When former President Donald Trump directed the HHS secretary and CDC director to consider halting residential evictions in August 2020 and the CDC followed the next month with its “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19” order (pdf), it made perfect sense. The order prevents landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent if they have been economically hurt by the pandemic and make less than $99,000 per year. The loss of millions of U.S. jobs, almost overnight, threatened to increase evictions, homelessness, and the spread of COVID-19.
But a year later, the CDC order has been extended twice and is now due to expire on June 30. Landlords and property owners are speaking out about the hardships the CDC order has created. According to the Urban Institute, pandemic-related unpaid rent in the United States ranges from $8 billion to as much as $53 billion.
The first problem with the order was verifiability, said property owners who talked to The Epoch Times. Tenants seeking eviction protection did not need to provide financial statements or other proof—only an unsworn declaration—a laxity that invited poseurs who might not have been financially affected.
A bigger problem was the economic imbalance; landlords continue to pay their mortgage, taxes, insurance, water and utilities, trash removal and cleaning, and repairs while tenants may not be paying rent. In fact, “locked down” tenants create greater wear and tear on plumbing and appliances and use more utilities.
In addition to their rental building expenses, “What happens to property owners’ own expenses when they have lost their jobs to COVID-19?” Harold Greenberg, a Los Angeles attorney asked. “Those property owners owe their individual property taxes, utility bills, mortgage payments, and general expenses and they are being pulled from both ends by the eviction moratorium order.” Greenberg served as past president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, the association’s chairperson of the Local Government Relations Committee, and deputy district attorney III for Los Angeles country several decades ago.
With courts closed because of COVID-19, landlords say they have been unable to evict tenants who were delinquent in rent before the pandemic or who are troublesome, sometimes causing other tenants to withhold rent. “The eviction moratorium has turned landlords into credit agencies,” says Greenberg, “except that unlike Visa, we can’t cancel people.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December 2020 provided $25 billion in rental assistance programs, important provisions since the eviction moratorium does not erase tenants’ back rent liabilities.
The programs, to be administered by states, may still penalize landlords. In California, for example, a measure was passed that would pay landlords 80 percent of their one year of lost COVID-19 rent if they agree to forgive 20 percent. Tenants and landlords must apply together for the funds.
An owner of 300 housing units in the LA area who requested anonymity out of fear of local regulatory reprisals spoke to The Epoch Times about the provision. “I registered every tenant who owes us rent and out of 35 tenants, only five have applied so far,” he said. “I even hired a concierge to sit down with the tenants but so far, not much interest.”
In California, if back rent is not recovered through rental assistance programs emanating from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, landlords may seek recovery of back rent, reclassified as civil debt, in small claims court—a daunting and usually unsuccessful prospect.
“Why doesn’t the state and city give rental vouchers directly to tenants?” asked the LA property owner. “Because by keeping 20 percent of the rent owed to landlords, they collect a de facto tax. The program also punishes those who broke their backs to pay their rent during this last difficult year—they get nothing for their efforts.”
In May, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to try to pay rental housing providers 100 percent of COVID-19-related back rent as opposed to 80 percent.
According to Greenberg, tenant-favoring legislation does not just stem from Democrat-controlled legislatures. “There are also three times as many tenants as there are landlords so we are talking politics and votes.” If a dispute reaches court, there is another factor that works against landlords he says. “Tenants usually request a jury trial and how many landlords will be on the jury? Probably none.”
Meanwhile, some ask why eviction moratoriums that dock landlords should still be in effect when social venues like sports pavilions are now open and many are now vaccinated. “I would love to claim 300 dependents on my taxes,” laments the LA property owner.
Martha Rosenberg is a former advertising copywriter who knows a lot about marketing. She began as an investigative journalist and since has been on TV and radio as a health expert. Martha has taught about drug marketing tactics at a Chicago medical school and is part of the FDA press corps. Her book “Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health,” exposes what goes on behind the scenes in the food and drug industries.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.