Disaster Response Discussion Board

re-opening multi-tenant buildings after contamination

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    Eventually, there will be a desire/need to re-occupy now vacant office, industrial  and retail buildings.

    Assuring the tenants/occupants that the buildings have been freed of contamination will be relatively easy. Greater difficulty comes in dealing with requests for assurances that the buildings will remain free of contamination when hundreds or thousands of people enter and exit each day.

    I have personal experience with clearing buildings following contamination, but not in a situation where tenants might well re-contaminate the building.

    Anyone able to point me at prior work done on this subject or have experience?



    My company (www.intelligentbuildings.com) provides risk management services to scale portfolios including building systems, contractors and FM staff online audits, environmental monitoring, contractor online health-risk screens etc. An example of the environmental is water risk such as legionella and corrosion which is a risk in an unoccupied/stagnant building. You are correct that reoccupying the buildings will not only require cleaning but new methods and “proof” that property management is doing things right and providing confidence to reoccupy. We are working with large PMs to guide them on what the new table stakes services from them must be (contractor health screen, better cybersecurity for remote contractors etc.),  along with optional public health use case implementation (thermal scanning, touchless entry etc), Happy to discuss – but reoccupying and new PM norms need immediate attention.
    Best regards,
    Tom Shircliff, Principal

    Intelligent Buildings, LLC


    An article in the Harvard Gazette today, addressed strategies for re-opening commercial buildings that may be of interest to CREs.

    How masks and buildings can be barriers to the coronavirus

    GAZETTE: Can you say more about how to specifically make a building a better barrier against the spread of coronavirus? Specifically hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores that are on the front lines right now.

    ALLEN: You want to try to get to 100 percent outdoor air being brought into your system with no recirculated air. If you don’t have a central air system, you want to open up your windows as much as you can. You want to make sure that if you are recirculating air, that it’s being filtered through upgraded filters. Typically you have a MERV 8 — MERV is a rating system for filters — and those capture less than 50 percent, it could be down to 20 percent of small particles. Filters like a MERV 13 get you closer to 80 or 90 percent, or HEPA filters capture 99.97 percent of particles, so upgraded filters can be effective.

    GAZETTE: Do you have any insider tips?

    ALLEN: An underappreciated technique is having your building commissioned. There are companies that offer this service, which in simple language means testing the building to make sure it’s performing as designed because very often buildings are designed one way, and they are not checked again. It would be like an annual checkup for your car, you wouldn’t drive it without having it checked out regularly. You wouldn’t board an airplane that didn’t have regular maintenance. But many buildings don’t get an annual checkup. Commissioning agents will do this, they will check basic safety systems, but they will also check to make sure your building is bringing in enough fresh air, that your filters are the correct ones, and that they are installed correctly. They will make sure the outdoor dampers aren’t closed, which is very common. Fundamentally, they are the same kind of control procedures that would be needed for an office building as for a hospital, it’s just the intensity and frequency has to be different.


    I was asked to briefly answer some questions about health and COVID-19 issues in multi-family properties for an upcoming publication of “The Counselor”.  I have attached the draft which provides some ideas on what Multi-family properties can do now, and in the future.

    Suggested Question:

    Multi-family properties, particularly multi-story elevator buildings, are densely populated and pose a potential problem for those people trying to physically distance and avoid contamination in the COVID-19 era.

    What solutions and technology can help residents and employees optimize healthy living—both environmentally and socially? Are there any particular problems for affordable housing projects?

    My Answer:

    In the emergency phase, key actions include closing non-essential amenity areas; placing hand sanitizers and masks in all key high traffic areas; limiting the number of people in elevators, laundry rooms and other essential areas; controlling access to buildings by managing food deliveries and packages; enhancing sanitation and cleaning protocols and implementing virtual leasing.

    Hopefully, in advance, an emergency communications plan has been prepared that can be implemented to educate and inform residents and staff of new rules and procedures.

    Many new and established technologies can also help. Virtual leasing, video call technology for tenants and visitors, technology-enabled elevator and amenity area access, remote sensors, and most important of all, affordable high-speed internet service. Technology enhanced signage and lobby communications can also be helpful.

    Building technology is also important. Certifications like the International Well Building Institute’s Multi-family WELL Building standard is based on existing technologies that can improve air filtration and ventilation, as well as design, operations and product protocols for healthy entrances, easy to clean surfaces, and cleaning.

    Numerous new building related technologies to address COVID-19 are under development including COVID-19 specific sanitizers and UV lighting applications (which can kill the virus). Stay tuned.

    Affordable multi-family confronts similar challenges to traditional apartments, but also faces unique COVID-19 concerns.

    Affordable buildings often do not have the budgets to implement helpful new technologies or operating procedures. Many affordable buildings have existing health problems that exacerbate COVID-19 concerns. The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative has been working for years on the millions of homes that still expose children to lead poisoning, poor ventilation, and do not properly control leaks—which lead to high asthma rates, a critical problem in the COVID-19 era.

    People who make less also typically have a more difficult time working remotely and are under more financial pressure to continue to work to make ends meet, increasing their COVID-19 risk, and the risk to the places where they live.


    I hope this finds everyone well and safe. I wanted to share some of the feedback I am hearing from the office market in NYC, but that is likely applicable across the country. A very large global advisory firm which had announced relocating to new space well before the COVID-19 crisis is looking to not only keep their planned new space, but to also extend for some interim period of time, their existing space, in order to provide for safe employee social distancing. Another major real estate company is looking at split shifts, alternating one week in, one remote, which effectively cuts density in half. Yet another owner/operator is looking at the installation of thermal body temperature readers at building entrances in order to minimize spread while trying to balance privacy. The expectation is that the real estate industry, as it always does, will identify ways to increase safety in an effective way in order to get businesses up and running again. We should expect to see capital markets participants change the way they deploy capital, modifying deal structures and looking at other transaction features (business interruption insurance, tenant lease payment reserves, capital improvements providing for safety and air quality) to mitigate risk that has never been experienced before. This is a time where the expertise, strategic thinking and collective knowledge of the Counselors will play a valuable role as we move forward. I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with and provide support to fellow CRE’s as client assignments arise.


    I hope this finds everyone safe and sound. The financial and legal considerations around loosening restrictions in residential buildings and especially re-opening commercial buildings are numerous and profound. In New York City, many office buildings have remained open even as their tenants moved remote en masse. While the buildings have taken measures to improve hygiene and cleanings, we already see that employers and employees will be involved in complex negotiations around coming back to the office. Employers are hopeful the federal government may provide some form of legal immunity to businesses that open back up, as the risk that businesses will be sued by employees or customers is very real. Employees are also hoping that employers and/or the government will put robust safety protocols in place for returning to work. Force majeure may also be in the mix here, as employees may seek to use force majeure clauses if they have employment contracts to argue they should be able to keep away from the workplace due to the risk of infection. Business interruption insurance is also already seeing a flood of litigation as employers seek coverage from their policies while insurers try to argue that Covid-19 and government orders to shutter non-essential businesses should not qualify for payouts. Given the fraught dynamics around payment of commercial rents when tenants are not working in the office, the bigger picture remains quite opaque. Overall, it is clear that this topic will be of critical importance for many of the Counselors, and it is the right issue to focus on at the moment as discussions increasingly turn to the question of returning to work. Debra Guzov, CRE, Esq., dguzov@guzovllc.com


    Great input.

    Dick Shepard, CRE


    Has anyone seen a good form of “re-opening” notice or letter from landlord to its tenants establishing new protocols and health and safety measures.
    Many thanks. John Sokul

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