There has been no shortage of news coverage and think pieces about the efforts of local and federal governments to provide relief for tenants unable to pay their rent during the Covid-19 pandemic. These efforts have been widely met with praise and encouragement as eviction moratoriums across the country were passed into law for the purposes of keeping tenants in their homes as many have fallen behind on their payments during the pandemic.
In California (paywall), which is already facing one of the worst housing crises in the state’s history, lawmakers and activists have said that evictions during the pandemic would exacerbate the problem while increasing the risks to public health and safety. The federal eviction moratoriums have expired, but the LA County Board of Supervisors has voted to extend commercial and some residential protections from evictions until January of 2022. Many other state and county legislative bodies in states across the country have taken similar steps to keep the current eviction safeguards in place into next year.
These protections have often made it difficult for property owners and managers to stay in business. Many are facing an uphill battle in navigating the economic uncertainty of the pandemic and feel as if they have few options available. There are steps that landlords can take right now to face these challenges head-on.
Conserve cash and limit upgrades.
Every responsible landlord should build an emergency fund. In this time when you may have less revenue coming in from tenants who are unable to pay rent, it’s prudent to limit any non-essential repairs or upgrades of units during this period. Remodeling any portion of your property should be off the table for the moment. Keep any repairs to emergencies only, so your units remain in compliance with all safety codes and protocols.
Prioritize close communication.
Through my observations and discussions with landlords and property owners, a common concern is that some tenants are acting in bad faith, aiming to exploit the system so they can file for rental assistance despite having the financial security to pay the rent that is owed. While it’s true there are some tenants behaving badly, there are many who truly do need these protections to remain in place, and landlords should be in close contact with all renters who are behind on payments.
Keep in mind, there is a fine line between communication and harassment, and it’s important that you stay on the right side of it to avoid any legal issues. Gently urge your tenants to complete an application for financial support should they need it, and remind them of the income threshold limits that are part of the approval process in place under the current relief plan. Look into the resources available in your local area.
For example, in California the Housing Is Key website has information and resources for you and your tenants to file applications for rental assistance. It’s very likely you have already applied for reimbursement through a relief fund. From there, it’s typically a waiting game for approval and disbursement of funds.
Prepare to file for eviction ahead of time.
If you have a tenant who is not paying rent yet you believe he or she is unfairly being shielded by the protections in place, be prepared to file your eviction as soon as possible. You will likely need to have proof that you have already filed an application for rental assistance. For example, in California, if the tenant in question fails to complete their application or does not qualify to receive money under the assistance program, the eviction may be allowed to proceed. It is important to do your research on local requirements.
In some areas, the only legal reason by which a landlord may evict a tenant is to perform a significant remodel of the rental unit in order to successfully comply or remain in compliance with health and safety codes or if the landlord intends to sell the property to a buyer who will live in the property and not choose to rent it out.
With protections in place until next year in some areas, evictions can be difficult to obtain. When protections are lifted in your area, landlords have a choice to make: Should you evict or work with tenants who owe significant amounts of back rent?
That all depends on the landlord and the tenant in question. The fear is that those who tried to take advantage of a program aimed at low-income households are going to be left with no recourse but to pay what is owed in a matter of weeks. Should they be unable to do so, then you can make the decision to evict and act upon it.