6 Tips for Apartment Dwellers During the Pandemic

Here's how to make the best of a small apartment while staying at home.

U.S. News & World Report

Tips for Living in a Small Apartment

Young woman wiping table in the kitchen

You should regularly disinfect the items and surfaces you use most in your home.(Getty Images)

With quarantines and shelter-in-place orders that are likely to last the next month or more, your home has suddenly never felt smaller.

If you’re living in an apartment by yourself or with roommates, the size is even more acutely apparent. Your apartment may be a small unit, like many built within the last decade. Rental listing and information site RentCafe.com reported in December 2019 that the average size of newly built apartments in 2019 was 933 square feet – a 57-square-foot decrease compared to 2010.

Many developers and apartment building owners make up for smaller living spaces with top-notch amenities, from business centers to lounges, areas to grill and even rooftop pools and gathering spaces.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, those community spaces that offset the small size of your apartment are either closed entirely or suddenly an undesirable place to hang out as you’re looking to limit physical interaction with other people. You may find yourself struggling to balance interaction with others with personal space and the necessary measures to avoid the spread of illness in a high-density building.

Here are six things small apartment dwellers can do to help them get through the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Check in with your landlord.
  • Avoid building amenities.
  • Continue cleaning.
  • Share schedules.
  • Take breaks.
  • Be mindful of neighbors.

Check in With Your Landlord

Now is a good time to touch base with your landlord by email, phone or text.

Especially if you’re one of the more than 6 million Americans who have been laid off due to the global pandemic, it’s important to let your landlord know you can’t pay rent, and hopefully discuss payment deferment or decreases during the period you’re unemployed.

Aside from rent concerns, communication with your landlord can help you take advantage of any assistance offered during the pandemic. Some apartment building owners are helping set up delivery services for groceries and meal delivery from local restaurants, as well as process packages from online orders.

“Instead of (tenants) having to go to local stores to buy stuff, we have it delivered in and dispersed to their apartments,” says Jeffrey Amengual, chief operating officer of DMG Investments, a New York City-based company that owns student housing, apartments and condominiums throughout the U.S.

Avoid Building Amenities

As hard as it may be to work from your studio apartment when there’s a perfectly good lounge in the building, or run outside when there’s a state-of-the-art gym on your first floor, it’s important to stay away for now. Your landlord may have officially closed all amenities anyway.

Amengual says DMG Investments has closed amenities in their properties, to both allow for a deep cleaning of all common areas and also to prevent future spread of COVID-19. While most residents are understanding, he says that a few have been vocal of their dislike of the measure.

“There are people that will feel they’re somehow smarter, stronger, better than everyone else and they won’t get the virus,” he says. “But reality will set in, and those who didn’t take proper precautions will probably be infected at a higher rate than those who do take proper precautions.”

For apartment communities that previously offered classes and gatherings that have been canceled, ask if virtual classes are a possibility.

Common is a residential company that designs and manages apartments in major cities throughout the U.S., including New York, San Francisco and Seattle. While the brand manages a variety of rental styles, many spaces include suites and co-living opportunities. With amenities closed and a no-guest policy in place to help reduce spread of the coronavirus, Common is shifting its focus. “Increased isolation through social distancing has forced us to help our members find community virtually,” Eric Rodriguez, vice president of operations at Common, wrote in an email. “Our experience team has moved their monthly event budget to be 100% virtual, and we’re providing classes through the Common app for things like yoga, cooking, and painting.”

Continue Cleaning

While your landlord is hopefully focusing on keeping elevators, stairwells and lobbies clean, be diligent about deep cleaning your personal space as well. Repeatedly disinfect the items and surfaces you use most in your home, including countertops, door handles, light switches and even the toothpaste tube.

If you run low on cleaning supplies and you’re unable to find more in stores or online, check in with your landlord or neighbors. Both Common and DMG Investments are providing their tenants with cleaning supplies to help them disinfect their personal spaces. “This ensures that our residents won’t have to shop for these items should they run out in their apartments,” Rodriguez says.

The Photos You Should See - April 2020

Gala, 7, speaks with her friend and classmate Oliver, 6, as they jump on the wall on their courtyard in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 as the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus continues. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Share Schedules

Living in close quarters with roommates at any time can be tricky, so introducing stay-at-home orders can add even more stress to the mix.

Spending the bulk of your day in the common areas of your apartment will feel less confining than staying in your bedroom while you work, but be sure to let your roommate know if you’re going to make a phone call and need quiet. Similarly, give fair warning if you’re on a video conference so your roommate can move out of the background.

Emily Horner, an apparel designer in Chicago, lives with her boyfriend and two other roommates in a three-bedroom apartment operated by Common. In a statement provided to U.S. News by Common, Horner explained that the workday typically involves all roommates out in the common areas together.

“It can be tricky to respect each other’s space and need for quiet,” Horner says. “Communication is a huge part of our daily process so we can plan accordingly if one of us have an important meeting or will be on a video call.”

Take Breaks

While spending time together out in the living room or kitchen is important, so is getting a bit of time to yourself. “At the end of a long day, working and living alongside my roommates, I often feel the need to spend some time alone, in my room,” Horner says.

Be sure to take breaks to be by yourself each day, and encourage your roommates to do so as well.

Be Mindful of Neighbors

Isolation can make you stir crazy and throw off your regular sleep schedule, but as a resident of an apartment building it’s important to be mindful of the neighbors who live on your floor, as well as those who live above and below you.

Keep the volume relatively low for movies, TV and music, especially if you’re doing any of these activities during peak work hours or in the middle of the night. Slippers and socks can help reduce the sound of your footsteps for downstairs neighbors, and if you are going to argue with your roommate, make sure the windows are closed.

If you’re not exhibiting any symptoms of illness and you know of residents in your building who may need help picking up necessary items, you can volunteer by letting your landlord know or simply posting a note in the hallway. When handling items for anyone, particularly those who may be at higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, be sure to wear a mask and gloves for your safety and theirs.

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