In Boston, the eviction crisis is already slamming... landlords

In Boston, the eviction crisis is already slamming... landlords

A few weeks ago we discussed the “eviction crisis” that has been on the horizon for a while now. The subject came up again this week, at least tangentially, with the release of the Senate’s version of the next pandemic relief bill. (It contained a moratorium on evictions through the end of the year.) Some government actions have provided benefits for renters who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 outbreak, if only in the short term. But one group of people who have not been getting much in the way of help are landlords.

While many people might think of massive real estate investment and banking firms when the subject of landlords comes up, those vast entities don’t even account for half of the total rental properties in the country. The majority of rental properties are either owned by individuals who only have a single property or small business owners who have a relatively small number of units. And they have a lot of bills that still have to be paid every month while renters are not paying rent and can’t be evicted for it. The Boston Globe offers a profile of one such landlord this week and she’s getting pushed to the limits.

Marie Baptiste owns a rental property in Randolph. A nurse at a hospital in Fall River, she kept her old house when she moved to a newer one several years ago, figuring the rent would help her pay the bills when she retires.

Lately, though, she’s had to pull money out of her retirement savings to cover the mortgage, property taxes, and insurance because her tenant stopped paying rent last fall, Baptiste said, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says the tenant owes her nearly $19,000, but because of a freeze on evictions during the pandemic, there’s nothing she can do about it now. Baptiste’s tenant, who asked that her name not be used, said she stopped paying rent in November because the house had fallen into serious disrepair, including water damage and an infestation of rats. Baptiste disputes those claims, saying the tenant is to blame for most of the problems.

By some estimates, between one quarter and one-third of all the “mom and pop” landlords in the country could be out of the market by the end of the year if the eviction moratorium continues that long and they don’t get any federal relief of their own. While many banks and credit unions are offering individual homeowners the chance to move their payments out to the end of their mortgages, few are offering similar deals on commercial properties.

There also hasn’t been much in the way of tax relief either. So the landlords have to keep forking over their property taxes and their mortgage payments on properties that are no longer generating rental income. And any maintenance and damage repair that’s required also comes out of the landlord’s pocket. Those costs don’t go away when the unit is still occupied.

So what’s the solution? As with everything else during this crisis, the only thing that the federal government or the states have come up with is to pick more billions off of the magic money tree and send “free money” to tenants to pay their rent. The Democrats put another $100B in the second House stimulus bill passed in May, but that legislation still appears stuck and there wasn’t a matching figure in the Senate version. Even if they manage to do that, however, how much longer can the system sustain itself? The government simply can’t afford to keep paying everyone’s bills indefinitely even as far fewer people are working, businesses remain offline and tax revenue is in the tank.

These are not sustainable options. If we could have gotten through this pandemic and back on our feet in a couple of months, the economy would have taken a hit, but we’d have dug our way out. But now people are talking about autumn or even the end of the year. Others don’t even know if we’ll be anywhere close to full operability before next spring. By that point, the well may truly run dry. A better solution is needed, particularly in the rental and real estate sector. But most other aspects of our economy will be facing similar hard choices.

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