As Canada passes the one-year mark since COVID-19 lockdowns took effect across the provinces, business operations restrictions and their subsequent economic effects continue. While some companies have struggled to adapt over the past year, others have used this challenging time to prove their resiliency.
Skyline Group of Companies (Skyline), an asset acquisition, management, development, and investment firm, cites positive tenant relations as playing a major role in its consistent performance over the past year.
Resilience amid COVID-19
Skyline is made up of companies that provide services in the real estate and clean energy industries. This includes Skyline Living, a national rental housing provider currently managing 19,770 suites across seven provinces, and Skyline Commercial Management, a commercial and retail landlord managing over 1,000 tenants across more than 12 million square feet of commercial/retail space.
Skyline’s portfolios of residential, commercial, and retail real estate each have meticulous due diligence and acquisitions strategies. These strategies were already in place since the portfolios’ inception dates, long before COVID-19. Careful due diligence was a strong factor in allowing Skyline to withstand the past months of economic uncertainty.
However, it was about “people” just as much as “performance.” Skyline had built long-standing rapport with its tens of thousands of residential and commercial tenants across the country. This rapport ultimately played the largest role in determining Skyline’s success in 2020. The trust, engagement, and buy-in that Skyline earned from its tenants through its first 21 years in business would prove more crucial than ever in 2020.
Jumping into action for tenants across Canada
At the beginning of the pandemic, although multi-residential and commercial landlords remained open for business as an essential service, Skyline’s leadership knew it was not “business as usual” and that its tenants faced unique uncertainties and challenges that needed to be addressed. It was crucial to keep its customers safe and healthy foremost, and also informed, updated, acknowledged, and engaged. Tenants are the backbone of Skyline’s business success, and an approach based on information, collaboration, and cooperation would be key to preserving tenants’ trust.
In order to continue excelling in the business of providing exceptional places to live and work for its tenants, Skyline mobilized forces internally to ensure that its staff—more than 900 individuals across nearly 150 communities in eight provinces—had the correct resources and training to keep themselves and their residential and commercial tenants safe, healthy, and informed. It was an incredible team effort as staff—both on the front lines at the properties, and behind the scenes—worked tirelessly to adapt their operations to the rapidly changing government and health policies.
Skyline invested more than $500,000 in sanitization and personal protective equipment (PPE) and installed more than 900 sanitizing stations across its properties. More than once, its “do the right thing, even if it’s not the easy thing” mentality came into play, with top leadership driving out to properties in Ontario and personally delivering essential cleaning supplies and PPE, which had become nearly impossible to obtain.
Tenant communications were also made a priority, with customized information for each property and an emphasis on linking tenants to the appropriate services and government assistance programs.
Working with commercial & retail tenants
In the case of its commercial and retail tenants, with whom Skyline prides itself on having built long-standing rapport, Skyline proactively contacted each tenant to discuss their circumstances amid the pandemic. They ensured the tenants were fully aware of all government assistance programs available and worked diligently to maintain as many tenancies as possible. One retail tenant remarks: “…I just wanted to take a moment to thank Skyline again for stepping up and supporting your tenants during this difficult time. I am thankful for Skyline’s quick response and action during these uncertain times.”
Supporting multi-residential tenants in need
Multi-residential tenants had their own unique challenges. Many faced layoffs and job uncertainty, sometimes in addition to other life stressors such as mental illness or medical bills. It was more important than ever for Skyline to clearly communicate to its more than 50,000 residential tenants that they wanted to work with them to keep them in their homes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Skyline put a voluntary freeze on all rent increases, saving tenants approximately $500,000 in rent across its residential portfolio. However, the assistance didn’t stop there. Skyline facilitated a cross-Canada campaign for its unique in-house tenant assistance program, R.I.S.E. (Reach, Impact, Support, Elevate), and ensured every single staff member and tenant was aware of the program. R.I.S.E. offers assistance to tenants who are facing financial hardship through no fault of their own. In 2020, the program saved 311 tenants from potential eviction. One residential tenant helped by R.I.S.E. remarked, “From the bottom of my heart I am profoundly grateful. . .[my Tenant Support Representative] treated me with kindness, dignity, and respect in one of the lowest moments of my life.”
Recognizing the responsibility for tenant support and service
Skyline is continuing to support its tenants through the pandemic in 2021. In its inaugural 2021 Sustainability Plan, the company designates its residential and commercial tenants as Sustainability Partners, along with staff, investors, suppliers, and community partners. Skyline understands that its tenants play an important role in helping its business achieve its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives.
By recognizing its responsibility to support the customers who have helped build its business, Skyline is demonstrating that landlords have the opportunity to provide much more than just an “essential service.”