Americans Laid Off Due to COVID-19 Want to Know How They're Expected to Pay Rent
The solution is unclear
With many workplaces still closed, hundreds of thousands of jobs already lost, and the $600 unemployment benefit over (for now), tens of millions of renters across the country are trying to do the impossible math of paying rent despite their income disappearing into the pandemic. Americans barely had savings before COVID-19 hit. For someone who lost their job because of the COVID-19 crisis and now has to pay $1,200 in rent when they’re getting less than $300 a week on unemployment, what does their landlord honestly expect them to do, especially when its a problem hitting so many millions of tenants, at the same time, through no fault of their own?
“In many cases, we’ve been encouraging our owners to work out payment plans,” says Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a New York City trade organization that advocates on the behalf of primarily small building owners. “A tenant who’s willing to pay half the rent is better than no tenant not paying any money,” he says. A wave of evictions would hurt landlords, too. With vacancy rates already up and rent prices down in New York City, there’s no guarantee a landlord will find a new tenant. Plus, housing court is an expense. “What is the purpose of taking the tenant to court over four or five months of back rent when a lawsuit is probably going to cost that much?” Martin says. “Try to work with the tenant and see what they can afford at the time, work out a long-term plan, keep that tenant in place.”
To some property owners, that collaboration with renters is key. Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association (NAA), says they’ve been encouraging their 85,000 member companies to talk to their residents, and for tenants to talk to their landlords. “If there’s people in their units that are having conversations with [you], that are working things out, you’re not going to evict that person,” he says. “If there’s somebody who has not contacted you and refused to interact with you, and you don’t know what’s going on because there’s an unknown factor, that’s where you have more of a problem.”
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