Landlords aim to keep offices squeaky clean as coronavirus spreads

Commercial real estate industry postponing events and sanitizing properties

Several major office landlords are enhancing cleanup efforts as COVID-19 is on the rise (Credit: iStock)
Several major office landlords are enhancing cleanup efforts as COVID-19 is on the rise (Credit: iStock)

The coronavirus outbreak wreaking havoc on the stock market and hotel industry is having an impact on the office market as well.

Several major office landlords are stepping up efforts to keep their buildings clean and sanitary, and a number of commercial real estate conferences have been postponed as reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States continues to rise.

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is advising property owners and managers to continue routine cleaning with disinfecting products such as Clorox and Purell, but is developing more extensive guidance as well, according to spokesman Patrick Gallahue.

Companies said they are also following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which includes encouraging sick employees to stay home and regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces in the office.

“We’ve stockpiled antibacterial soap and cleaning solution, and we distributed the CDC guidelines for businesses and employers to our tenants,” said Jordan Barowitz of the Durst Organization. “We’re in touch with the Department of Health through REBNY” — the Real Estate Board of New York — “and are monitoring the situation closely.”

Durst is also encouraging employees to wash their hands, installing hand-sanitizer dispensers throughout its buildings and increasing cleanup efforts, according to Barowitz. While tenants are concerned, he said the firm has not noticed a decline in attendance at its buildings from more people working from home.

Rudin Management is taking similar steps, according to spokeswoman Iva Benson. The company is also following the CDC guidelines and is consulting with an infectious disease specialist on the latest recommendations for keeping workspaces sanitary, which include having hand-sanitizer stations in the lobbies and throughout the buildings.

And Brookfield has likewise increased how often it cleans surfaces at its properties and added more hand-sanitizer stations, according to spokesman Andrew Brent. The global company is also limiting employees’ travel to and from high-risk countries and requiring those who have returned from high-risk countries to immediately contact human resources.

Newer real estate companies as well are stepping up cleaning in response to coronavirus. Bryan Murphy, CEO of Breather, said the on-demand workspace firm has developed “enhanced cleaning protocols” that include disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as tabletops and doorknobs and bringing in more safety supplies including gloves and masks.

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The firm is focusing on broader issues as well, such as any disruptions that coronavirus cases might cause in its supply chain.

“We have a lot of furniture that comes from Asia and wanted to make sure we got ahead of that and make sure we didn’t have any disruption for new offices that we’re launching,” he said. “We’ve been really monitoring this daily.”

It is not yet known how long the novel coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces if not killed by cleaning agents, but early indications are that it is not more than a few hours, according to the World Health Organization. Packaged material shipped from overseas by boat is not believed to be a threat. A study of other coronaviruses found they remained on metal, glass and plastic for two hours to nine days, the New York Times reported. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted from soft surfaces such as carpeting.

Office space firms WeWork and Knotel are also both providing additional cleaning services in their workspaces, according to the companies.

Fears over coronavirus have led companies to call off multiple events. Newmark Knight Frank, for instance, is rescheduling its upcoming conferences, including a rising stars event that was scheduled for late March and a top producers conference slated for late April, according to spokeswoman Deb Bergman.

“All planning and decision making is prioritized for the health and safety of our employees, clients, colleagues and their families,” she said.

But at least one major commercial real estate event is still on. ICSC has not canceled any of its upcoming events, and the group does not plan to cancel RECon in May, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski.

“At this time ICSC, as well as our members, are following the guidance of the CDC and will implement changes as recommended,” she said.

David Jeans contributed reporting.

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