COVID-19 Rent Strike: What #CancelRent Means for Landlords

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Featured Image for Article - COVID-19 Rent Strike: What #CancelRent Means for Landlords [Free Investor Guide]

Summary: In this article, learn what the #CancelRent means for landlords. Also find out what’s causing the rent strike, what housing relief options are available right now, is cancelling rent the best option and if help is coming for renters and landlords. 

Introduction

The movement known as #CancelRent has been gathering momentum over the last week or so. It started in New York, a city that’s been overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19, causing thousands of people to not be able to pay rent this month. 

The fast-spreading Coronavirus and subsequent shut down of millions of businesses around the world has impacted low-income families in the U.S. tremendously. 

While the CARES Act may be providing some breathing room for the time being, when working-class families aren’t able to bring home a paycheck and can no longer afford to put food on the table…we know we’re in a serious crisis. 

Some good news is finally starting to come in about the number of COVID-19 cases slowing down in certain parts of the country. But the pandemic is far from over and the 2020 recession is just beginning… 

Many landlords are asking themselves, what’s going to happen in the meantime? How can I protect my investments and help my tenants during this stressful, unprecedented time? Keep reading to find out more…


April & May Rent: Most People Are Paying (Stats)

To start this article out on a positive note for landlords, most tenants are still paying rent. The National Multifamily Housing Council or NMHC as well as the majority of the Property Teams have shared that nearly all tenants paid rent in April–around 90%, which is close to average.  

April Rent Collection Rates (NMHC): 94.6% 

April Rent Collection Rates (RealWealth® Property Teams): >90%

May Rent Collection Rates (NMHC): 80.2% as of May 6th

May Rent Collection Rates (RealWealth®): Property Teams in our network expect similar rent collection rates in May. 

*Please note: NMHC numbers reflect the percent of apartment households that paid rent. 

If rent collection rates continue as they have been, the rent strike may be nothing more than a blip in the radar. But, there’s still a cancel rent movement going on… Or at least there’s a handful of organizers and reporters still trying to push the #CancelRent strikes forward. So how will this affect landlords? Tenants? Lenders? Find out more below.


What is #CancelRent?

Residents of New York City are going on rent strike until Governor Andrew Cuomo comes up with some type of relief plan.

#CancelRent organizers are asking their Governor to cancel rent for at least the next four months. Additionally, they’re asking that rents don’t increase, more help for those that have lost a place to live and to put more money into affordable, public housing. 

The rent strike hasn’t spread as quickly as the Coronavirus, but it’s picking up steam. There were also strikes held in Chicago, Philadelphia and California. Landlords not just in New York but all over the country may be getting worried about what #CancelRent might mean for them and their investments if tenants refuse to pay. 

It may seem like the #CancelRent movement is renters versus landlords and the battle has just begun. But if you take a step back and look at the root of this strike, it is simply demanding that state and federal decision makers take action and provide help to renters and mortgage holders. If you look at it from this perspective, we’re all pushing for the same goal right now–a safe place to live and enough money to pay for the necessities.


What’s Causing the Rent Strike?

Most American’s should have received a stimulus check by now as part of the federally-funded relief program. While this extra $1,200+ helps, that money is probably going out faster than it came in just to cover bills–especially if someone has lost their job due to COVID-19. 

The bottom line is, this one-time stimulus check isn’t going to solve any financial burdens long-term. Neither is a $600 boost in unemployment each month. It’s still not enough. That’s what’s causing the rent strike. On both federal and state levels, leaders are struggling to find the best solution to provide additional support to those in need. 


Current Housing Relief Options During COVID-19

The federal government released its CARES Act at the end of March in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. The act laid out details like no interest and forbearance options on federally-backed mortgages and student loans, and eviction moratoriums on all Section 8 housing. 

It also provided a grant to small business owners if they qualify and low-interest loans for both small and larger businesses, including landlords. This all sounds great in theory, but many banks have been unable to process loans in a timely manner, or at all, because of the huge amount of applications they’ve received. Additionally, the disaster loan fund setup by the SBA as part of the CARES Act has run out of money.

The CARES Act continues to provide relief in a lot of ways, but still falls short in a few key areas. For starters, the bill left out relief for 44 million households that rent single-family homes. This impacts not only SFR tenants, but landlords as well. That’s another reason lawmakers are scrambling for what to do next. 

Several States & Cities Have Local Housing Relief Options

A number of states and cities have come to the rescue and filled in some of the gaps the feds left out. Some of these policies include more extensive protections for tenants on eviction moratoriums, and additional tenant and/or homeowner assistance. 

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar out of Minnesota has been one of the people at the forefront in the fight for renter and landlord protections during the crisis. Beyond the federal relief package, Rep. Omar has extended eviction moratorium dates and forbearance options for both tenants and mortgage-holders in Minnesota. She’s also spearheading the campaign for the government to cancel rents until the pandemic is over. More on that later…

Massachusetts has also implemented policies at a state-level in an effort to help their renting population. Landlords are not allowed to file evictions, unless it’s an emergency and this moratorium will be in place for longer than the date set by the federal government. Banks are also not allowed to foreclose on a house for failing to pay their mortgage.

Many other states and cities are enacting policies similar to Massachusetts. Notable states providing the most relief to renters and homeowners during COVID-19 (after MA) are, Delaware, Connecticut, Nevada and Washington D.C.  

While these more extensive protections for renters and landlords help, the fact of the matter is, it’s still not enough…


Is Cancelling Rent the Best Option?

Experts aren’t arguing whether something must be done to protect renters long-term–that’s a no-brainer. The issue is that finding solutions that help everyone in need isn’t going to be simple or easy. On one side there’s a rent strike, and on the other is the domino effect that will inevitably come if we do cancel rents. 

Rep. Omar (MN) just introduced a bill at the federal level that would help provide more relief to renters and homeowners during the Coronavirus pandemic. The bill includes measures such as tenants cannot be evicted (some landlords aren’t following this), and cancel rent and mortgage payments until the crisis is over. Cancelling rents and mortgage payments may sound like an extreme measure, but Representative Omar explains in her bill why it’s so necessary, 

“Due to layoffs and mass unemployment, renters and mortgage holders are accruing mountains of debt, despite many not having a steady income in the foreseeable future. If drastic measures are not taken immediately, millions of families will be forced from their homes and the housing market will suffer irreparable damage. Already, calls for rent strikes are echoing across the nation from tenants who cannot afford to make ends meet.”

Rep. Omar

However, canceling rents and mortgage payments isn’t cut and dry. Many people and industries would be negatively impacted along the way. Not to mention, someone, at some point is going to have to foot the bill for all these missed payments. 

VP for Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy at the Urban Institute, Mary Cunningham explains, “It’s not as simple as just canceling rent–we are all connected. Landlords pay state and local government taxes, which fund schools, libraries and parks. To prevent ripple effects, we should just help renters pay their rent.” 

Rep. Omar’s proposed bill includes a Rental Property Relief Fund that would be established by HUD and allows landlords to apply to have the full cost of any canceled rent payments covered by the federal government. 

Cunningham proposes not to cancel rents, but to expand already existing relief programs, i.e. federal Housing Choice Voucher Program. The government would subsidize portions of rent payments with these vouchers. 

Matthew Murphy of the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy suggests building off the CARES Act and coming up with new and more extensive relief options to complement that. Most American’s claimed to have spent their stimulus check on bills. He argues that more stimulus checks are necessary to keep a roof over many people’s heads.  

“In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering,” said Rep. Omar.


The Future of Renters After the Pandemic

Something that’s really important to keep in mind is that forebearance isn’t forgiveness. Rather, loans or rents in forbearance are merely postponed or reduced. During a crisis, our mindset naturally shifts to short-term. Our top priority is survival. So while forbearance for tenants is a lifesaver now, what’s going to happen when COVID-19 ends? 

Just a week after the Coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency, the housing research department at the Urban Institute released a statement saying, 

“But eviction moratoria on their own, as many governments are proposing or enacting, would only address a small part of the crisis.” The article goes on to predict, “Without additional rent relief or flexible cash assistance, moratoria could reduce COVID-19 transmission risks today but create an eviction tsunami later.” 

When forbearance ends and relief stops coming, tenants will be expected to start paying back their missed rental payments. Even as businesses gradually open their doors and some lucky employees get to return to their jobs, the crisis for many will be far from over. 

Murphy says, “If the economy isn’t recovering and people aren’t back to employment, we will see more nonpayment and something will have to be done.” 

As I mentioned previously, our economy is entering recessionary waters. How long this recession will last is anyone’s guess. But if some sort of long-term relief isn’t provided to renters, these people will likely be evicted because they’ll be unable to pay back missed rents.

Investor tip: RealWealth® recently surveyed our 49,000+ members, asking how long they think it will take for the economy to recover. Check out the results!

The Future of Landlords After the Pandemic 

If the mortgage loan on your rental property is federally-backed (FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.), you can breathe a little easier. Because landlords aren’t allowed to evict tenants, no foreclosure actions can be taken by lenders until at least May 15th and additional forbearance options are available during COVID-19.  

However, if you have a loan through a private lender, these same protections don’t apply. As such, landlords are facing similar circumstances as their tenants–both are expected to pay their rents and mortgages. Things get even more difficult for landlords with multiple rental properties, because that means having to cover multiple mortgages. If tenants can’t pay rent, how can landlords still be expected to pay their mortgage(s)? 

Forbearance is helpful right now, but when things start to calm down, mortgage holders will be expected to pay back their lenders for any missed or partial payments. 

To help landlords avoid evictions after the moratorium is over, there needs to be more assistance for rental property owners. If rent forgiveness is implemented, so should some type of mortgage forgiveness.


Is Help Coming For Tenants & Landlords?

Aid under the current CARES Act falls short when it comes to options for tenants and landlords. The program helps specific segments of renters and landlords, like subsidized housing and federally-backed mortgage loans. The problem is, it offers very little support for landlords with private mortgages and middle to low-income tenants living in market-rate properties.  

Many elected officials are urging the government to come out with more rounds of relief and stimulus packages. They’re proposing that the next round include $100 billion in emergency aid to renters. 

Why $100 billion? The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that this amount of money will keep a roof over renters heads during the pandemic. A number of officials are also pushing for eviction moratoriums for all renters, regardless of what type of mortgage is held by the landlord. 


Conclusion

#CancelRent could mean a lot of different things for landlords. In the midst of COVID-19, it seems pointless to make predictions with much confidence about what the future may look like. But it’s clear the government needs to make a decision and fast on how to best help those struggling to keep a roof over their head. 

The spread of the Coronavirus has caused a global crisis. The economy is in recession and unemployment rates are expected to hit record highs. It feels like it may only get worse before it gets better.

To avoid sounding like a complete downer, there is always some good news. Many of our property teams in markets around the country reported that over 90 percent of their tenants paid rent in April. It’s hard to say how different that number might look at the end of May, but we’re hopeful this trend continues. 

For more information, get tips for collecting rents, property management and how to pay your mortgage during COVID-19.

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