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How to deal with home repairs during a coronavirus outbreak

When Tony Nittoli from North Hollywood noticed a leak under his bathroom sink in mid-April, he tied it up with an old T-shirt and put junk mail under it. He usually calls his apartment manager to take care of it, but the health official’s orders are clear: stay inside and away from the others to slow the spread of the corona virus.

“What does it mean if I don’t go out if I have someone who goes to some house that comes to my house?” Nittoli said. “That defeats its purpose.”

Plumbers, electricians and masons and women were considered important workers during the COVID-19 crisis. They keep coming to the rescue when a pipe burst or electricity becomes damaged. This is often a dangerous occupation, despite the pandemic.

But what if it’s not life or death, but life and discomfort? If the washing machine won’t wash or the screen door won’t be smooth, does it make sense to call a professional? Does bringing a worker – or several – jeopardize your and their safety? Have you tried doing it yourself? Is fixing the sink as easy as making bread?

Safety first

Although home improvement workers have never been ordered to store their equipment, business practices have shifted to meet the moment, according to several industry stakeholders.

Workers are required to wear masks and keep their distance from others in the house, apartment or commercial space where they work, as in other important businesses, according to public health guidelines. Some companies dress their workers with additional protective equipment, such as gloves and boots.

For Mike Rios, who owns and manages seven rental units in West L.A., adjustments are not difficult.

The bookkeeper “wears a mask and [it’s] business as usual, “he said.

Talieh Safadi, owner of Help Squad, a repair company with locations in Brentwood, said he usually asks customers to walk around while work is being done or living in another room.

Tom Bannon, chief executive of California Apartments Assn., Who represents the interests of rental housing, agreed that the safety protocol is a two-way street.

Repair workers are asked to follow the CDC guidelines, “And you hope that residents can do the same,” Bannon said.

When should I call a professional?

If this is an emergency or serious problem, make a call.

Some repairs cannot be delayed. Lack of untreated electricity can trigger a fire. A pipe leaking in one apartment can cause thousands of dollars in water damage throughout the complex. In such situations, it is important to bring in a trained professional, ideally before the situation becomes dire.

If it’s not urgent, weigh the risk.

If you are a family of five and your washing machine is broken, it might not be appropriate to switch to the washing board.

If it is not urgent, Safadi recommends people over the age of 65 or with an underlying health condition to delay work for several weeks. If they need to go forward with improvements, he suggests increasing safety precautions.

Apartment owners still have an obligation to make repairs within a reasonable period of time, but Bannon stresses that the pandemic has influenced what makes sense.

Some tenants do not want home improvement workers in their units – and it is difficult from a legal point of view for homeowners to enter units against their will, Bannon said. On the other hand, some maintenance workers are hesitant to put themselves at unnecessary risk. The latter makes it more difficult to find someone to handle work immediately and increase completion time for some repairs, he added.

“This is not the right time for maintenance unless it’s a serious problem,” Bannon said.

The need for improvement is increasing

People in the industry agree that the level of comfort around home improvements seems to be increasing – maybe because of necessity.

According to ServiceTitan, a technology company that develops software for home service workers, revenue for contractors in California in the first two weeks of May jumped 10% compared to the same period last year. And the number shows an increase nationally.

Calls never stopped completely for contractor Edward Flanagan, even though they fell significantly after orders to stay in California homes were put in place. He estimates that he gets half as much business as usual now, compared to a quarter as much as in mid-March.

Many large housing projects that Safadi has prepared, including the work of more than $ 100,000 to turn a garage into a living space, are being postponed. But he said he was making more quota requests, including calls about broken dishwashers, toilets, garbage disposal, doors and faucets. More time at home means more wear.

“Remember, we are all at home, including myself and my wife, when locked up,” Safadi said. “And guess what? There are many problems with maintenance because everyone is at home. “

Should I try to do it myself?

Those who are worried about exposure to viruses or who are underfunded might consider the DIY approach. Professionals urge caution.

Most of the plumbing and electricity work, for example, should be left to professionals.

“One mistake can cause more damage,” Safadi said.

“If you don’t know how to snake pipes or dump garbage, it might leak overnight,” he explained. In a multi-unit complex, it can be expensive: “Because it leaks into the unit below or the unit next to it and then it becomes a very big thing.”

In addition to property damage, “there is potential damage you can do to yourself,” Bannon said, pointing to garbage disposal as a source of danger.

But home maintenance falls on the spectrum of difficulties, said Bob Burke, chief executive of Clinical Repair, a company that offers step-by-step repair tutorials.

“What we see is that people have real needs, partly because of the pandemic, partly because the situation is breaking up because they are at home, and I think people now realize that they can do more than they might think, “Burke said.” People learn to be creative. “

The service is starting to see engagement with younger audiences, especially in the age range of 22 to 35, according to Peter Krauss, president of the company. Typical customers are 45 or older, he said.

Marnie Sehayek originally intended to pay a friend who was useful to build a closet in his apartment in Koreatown. When L.A. issuing safer orders at home in mid-March, it no longer seems wise. Instead, he watched videos, conferred with friends, borrowed equipment from neighbors and did it himself for several weeks.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m in Marx Brothers’ play in almost every part of it,” he said, adding that it was finally put together. “It’s not completely perfect, but it really works for me.”

Then there are the basics, such as how to turn on and turn off the breaker, and where the main water stops, the things that Flanagan said must be known to everyone. If not, you can waste water and electricity, he said.

“I think it’s good for people to have more knowledge about it happening,” he said, “and maybe this will give us an opportunity for people to do that.”

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