The Highway 6 building told a very different story. First, nothing could be done in terms of bringing emergency supplies to the
building since the National Guard had appropriated its raised
parking lot to stage rescue operations for nearby neighborhoods.
While that was taking place at street level, the building’s roof
was turning into a massive, 16,000-square-foot lake—the result
of flooded streets cutting off drainage. Eventually drain lines
separated, pouring water through the building and into the atrium. “Every corridor was a river,” Tyler recalls.
Oddly, certain roads provided better access than others. “
Everywhere south and east of the building was underwater, cutting
most of us off,” he says. “One of my tenants got to the building,
and he draped a tarp over the entry to divert some of the water.” Even two weeks after Harvey, it would take two hours to
navigate the streets as authorities performed periodic controlled
releases of water from the reservoir close to the building.
Sheetrock and rugs had to be ripped out and replaced
throughout the western asset. Tyler instructed his tenants prior
to the storm to take their computers and what else they needed
to work with and leave all the furniture. “Was it a perfect call?”
he asks in a bit of Monday-morning quarterbacking. “Maybe
not. But it was the better call to carry the burden of moving
furniture and assuming the responsibility for it during remediation. We probably retained tenants because of that.” The west
building came back online November 6 of last year.
Harvey’s toll on these two buildings alone is still being tallied,
says Tyler, who remained on call throughout the storm—even
while he evacuated his wife and two babies from his own home.
(“Thankfully,” he says, “unlike others, I had the resources and
the vendors to handle the reconstruction of my home.”) At this
writing, he estimates the damages at about $2 million, the bulk
of that naturally going to the Highway 6 asset.
LESSONS TO SHARE. Tyler’s primary message to other prop-
CASE NO. 2:
erty managers is simple and clear: “Know your lease,” he advis-
es, “and prepare statements that spell out for tenants what they
need to do and what they should expect from you.” He says you
need to make them aware of everything you know so they can
plan for their business. But as you do so, “weigh the consequenc-
es of everything you tell them, and never overpromise. I can’t
tell you the number of times we had to change the move-back
Finally, go the extra mile, beyond the lease. “Technically,
some of our leases give us the right to continue charging rent
while we recover the building after a catastrophic event,” he
says. “That would leave a sour taste and cause us to lose tenants.
I abated everyone’s rents from the period we determined that
the buildings were untenantable until they were back online.
We filed the claim under our insurance rather than asking them
to claim it under theirs.”
Woodmont never experienced wildfires before last year. But
even in locales where nature regularly rears its devastating
head, total preparedness can be a reach. “Every event, every
building during those events and every tenant and business in
those buildings is different.” So says Robert Tyler, CPM, senior
property manager in charge of seven commercial properties and
a retail center for Rockwell Management Corp., AMO, some
850,000 square feet in the Houston area. (Rockwell’s portfolio
also includes multifamily apartments throughout the Houston
metropolitan statistical area.)
Even though Tyler, while at another company, had experienced Hurricane Ike in 2008, there were still lessons to be
learned in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm
that struck Texas in August of last year. The storm came packing 180-mile-an-hour winds and incurred a record-tying (with
Katrina) $180 billion in damages and 82 deaths.
Seeing the storm coming, Tyler, who had just joined Rock-
well, launched preparations. “We have a list of materials we
keep on site for each building,” he says, and Rockwell stocked
up. They also held hurricane preparedness meetings to define
essential personnel, “like our engineers, security and me—those
people who have to be on call.”
He also had time to do some critical upgrades to the program.
“I’m a techie,” he confesses. “I upgraded our communication
beyond email and signed up for a work-order system called
Electronic Tenant Solutions that has an instant alert for all con-
cerned personnel and tenants. It pretty much saved me. You
can imagine trying to communicate with seven office buildings
and about 500 tenants on the status of the emergency and their
buildings. We rolled out the system just before the storm hit.”
Which it did on Friday, August 25, pushing a storm surge of
up to 13 feet. Heavy rains would come for the next four nights.
Thankfully, only two of the seven office properties in Tyler’s
charge sustained serious damage, this from a combination of
rains and flooding—12605 East Freeway on the east side of
town and 4600 Highway 6 on the west. By far, it was the western
asset that sustained the worst damage.
“The east building lost power because the electrical equipment was in the basement and under water,” he says. “We had
to replace a lot of that and the HVAC equipment. We pumped
all the water out and replaced the equipment pretty quickly.
Some basement sheetrock also had to be replaced, but we were
up and running within two weeks so tenants could function.”