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Op/Ed

Governors fail renters miserably, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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moving boxes rent freeze

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced Friday the state would observe a 90-day moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to give residents and businesses a break after so many have been ordered to halt operations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Various states are debating moratoriums on mortgage payments, and for those that aren’t, banks are frequently tweeting that forbearance options are available and reminding property owners of the allure of current refinancing rates.

Several states are announcing similar moratoriums on evictions, but in some states it’s a ruse.

For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an emergency order to suspend all residential evictions (barring criminal activity) through April 19th. But what the press releases don’t include is this is business as usual. Not only can evictions still be filed for April rent, many counties in Texas accept filings and set court dates around the 19th already. The only relief this ruse of a suspension offers is people being evicted for failure to pay in March.

Other states are renter-friendly and a renter can be months late – in Texas, landlords can issue a 24-hour notice to vacate on the 4th and file for eviction on the 5th, get a hearing roughly two weeks later, and an immediate order for the renter to vacate the property. Many other states are also fast to evict like Texas.

One renter opined, “Yeah sure, once evicted in April, I’ll just take my zero thousand dollars and put a rent and pet deposit down on a new place, buy packing supplies, and then hire expensive movers to take me to my new imaginary home that doesn’t exist because you can’t rent ANYWHERE if you’ve been evicted here [in central Texas].”

Meanwhile, landlords, especially multi-family properties, are able to refinance their holdings at historically low interest rates or negotiate forbearance options on their loans. This is welcome good news for landlords that own one to four units and rely on rents as their primary income. If they can all hold off payments for 90 days, the hit isn’t as devastating, plus they don’t have to turn those units at a cost.

In the meantime, national relief efforts have stalled. Senators are battling over the stimulus package (Phase 3 has failed to pass as expected today) as their political war wages on. Americans hold out hope that three weeks after being announced, a few cash money dollars might still eventually make it their way.

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen petitions in your state demanding a rent freeze, and you might have rolled your eyes. At first, I did too, because I secretly love the beauty of capitalism and typically balk at government intervention into much of anything.

But take a moment to think about a 90-day rent freeze.

This isn’t about empathy, it’s about an imbalance in the marketplace where some are favored over others and our government is picking winners and losers. It’s about business and the shortsightedness of this situation, particularly the willingness to get rid of renters, carrying the cost of a makeready and marketing and staff to refill those units which will be wildly difficult with so many new evictions on peoples’ records.

We spoke to several multi-family property management companies in Texas, and universally there is no plan to suspend rents owed, waive late fees that keep accumulating, or halt evictions.

One landlord told us that for his two properties, he is asking people to pay rent as they can, but as most of his tenants are freelancers, he says it’s unlikely, but he’d “rather keep them in their homes and eventually collect rent, as opposed to coordinate a makeready in this environment, not to mention the fact that no one wants to move to a new place right now when they’re told to shelter in place.”

That takes us to today in politics. Let’s say the Senate passes the wildly expensive relief bill and businesses can make payroll, and families get some money. That’s great. But what about the millions of independent contractors in America? Freelancers, Realtors, stylists, and millions more didn’t lose a traditional job, they’re not on payroll and they don’t have staff on payroll (therefore don’t qualify for most disaster assistance) – many just lost everything with no promise of a future income, tossed into a situation they have no control over.

Many of these folks are renters. And they’re screwed. Why is multi-family the only sector of the economy protected right now? They’ll get funds to make payroll, they’ll be able to skip paying their loans for a few months, but there is not a consensus in the industry that they should extend that grace to option-less people they rent to.

Some will say that putting a 90-day halt on evictions helps, but at the end of June, those people owe 3 months worth of rent or they’ll be immediately evicted. Some believe putting off the inevitable at least keeps these people off the streets. Local news is outlining resources, including motel-vouchers for the newly evicted.

How condescending, insensitive, heartless, and insulting to American renters whose only sin was renting instead of owning.

Right now, President Trump appears to be in the mood to empower governors, so governors must step up and order 90-day suspension of all rent and accumulating rent fees – landlords can’t be the only exempt entities in the nation.

Multi-family property managers will eventually get funds to cover operations and along with landlords, most will be able to take advantage of refinance and/or forbearance options, and while some states have attempted eviction freezes, nothing short of a 90-day suspension of rent (including removing all potential predatory late fees and penalties), both residential and commercial, will help the millions in America who will still be facing eviction at the end of the existing moratoriums.

We MUST take action. Local petitions are floating around, so sign and share them.

But the most powerful thing you can do right now is to send this story to your local representative – you can enter your address here and get the names, Twitter accounts, and Facebook Pages of every politician that represents you down to the local level.

The only way renters (especially independent contractors) will be treated like the rest of the nation is for people like you to speak up – tweet this and tag every one of your representatives. Then do the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And don’t stop until change has been made.

Otherwise, landlords will enjoy a mass migration of family evictees come May 1st, while politicians can scramble to address spikes in homeless populations nationwide.

Op/Ed

Working from home? Watch out for these taxes this year

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Thinking you’ll save money on taxes this year due to working from home? Think again.

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Taxes and paperwork zoomed in on pen and papers.

With what seems like everybody working from home—for what seems like the last decade—you would be well within your rights to question the tax implications for employees this year. While logic would dictate that taxes would skew to the lower side due to fewer commuters overall, several states have different plans for their at-home workers.

Even though you’re probably working from home, the office in which you work still has bills and costs associated with it. That same statement goes for the public transportation system you might use to reach that office, the roads on which you would travel, and other public amenities that support a commuter model and the basic infrastructure on which we depended pre-COVID.

As such, you may need to anticipate some related taxes this year.

Primarily, many states plan to tax workers based on their employment location, not their residential address. For some, this may not make much of a difference (I live less than a mile from my place of work); however, anyone hoping to avoid a city-based tax by working at home in the suburbs is in for a rude awakening.

This isn’t actually a new concept. The process, known as “convenience of the employer”, relies on the understanding that these large, city-based businesses need the support that taxes offer, and anyone responsible for working in those locations is also responsible for maintaining them in that context.

If you think that sounds contrived, buckle up—some states are also looking into a 5% tax for public transportation. Since public transit options aren’t getting the same level of use that they were pre-pandemic, they aren’t receiving the level of TLC needed to maintain them; this carries serious implications for the safety and convenience of those public transportation options once lockdown ends.

As mentioned previously, the roads which public transportation uses and things like lighting, demarcation, and sidewalks also need upkeep—something they aren’t receiving with the same level of funding they did prior to last March. The same can be said of highways and the like.

It’s easy for people making these recommendations to justify them; if you’re still employed and you haven’t had to take a pay cut at all, your expenses have probably decreased. However, this is clearly a time in which people need to save every penny possible—something for which these tax proposals clearly don’t account.

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Op/Ed

5 fun and easy ideas for a remote holiday office party

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) As with many things in 2020, the holiday office party is going to look a little different this year. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

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Remote holiday office party at home around laptop with festive decorations.

In many companies, the holiday office party is something to look forward to. But as with most things in 2020, holiday office parties are changing. And if you want to continue the tradition, you may have to pivot and go virtual!

Try these remote holiday party tips:

At first glance, a virtual holiday party sounds pretty suspect. But it’s 2020, so what else do you expect? And the truth is that a virtual holiday party can actually be a lot of fun when everyone has the right mindset. Here are some helpful tips:

1. Plan ahead

We all know how busy the holiday season can get. And even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s amazing how many events and gatherings there are. You’ll also find a lot of families making new traditions. All of that to say: You need to plan ahead.

The sooner you get your holiday office party on the calendar, the more likely it is that people will show up. And the good thing about doing a virtual event is that you can be flexible with your dates. Want to host it on a random Wednesday night? Go for it!

2. Create a detailed agenda

Why do you need an agenda for a Zoom holiday party, you might be wondering? Because things can get pretty awkward if you don’t.

While it’s possible that your team is close enough to spend an hour or two politely chatting while sipping on eggnog, an unstructured free-for-all event can get messy. People will talk over each other, there will be awkward silences, and you’ll start losing people as the event stretches on.

A detailed agenda sets the expectations for the event and creates a sense of “flow.” It helps people know what to expect and gives you clear next steps when things feel like they’re boring or stale.

When creating your agenda, leave room for things like “happy hour” and other casual buffers of time. Too much formal structure will make this feel like a meeting and not a party. But not enough structure leaves people confused. Do your best with this balancing act.

3. Get everyone involved

The best way to get people excited about the holiday party (and to increase attendance) is to involve as many people as possible.

Consider giving different people responsibilities for the event. One person might be in charge of music, another in charge of games, and another in charge of making sure the technology works. When people have a stake in the event, they’re less likely to tune out.

4. Plan games and activities

There are a lot of unique ways to get groups of people involved on a Zoom party. Games and activities are especially fun. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • If you’ve ever played the game “Werewolf,” you know how much fun it can be. It’s a social game that involves everyone and creates a sense of mystery, suspense, and fun. And with a little planning, you can play Werewolf over Zoom! (If your team is open to online gaming, the game Among Us plays very similarly for free on mobile or $5 on Steam!)
  • Sign up for a virtual cookie decorating class and have your team decorate cookies via Zoom. (You might even consider sending each individual a care package with all of the ingredients they need ahead of time.)

You know your team best, so choose something that will fit their interests and personalities!

5. Build anticipation and excitement

You never want your holiday office party to be something your team sees as an event they “have to” attend. You want it to be one of the highlights of the year. But in a year like 2020 where you’re relegated to virtual gatherings, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

One of the keys is to begin building anticipation and excitement early on. Talk about the party frequently and often. Make it a priority rather than something that you’re doing just to go through the motions.

Celebrate the Holidays in (Unique) Style

What better way to cap off what has been a strange and unique year than by having a virtual holiday celebration where you can all relax in the comfort and safety of your own homes? The key to making this work is to plan ahead, have fun, and laugh at the weirdness of it all. This isn’t going to be a black-tie event. Relax and roll with the glitches. If you do it right, this will be something you look back on in the years to come with great fondness.

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Op/Ed

Top 5 reasons resilience is key in the workplace and the hiring room

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) While it matters all the time, 2020 has especially shown resilience is important as an employee or employer to hold their own in the workplace.

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Open workspace, where resilience will be key to success.

If there is ever a time that demonstrates the value of resilience in the workplace, that time is 2020. Challenges, complexities, and change in our personal and professional spheres are inevitable and required for growth.

Brent Gleeson, author of the book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life breaks down the components of resilience into three dimensions: challenge, commitment, and control. Resilient people see difficulty as challenge and a learning opportunity. They are committed and take ownership over their lives and goals. They spend their energy on that which they have control.

In the context of the workplace, employees and leaders will inevitably face setbacks, critical feedback and change- positive or negative. Managing engagement through this while working remotely can add an additional layer to this. Gleeson highlights five important reasons organizations should understand and work to build resilience in their workforce as part of their culture strategy.

  1. The first is that resilience skills directly benefit the psychological wellbeing of employees. Happy, healthy employees are good for business and the bottom line as well.
  2. Change is bound to happen and adaptability is key. Organizations need leaders, managers, and employees that have the resilience to navigate whatever comes up, as it happens.
  3. Learning and innovation is required to make it in today’s business environment. Even capable and motivated employees need to constantly maintain and hone their skills in a culture where they are allowed to continue to grow and improve.
  4. Resilience can be put to the test in organizations when interpersonal relationships are strained. Teamwork, when lead by intentional leaders, can help employees to frame interactions in a way that reduces negative feeling and improves group dynamics.
  5. Managers who can lead with resilience can help employees with career development and coaching in a way that develops their skills.

Some of the key characteristics that drive heightened levels of mental fortitude as shared by Gleeson are optimism, giving back, values and morals, humor, mentors, support networks, embracing fear, purpose, and intentional training. These contribute to resilience in employees, and in an environment where the only constant is change, the ability to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

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