NYC landlord being evicted while delinquent tenants live rent-free

I’ve been writing about the looming eviction crisis since early in the summer. This entirely predictable disaster has been obvious to anyone who has been paying attention ever since the pandemic broke out. A well-intentioned “eviction moratorium” effort by the government to prevent renters from finding themselves out on the streets after government shutdowns eliminated their jobs did little or nothing to prevent the damages sustained by landlords. It also never answered the question of what would be done about all the back rent that was going to come due when the moratoriums expired. These challenges are already taking their toll in New York City and, in one case, we’re seeing a twist on the usual depressing tales. One landlord and owner of a modest apartment building in the Inwood neighborhood of the Big Apple is now facing eviction himself. The reason is that some of his tenants are simply refusing to pay their rent even if they kept their jobs or other sources of income through the pandemic. (NY Post)

David Howson, now 88, has long used rental income from his 10-unit building at 9 West 129th St. to help pay for the co-op apartment in Inwood where he’s lived for decades. Now, out more than $40,000 and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he’s had trouble paying his own maintenance charges and is himself facing the boot, his family claims.

The alleged deadbeats in Howson’s building will get another break, courtesy of Albany’s largesse. The legislature is expected to pass a new eviction moratorium that will keep wayward tenants in their apartments until at least May 2021.

“We have nothing. We are completely destitute,” daughter Jessica Howson, who manages her father’s affairs, told The Post.

The majority of the debt owed to Howson is being attributed to one apartment in the ten-unit building he maintains. The tenant in that apartment isn’t someone who lost their job due to the pandemic and could no longer afford the $926 monthly rent. She’s a woman who inherited the rent-controlled apartment from her husband in 2016 and has never paid the rent since the day she took posession. That debt has now stacked up into the tens of thousands of dollars. Social Services has paid Howson a piddling $215 per month on her behalf, but he can’t afford to soak up that much of a loss indefinitely.

Making matters worse is the fact that groups advocating for tenants’ rights have taken up the woman’s cause on a pro bono basis and battered Howson in court when he attempted to sue for the missed payments and evict her. The agency representing the deadbeat renter has told Howson’s daughter (who represents his interests because he has Alzheimer’s) that the tenant “has a ‘right’ to remain in the apartment rent-free.”

We’ve previously discussed the challenges that smaller landlords are facing all over the country. When you think of landlords, you probably picture large, faceless corporations in the investment banking sector who can suck up these sorts of losses, at least for a while. But the reality is that nearly half of all rental units in the United States are owned by small business operators or individual owners, many of whom are retired and rely on their rental properties to keep them afloat. Mr. Howson definitely falls into that category.

The moratorium on evictions in New York was recently extended yet again, this time until May of 2021. What’s going to happen then? Renters’ rights advocates are still calling for yet another federal bailout, this time paying everyone’s back rent. Considering the number of people we’re talking about in the entire nation, the cost of such a package would be beyond staggering. The states don’t have enough money to cover that either. While it may sound cold-hearted to say it, what we’re really seeing here is yet another example of what happens when the government (at any level) steps in and puts its thumb on the scale in the private sector. Preventing a huge surge in homelessness during the pandemic was obviously a noble goal, but the damage that will result on the back end should have been anticipated and prevented. At least for now, it doesn’t sound like anyone has a viable solution for this crisis and it’s coming at us in a very short period of time.