As the COVID-19 outbreak worsens and fears about how the virus spreads spiral out of control, cities around the United States are issuing eviction moratoria at rates previously only seen just before the Christmas holidays. The move, advocates of the policies say, is nothing short of necessity.
“This pandemic is a stark reminder that housing is health care,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She added, “Policymakers at all levels should immediately implement moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions.”
Although generally eviction moratoria and landlords’ advocacy groups are not on the same side of an issue, the coronavirus is bringing all sorts of unlikely partnerships to the table. In fact, in Seattle, two landlord groups, the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAW) and the Washington Multifamily Housing Association, have called a 30-day moratorium on evictions in King County. RHAW made a public statement on the move, pointing out it has a “dual benefit of keeping residents in their homes while opening paths to emergency rental assistance funds at the state and local level.” The groups may elect to renew the hold on evictions in 30 days.
A Public-Health Emergency Precedent
As more and more cities and groups consider eviction bans, the concept of keeping people in place who are not earning income and are unlikely to be able to pay rent in the near future becomes more complex. On the surface, the bans are a simple matter: Landlords opt not to evict tenants who are out of work because their jobs have been either suspended or lost as a result of social distancing, general caution, or quarantine resulting from the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
However, that issue soon becomes much more complicated for landlords, who may now be on the hook for keeping utilities on if tenants cannot afford to do so or who may have future obligations to their tenants as a result of the decision to permit residents to defer or skip rent payments without penalty. To avoid some of these issues, many landlord advocacy groups are hoping the government will subsidize Americans who are out of work, thereby enabling them to continue to pay their rents.
For example, the National Multifamily Housing Council issued a public call to action to lawmakers mid-March stating,
“NHMC believes it is critical that, given the scale of the challenge, the federal government step in and provide short-term financial assistance to renters facing layoffs or lengthy periods without a paycheck. Not only would such legislation be of huge value to those who need it most, it would be more effective than efforts like moratoriums on evictions.”
NMHC recommends taking the following actions to support residents at this time:
- Working with residents on payment plans and agreements and putting them in writing
- Waiving late fees and administrative costs for the next 30 days
- Developing a response plan for potential COVID-19 exposure in your units
- Sharing resources about COVID-19 with residents
How are you handling this issue in your rentals?
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