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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.

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.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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