When the Supreme Court lifted the eviction moratorium, one form of uncertainty vanished while others remained. Property managers and their property owners and investors were left with questions about tenants, occupancy, and operational financials. They had to look at their tenant roster, payment delinquency, the slow availability of rescue funds from the federal government, their financials, and the immediate future.
There are ways of dealing with the challenges, say IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) members Shannon Longino, CPM and SVP with Truist Community Capital, and Toni Harris, CPM, ARM and SVP of Property Management at Avanath+. They require flexibility, good communications, research, and a lot of work.
“Before the end of the moratorium, property management responsibilities were already shifting,” Harris says. The fight to reduce payment delinquency became a complex battle. “You had to know the most recent laws and stay very much in touch with them. It’s very fluid.”
“Everybody’s goal is trying to see how they can get their hands on money and be part of the process for relief,” adds Longino. That gets complicated as she points out there are 500 agencies that can be channels for funds. “What wasn’t thought through was how to get the money out to people quickly. Residents were the first point of contact, and that left out getting the money to landlords.”
But getting those funds is the only way to keep residents in their apartments, and properties financially sustainable. “We’re responsible for protecting the assets,” says Harris. “You can’t do that if you empty out the place. You can’t do that with all the overdue balances. It’s unrealistic to think that, with the moratorium lifted, every one of those people is being evicted. That’s not the goal of any operator that I know of.”
Longino points to one State that could be a blueprint for others. “Pennsylvania is a good example of a State that has worked well to make the system work, where residents are being paid and people are not being removed from their homes. That would ideally be copied nationwide.”
So far, eviction rates have been low, both women say. To keep them down has required work, including communications and creativity, and will need even more.
“We’ve offered options for forbearance or even forgiving a portion of the balance if they paid by a certain date,” Harris says. “It increases our write-offs, but it brings them current and salvages the tenant-landlord relationship.”
“I’ve spoken with some landlords,” Longino adds. “One in particular is going through the application process to obtain funds on behalf of residents, has taken the initiative to understand the program themselves. They have to be more active to see how they play a part in the process.”
Landlords and tenants alike will also need to embrace greater cooperation and a recognition that no one is likely to get everything they want. Harris notes there will be pressure to find common ground.
“I expect there to be judgments in favor of the landlord,” Harris says, “but I also expect the court to be favorable towards residents by asking the landlord to modify the amounts owed. This will lead to higher than anticipated bad debt.
Longino adds, “You’re going to have to continue thinking outside the norm. There’s going to have to be give and take by both sides. Covid has forced all of our thought processes to be different.”