Eviction moratorium battle sheds light on struggling landlords who 'still have to find a way to pay'

·4 min read

The Biden administration’s move to extend an eviction moratorium has done little to resolve a looming crisis — or rising tensions between tenants and landlords, with both camps stuck in a cycle of mounting confusion and despair.

For now, evictions are again on hold across the U.S: tenants have until October 3 to obtain government help to pay their rent. However, the extension is already being challenged in court — spearheaded by landlord advocates blasting the move as “nakedly political” — where it may not survive legal scrutiny.

A growing number of property owners have lashed out at the moratorium, extended by another 60 days in a controversial move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed to target areas of the country where COVID-19 cases are rapidly spreading.

While much of the focus has been on tenants hammered by the pandemic, the spotlight has shifted in recent days to landlords, at least 41% of which are actually individual owners, according to 2018 data from the National Association of Renters.

In many instances, these “mom and pop” landlords are working class, and the fallout from COVID-19 has left them equally as cash-strapped and hard-pressed to pay bills as their renters are.

“When they don't receive rent, they still have to find a way to pay their mortgage for the property, pay the water, the lights, the insurance,” Lucinda Lilley, president of Southern California Rental Housing Association, explained to Yahoo Finance Live in an interview this week, described the patchwork of local, state and federal laws as "broken."

Landlords 'left holding the bag' with eviction moratorium

Renters hold up a protest sign that says
Renters hold up protest signs in support of a state government bill (AB 1436) that would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in San Diego, California, on July 17, 2020. Photo by Mike Blake via Reuters.

Part of the reasoning behind the moratorium is to allow billions in unallocated federal money to flow to states and localities.

According to Treasury Department data, only a sliver of nearly $50 billion in aid has actually reached tenants and landlords. Each state has its own program and process for disbursing the aid, but many have been swamped by the demand of millions pushed out of work by COVID-19 lockdowns.

And even with the delay, about 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

On June 28, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law on June 28 extending the state’s eviction moratorium through September 30, the third time the state has extended the moratorium.

The plan calls for a boost in cash assistance to both low-income renters and small landlords, under a $5.2 billion relief program. It doubles the funding while allowing for payment of 100% of low-income tenants’ past-due rent back to April 2020, until the expiration of the eviction ban.

Still, the crisis has also underscored festering tensions between property owners and renters. Some landlords have described abusive treatment at the hands of tenants, some of whom haven't applied for assistance, or refuse to even acknowledge the debts.

“The problem is that sometimes if a renter is not willing to participate in that program, the rental housing provider doesn't have any way to go ahead and collect that money so [landlords are] left holding the bag,” Lilley told Yahoo Finance.

Despite a booming jobs market and state benefits still available to millions of people, more than 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute.

For renters, online-only applications can present another challenge for people who are not tech-savvy, or may lack internet access. It can also be difficult for tenants to procure the documentation required to apply for relief — and some may not want to for their own reasons.

Lilley described one woman “who owes $21,000 to the rental housing provider. She’s near the end of getting that rental assistance, but she needs to provide one more piece of information and she is apparently dodging and refusing to provide it. So I'm not sure what that's all about.”

Still, less than ten percent of the emergency federal rent relief has been distributed as of July, with Urban Institute estimates showing more than half of renters, and many landlords across the country, are unaware that aid is available.

“We need to understand that the eviction system nationally is broken and it needs to be fixed,” Lilley said.

“It's not about pitting renters versus rental housing providers. It's about us all working together to get through this.”

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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