Coronavirus

Landlords Concerned Eviction Law Puts Them in Financial Limbo

Lawmakers in Massachusetts hit the pause button on all evictions for non-payment, but some landlords feel the legislation did not provide them with enough financial protections during the coronavirus pandemic

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If you can't afford to pay your rent right now in Massachusetts, you don't have to worry about getting kicked out of your apartment during the ongoing state emergency.

That's because state lawmakers hit the pause button on evictions for non-payment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Supporters call it a crucial step to keeping people safe and providing housing stability amidst the public health crisis.

But property owners, especially smaller landlords, tell NBC10 Boston the law is putting them in financial limbo.

"I'm feeling a lot of uncertainty," said Jocelyn Topolski, who owns a rental condo on the Cape. "I have to say the anxiety factor is big."

Topolski told NBC10 Boston her tenant did not send a check for April's rent. And she doesn't know how long she'll be without that cash flow.

"Landlords still have to pay taxes, property insurance, an HOA, and perhaps a mortgage. All those expenses go on," she said.

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Under normal circumstances, Topolski might start the eviction process through the housing court system. However, the Massachusetts moratorium is in place for 120 days, or 45 days after the pandemic emergency is lifted, whichever comes sooner.

Emergency evictions that involve health or safety can still move forward.

Doug Quattrochi is executive director of MassLandlords, a nonprofit trade association with about 1,800 members across the state. He described the legislation as "one-sided."

Some respondents in a Mass Landlords survey said they plan to exit the housing business

The organization recently put out a survey to members and said 22% responded they don't know how they will pay their bills. Some said they plan to exit the housing business.

The moratorium also applies to residential tenants who were already behind on rent prior to the pandemic taking hold.

"The public health perspective is to have people stay [in their homes], and that makes sense," Quattrochi said. "But the landlord perspective is wondering who will pay for all the housing, which perhaps hasn't been paid in months."

There is also concern among local landlords about a growing #RentStrike movement on social media, which they say could influence some tenants not to pay rent regardless of whether they have taken a financial hit from COVID-19.

Quattrochi said many landlords can't access unemployment or the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program that provides relief to small businesses.

"Landlords tend to slip through the cracks in terms of safety nets," he said. "It's going to be really hard for small landlords because it's really hard for ordinary people to pay their bills now."

Cambridge state Rep. Mike Connolly was a big proponent of the moratorium legislation because it helps everyone follow the stay-at-home order.

"It stands to reason that we can't have people put on the street in the middle of the pandemic," Connolly told NBC10 Boston. "Having the moratorium in place is really a matter of life or death for people facing housing instability."

Connolly points to provisions that allow landlords to defer mortgage payments on rental properties they live in, like a triple-decker. He also said the bill provides landlords the opportunity to tap into the prepaid last month's rent to cover expenses.

"I think from many people's perspective, it's a very well-rounded bill that meets these immediate challenges," Connolly said.

The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development put out written guidance for how landlords can notify tenants about missed rental payments, while assuring them it is not a legal eviction notice and they should not feel pressure to leave the unit.

There is also a form tenants can fill out to inform landlords that a missed rent payment is due to financial hardship from COVID-19.

If tenants provide that info within 30 days of missing a rent payment, the eviction moratorium law stipulates they won't pay late fees or face negative reporting to credit agencies.

People on both sides of the issue emphasized that communication during coronavirus is key.

Dave Costello owns a property in East Boston. Both his tenants are currently collecting unemployment, so he agreed to accept half the rental payment temporarily to provide them with more breathing room on monthly expenses.

Topolski is still waiting to hear from her tenant. Even though the law states that tenants remain responsible for all rent owed, she is not optimistic the money will ever be paid back.

"It's incumbent on the landlord to try to recover it, and that's a very difficult process, at best," she said.  

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