'More resources need to be available to help people pay their rent and utilities' amid the raging coronavirus outbreak, one tenant advocate says.
Americans are facing a major hurdle as April 1 approaches and rent comes due.
The raging coronavirus outbreak has left many jobless or furloughed without pay. And despite a last-second injection of emergency stimulus funding, it's unclear whether those who need it most will actually get it in time, or whether it will be enough to cover all their bills.
With a record 3.28 million Americans filing for unemployment insurance benefits last week alone, many renters are in rough shape financially.
Anna Patterson, a Michigan cheerleading coach married to a painting contractor, told the Detroit Free Press on Monday that coronavirus social distancing requirements means that both she and her husband are temporarily unemployed. They received a letter from their mobile home park last week reminding them that rent was still due.
"We are in a situation that is stressful! You know?" she told the paper. "Then, we get this letter from them, and I'm thinking, 'How dare them? How dare the[y] send this to people right when all this is going on." With no savings or credit cards, the couple was already struggling to make rent and this could put them over the edge.
Donald Trump meanwhile has tried to downplay those kinds of concerns.
Asked on Sunday what renters should do about their bills come April 1, Trump suggested there was no need to worry because landlords would be flexible.
“I will tell you, I think landlords are going to take it easy," he said. "We may put out a statement on that. I think a lot of people that are owed money are going to take it easy. They don’t sort of have a choice."
He added that "a lot of concessions are made" and claimed "a lot of positive things are happening."
Trump signed a $2 trillion emergency economic package on Friday which will provide up to $1,200 payments to many Americans. But those who qualify will not receive them for about three weeks — and even later if they do not have direct deposit set up with the Internal Revenue Service.
For many, that could be too little, too late.
The Pattersons are not the only ones who have been warned by their landlords that they still have to pay despite the COVID-19 crisis.
One property manager, who represents 200 owners with rental properties, told WCNC in North Carolina on Friday that he would continue to file eviction and collection claims against renters who do not pay.
"I'm notoriously a landlord who doesn't let tenants get by with any exemptions," he told the station. "It's never fun throwing a single mother and their three kids out on the streets. It's never fun, but it's business."
Explaining that it was important to hold people "accountable in good times and in bad," he explained, "Nobody saves for rainy days. I'm the person standing up for the landlord in this scenario and yes, I'm very comfortable with that."
According to reporting from The American Prospect and Mother Jones, a subsidiary of senior White House adviser Jared Kushner's firm Kushner Companies has spent the past several days "sending residents in New York City’s East Village neighborhood new notices about rent collection. The flyer, which featured no mention of the rapidly evolving coronavirus crisis, encourages them to use a new online platform to pay their impending rent check, rather than delivering payments in person."
Other tenants say their property managers are not only demanding rent but attempting to raise it amid the outbreak.
One tenant in Los Angeles said in an email Monday that their building management company, Neptune Property Investments LLC, announced recently it would increase rent come May.
"The idea that, despite what is going on worldwide, our building management company would have the audacity to announce a rent increase is honestly unbelievable," they wrote. "I cannot imagine a more tone deaf, crass, and greedy thing to do to people."
Some state officials are trying to help. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued an order last week suspending all evictions and foreclosures in the state for the next 60 days. He urged landlords and tenants to work together to help struggling renters catch up on their rent.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also ordered landlords to stop trying to evict tenants during the crisis.
"To every landlord, I cannot stress this enough, now is the time to show some compassion and to work with your renters to ensure that they stay safe and in their homes," he said Saturday. "And, as I mentioned, you cannot evict anyone at this time and if you try to we're not going to take it lightly and we will make an example out of you for violating the law."
Kody Glazer, legal director for the Florida Housing Coalition, said in an email that while some help is available, renters are still rightly concerned.
"Yes, folks are worried they will not be able to pay rent this month. By and large, the $1200 in the CARES Act per adult will not be enough to pay rent, in addition to other costs, throughout the length of this crisis — especially if this goes on for an extended period of time," he said.
He added, "More resources need to be available to help people pay their rent and utilities in this time of crisis. Certain areas across the state have eviction moratoriums and utility companies, generally, are not shutting off for non-payment, but that doesn’t mean these costs won’t still come due at a later date."
Not every landlord is ready to crack down on tenants, at least. In an op-ed Monday for the Washington Post, a Kingston, New York-based rental property owner wrote that they were offering tenants "a break" in April.
"I am a small landlord in upstate New York, and I am offering my tenants a break on their rent next month," they wrote. "I hope other landlords will consider doing the same."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.