As COVID-19 took root and jobs vanished, officials sought to avoid a wave of evictions, homelessness and the spread of deadly disease that could result. Governments from federal to local enacted rules allowing people whose finances have been affected by the pandemic to keep their housing if they don't pay rent.
The policies have been a lifesaver for many during a crisis when staying home meant staying healthy, but a year later landlords say the rules are heaping an increasingly unfair burden on them.
In interviews with The Times, property owners and managers said that they understood the unprecedented nature of the crisis but that they are absorbing too much of the cost. Many said they or their clients are dipping into savings to keep properties afloat and delaying maintenance or repairs because they can't afford them. Some said they probably can't or won't hold on much longer under these circumstances.
Billions of dollars in federal rent relief for both landlords and tenants have finally started to flow in recent weeks, but it's unclear how far the money will go.
"I am hoping something will turn around [so] I don't have to sell," said Beverly Rowe, who manages her family's Los Angeles triplex, an asset she is proud to have secured to ensure her parents' financial security in old age and to pass down wealth.
That asset, hard-earned for many Black households like hers, is now at risk. Rowe said a tenant owes $30,000 in rent payments missed over the last year.
The pandemic's worst effects have been felt most by those who earn less — a demographic more likely to be renters, as well as people of color. Its jolt to livelihoods has been clear in data on lost jobs and the millions of Americans newly receiving food aid, among other indicators. Researchers have also documented well the rising debts that tenants owe their landlords — missed rent must eventually be paid back — and the long-term financial consequences for those renters.
The picture has been less clear on the other end of the housing equation: how property owners who depend on rent for income have fared as their tenants face financial hardship. Opaque ownership structures can make it difficult to know just who owns what property, for example, and some landlords are hesitant to talk openly about tenants or their own financial positions.
Several landlords interviewed by The Times asked not to be named, saying they feared that their comments would upset their tenants or the local authorities passing and enforcing tenant protections.
One property owner in her 60s said she is considering taking a second job to avoid having to sell her two 20-unit buildings because she's having difficulty keeping up with mortgage payments. An owner in his 80s said he's already told his lender he can no longer meet payments and anticipates handing the 200 units he owns back to the bank.