plan. It just sometimes takes a bit longer to compile the appropriate specifications, matching products, etc. if you don’t have that information already handy.

So what exactly goes into a green multifamily property management and unit turnover plan? Well, I’m not a multifamily property manager — you who are obviously have much more ingrained sense of all the details that must be addressed for the upkeep and leasing of these properties. But the following is an abbreviated baseline that should be included in most property management plans. I could go in depth on each topic, but there’s only so much room in this column.

Ongoing operations — replace air filters monthly (or bimonthly) with MERV 8 filters; provide centralized fluorescent light bulb recycling opportunities (much easier done at the leasing office/community center to get a critical mass than trying to recycle one bulb); implement a green cleaning program (using Green Seal-certified cleaning products); implement sustainable procurement policies (specifying recycled office paper, toilet paper, paper towels, and non-disposable products); arrange a facility-wide recycling program; start facility-wide composting (if you’re really ambitious); and use organic or IPM landscaping.

Unit turnover — repaint with low-VOC paints; replace carpet with CRI Green Label Plus carpet; have in place a carpet recycling program (usually in conjunction with the selected manufacturer); clean units with Green Seal cleaning products; use low-flow plumbing fixtures; and install CFL replacements.

The lists could go on and on, but as a basic template it’s a good place to start.