COVID-19

Renters, landlords seek middle ground as tenants struggle with payments

Amy Scott Apr 17, 2020
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The percentage of apartment dwellers paying rent is up this week. But many can't pay in full. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Renters, landlords seek middle ground as tenants struggle with payments

Amy Scott Apr 17, 2020
The percentage of apartment dwellers paying rent is up this week. But many can't pay in full. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A majority of homeowners now have the option to postpone their mortgage payments for up to a year for COVID-19-related reasons. But what about renters?

Jessi Carrier shares a house in Berkeley, California, with several roommates. She’s lost 30% of her income as a tech industry recruiter due to the COVID-19 slowdown. So when it came time to pay her share of the rent this month, she had to make a decision.

“I did the calculations and figured out that I could pay $900 of my $1,275 a month,” she said. “I wrote a letter to the landlord, explaining my situation, told him what I could pay and said this is what I can pay moving forward.”

Now she’s just hoping for the best. Like a lot of cities, Berkeley has halted evictions for failure to pay rent, but landlords can get a waiver if they’re facing hardship.

“A lot of apartment owners are small businesses, and they have payrolls to meet, and they have mortgages, and they have utilities and taxes and insurance,” said Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, which represents landlords. “If they don’t get money coming in their way the stress then cascades throughout the system.”

Still, he said, some landlords are trying to meet tenants halfway, by waiving a month’s rent or spreading out payments.

The council reported this week that 84% of apartment dwellers had paid rent by April 12, an improvement from less than 70% earlier in the month. But that doesn’t mean they’re all paying in full.

Sarah Frier owns two rental buildings in Chicago and Austin, Texas. She was able to pause payments on one of her mortgages, so she lowered the rent for all her tenants, from an average of around $800 to $500.

“I know that they’re stuck at home, I know they’re not working at the bar, they’re not working at the shops they work at,” she said. “The last thing I wanted anyone to be doing was worrying about that.”

Frier also understands on a personal level. She rents the apartment she lives in in San Diego, California, and as a bathroom designer who can’t go into people’s houses right now, she’s unemployed.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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