Residential tenants paying rent (or maybe not)

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
The Talk of Montauk
New York State’s Tenant Safe Harbor Act was intended to help those affected by the pandemic. But what if that harbor is on the fancier side?

Cheryl Berman-Schechter, 50, has been going to Montauk, the hamlet on the eastern tip of Long Island, since the early 1990s. Back then it was a fishing village, with a mix of middle- and working-class residents. She and her husband, Matthew Schechter, bought property there in 2008. When Ms. Berman chooses tenants, she hopes to find people who respect the place’s history.
“I want people that Montauk matters to,” Ms. Berman-Schechter, 50, said in a recent phone interview from Colombia, where she and Mr. Schechter, the financial officer at an audio equipment website, have lived since 2016.
This summer, Ms. Berman-Schechter rented the house to a wellness professional and aspirational influencer from the New York area named Marisa Hochberg. Ms. Hochberg, 32, has professed a lifelong devotion to Montauk — a setting both salubrious and glamorous, ideal for someone developing a personal brand in the lifestyle field.

“Spending youthful summers at my family home in Montauk is where I felt most serene,” Ms. Hochberg wrote in an essay for The Purist, a website founded by Cristina Cuomo where Ms. Hochberg works as an executive sales director, according to her LinkedIn profile. (Calls to Ms. Cuomo, a highly followed “wellness worshiper” also devoted to the Hamptons, went unanswered.) She wrote that The End — a nickname for Montauk — “has this special aura surrounding it — the water and the bucolic setting of the lighthouse, the greenery and the rich history. Whenever I arrived, I felt like I had really escaped to a place where I could be myself.” In an interview about weight loss with Yahoo.com five years ago, she said, “Montauk was, in some strange way, like my support system.”

Ms. Hochberg’s focus on healthy living, her stated aversion to drugs and alcohol and her job at a local hot spot, the Surf Lodge, convinced Ms. Berman-Schechter that she would be an agreeable tenant.

In May, they signed a lease that ran from June 1 to Aug. 8. Ms. Hochberg had asked to stay the entire summer, said Ms. Berman-Schechter, who replied that it wasn’t possible. In early August, she planned to give the house over to family friends: college professors who rent it every summer.
Two weeks after moving in, Ms. Hochberg messaged Ms. Berman-Schechter. “This is probably a dumb question bc you just built the house but you aren’t looking to sell by any chance. I’ve fallen in love with it haha — figured I’d ask!” The house was not for sale.

On Instagram, where Ms. Hochberg promotes products to her following of 12,000, the hamlet had already become her backdrop of choice. This summer, the Berman-Schechters’ house became an idyllic setting for her endorsements, like acupuncture services, hair dryers and tanner.
On June 12, Ms. Hochberg posted a picture of herself on Instagram standing underneath a Japanese dogwood tree in the Berman-Schechters’ garden. “Montauk mornings in my new summer garden,” the caption read, along with several hashtags including #goodmorning and #myownhome.
Her stay was uneventful for the first several weeks, with a key exception. On June 15, when it came time for her to pay the $14,450 that constituted the second half of her rent, she did not pay, the Berman-Schechters said in multiple court filings.

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Several days before Ms. Hochberg was scheduled to move out, according to Ms. Berman-Schechter, her father, who was listed on the lease as an occupant of the house, called and asked that his daughter be able to stay. The landlord said no. On a text message thread with both Hochbergs after the call, she offered to help find Ms. Hochberg somewhere else to live.

Ms. Hochberg’s tone changed.
“You’re going to kick an almost 91-year-old man out in the middle of a global pandemic?” she texted. She added that she and her father were protected by a law passed to shield vulnerable tenants during the pandemic. Later she sent a New York Post article about moneyed tenants who had taken advantage of the law. (In a conversation with The New York Times, Mr. Hochberg played down his occupancy of the Berman-Schechters’ place. “I think I slept there one night,” he said. “I have my own place in Montauk.”)
On Sept. 1, according to a court filing, Ms. Hochberg hadn’t paid what she owed, and hadn’t left the house. She posted a picture of herself to Instagram that day, holding the door of the Berman-Schechters’ outdoor shower open. The caption read: “I’ve heard September is the new August ”

‘It’s Happening All Over the Place’
The Berman-Schechters are far from the only landlords who have had trouble getting short-term tenants to pay rent or leave their rentals during the pandemic. Tenant-protection laws passed by the state of New York in order to shield the vulnerable both before and during the pandemic have been used as a cudgel by wealthy renters, as well as those who wish to portray themselves living in luxury.

“When the legislature enacted this law, I’m sure that they did not intend to protect people in this way, renting units, houses in the Hamptons, for tens of thousands of dollars a month,” said Steven Kirkpatrick, a partner at the Romer Debbas law firm in Manhattan who specializes in housing law. (Ms. Hochberg had agreed in May to pay $31,750 for her stay in Montauk.)

Robert Marcincuk, of O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn in Southampton, said he had 10 landlord clients with tenant headaches there.
The tenants his clients were fighting “do have money, they do have jobs, and they choose not to pay the rent,” he said.
Christian Killoran, the president of Killoran Law in Westhampton Beach, said he has over half a dozen clients in the Hamptons in a similar situation to the Berman-Schechters.

“It’s happening all over the place,” Mr. Killoran said. And people are talking. “Certainly landlords are and obviously tenants are too because you’re seeing the proliferation of the strategy.”
The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law on June 30, extended pandemic-related protections that the governor had already established, making it difficult for landlords to obtain an eviction order, no matter whom their tenant might be. Tenant rights had already been buttressed by a law passed the previous year, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act.
Judith Goldiner, the attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, said that the laws would help many people who were suffering in New York, pointing to a recent survey that indicated that 58 percent of Black renters, 57 percent of Hispanic or Latino renters and 37 percent of white renters in New York were unsure of their ability to pay their October rent.
“Anytime you have a law, there’s going to be some bad people who take advantage of it, but there are so many thousands — maybe millions in New York State — who will be helped by the Safe Harbor Act,” she said, emphasizing that the protection only extended to January 1.

But during a summer like no other, cases of wealthy squatters attracted public attention. In June, Air Mail reported that a Hamptons realtor, Jonathan Davis, had trashed a property he’d leased, and had refused to leave. In a court filing, Mr. Davis’s landlords, Giancarlo Bonagura and Paula Rosado, accused him of overstaying his lease because he believed that the tenant laws passed during the pandemic would leave them with no legal recourse.
Mr. Davis did not respond to emails and voice mail messages requesting comment. A spokeswoman at his real estate firm, Nest Seekers, declined to comment.
In August, The New York Post reported that a Manhattan developer and a former owner of the Tunnel nightclub, Marco Ricotta, had stopped paying rent on his Westhampton vacation home. Mr. Killoran, who represented Mr. Ricotta’s landlord, said that the case had been settled this week. Mr. Ricotta did not respond to phone calls or text messages seeking comment.

Ms. Hochberg said in a text message that her family has owned property in Montauk for 35 years. (Ms. Hochberg’s father, a retired liquor retailer, is on the board of directors for a high-rise called Montauk Manor, where he also owns an apartment, a four-minute drive from the Berman-Schechters’ home. He is also on the boards of a hospital in Brooklyn and an Upper East Side synagogue, and has long been involved in community revitalization, in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens.)
Early in her career, Ms. Hochberg worked on a series of wellness events in the Hamptons and Montauk for corporate clients. In 2017, she began working as the partnerships and wellness director at Surf Lodge, a nightclub founded in 2007 by the Brazilian-born entrepreneur Jayma Cardoso.
With celebrities including Jaden Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Taylor Swift, Khloe Kardashian and Tiffany Trump among its customers, Surf Lodge has brought the glitz (and noise) of the neighboring Hamptons to The End. Ms. Hochberg helped introduce daytime wellness programming to offset the nighttime bacchanals.
“She’s a good person at work, she’s extremely dedicated,” Ms. Cardoso said of Ms. Hochberg. “I can send her an email at 11 at night and she responds.”

The two women spoke about plans to expand Surf Lodge’s wellness programming for an article published in The New York Post on Sept. 28. By that point, court records show, Ms. Hochberg was already embroiled in a legal battle with the Berman-Schechters, who found they had little leverage to remove her from the property. After the Berman-Schechters’ lawyer filed a petition asking a court to compel Ms. Hochberg to leave the house, Ms. Hochberg’s lawyer, Christopher McGuire, used the 2019 tenant protection act to argue for dismissal.
The Berman-Schechters’ lawyer, Brian Lester, withdrew the initial suit, which had been unsuccessful in prompting a settlement, and filed another to seek possession of the house and also to recover damages.
A spokeswoman at Mr. McGuire’s office said this week that he was no longer representing Ms. Hochberg.
Chatter on the Beach
As well as citing her father’s health, Ms. Hochberg told her landlords that she was in dire financial straits after being laid off from Surf Lodge. (Ms. Cardoso confirmed that Ms. Hochberg was laid off midway through the summer, along with about a hundred others.) Ms. Hochberg also suggested that she had likely become infected with Covid-19 while working an event at the Lodge in August as a contractor, after having been laid off.

“I don’t think new tenants would want a Covid-infested house?” she wrote in an email on Aug. 7. Ms. Cardoso said that after a Covid-19 scare at Surf Lodge that month, Ms. Hochberg had been tested twice, with negative results.
Ms. Berman-Schechter had never before run into this kind of tenant trouble. (When she and her husband bought the property, she was working as a digital product manager for The Times, a role on the business side of the organization. She left in 2011.) She did not run a background check that could have revealed an eviction case filed against Ms. Hochberg by River Tower Owner LLC, the corporation that owns the Oriana, a luxury high-rise in Manhattan. (That filing, from April 2019, indicated that she owed the company $22,130.)
And when Ms. Hochberg did not pay in June, Ms. Berman-Schechter was in the midst of relocating from Bogotá, which was almost entirely shut down because of the coronavirus, to a farm an hour and a half away, where her two sons could be outside. She did not aggressively pursue the missing rent.
“I honestly don’t have a great answer,” Ms. Berman-Schechter said when asked why she was not more concerned then. “Trust me, my husband has asked me the same thing.”

As the conflict between Ms. Hochberg and the Berman-Schechters intensified, people started to gossip.
Ms. Cardoso was asked about the dispute, on the beach and at the hardware store, she said. Ever-protective of her establishment’s relationship with locals, she called Ms. Berman-Schechter to find out what was going on. Then she asked Ms. Hochberg. “She wanted this to be a personal matter and not have me involved, which I totally respect,” Ms. Cardoso said. “It is her life, her matter. Surf Lodge has nothing to do with it.”
Ms. Cardoso also said that Ms. Hochberg’s behavior was out of character. “I’m very surprised that this happened,” she said.
The Berman-Schechters say they made multiple attempts to settle with Ms. Hochberg, to no avail. When on Yom Kippur, the solemn Jewish holiday of repentance, Mr. Hochberg had a letter published on his synagogue’s website about the importance of charity, Mr. Schechter made an Instagram account with the handle @lyingmarissa using an image of Ms. Hochberg as the profile picture and misspelling her name. He then quoted her father’s words on one of Ms. Hochberg’s Instagram posts. (He said that he took the account down after a day because he was concerned it was “spurious.”)

“My daughter wants to sue them,” Mr. Hochberg told The Times. “They put her picture up and wrote all kinds of crazy things.” He called the Berman-Schechters “nasty” and “vengeful” and said that they were trying to harass his family for money.
Ms. Hochberg did not initially respond when The Times contacted her by phone and email. Through an intermediary, she told the Berman-Schechters that she would move out on Oct. 12.
It was cold and rainy in Montauk that day. White spray shot up from the Long Island Sound, visible from the Montauk highway. End-of-season prices and social-distancing requirements at the Montauk Clothing Company caused a line to form outside the store. Off the main drag, deer roamed the streets, unperturbed by the occasional car. Outside the Berman-Schechters’ house, shortly after noon, a purple moving van was loaded up. Within an hour, it was gone.
Later that day, Ms. Hochberg responded to The Times, calling the story “fake news.” She did not answer follow-up questions about her extended summer.

The Berman-Schechters said that afternoon that they had gotten their key back, but that they still hadn’t been paid. Also that afternoon, a representative of the property group that manages the Oriana, the Manhattan apartment building, said that the group would not comment. Though the eviction case against Ms. Hochberg had been filed in 2019, the company was still in litigation against her, seeking to reclaim possession of the Oriana apartment.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Rent debt could reach $70B by year’s end: Moody’s
As many as 40 million people could face eviction

An estimated 12.8 million Americans would owe an average of $5,400 from missed payments (iStock)
Thousands of renters could be evicted from their homes in the next few months, leading to a housing crisis that could have major ripple effects on the economy.
A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, which surveyed unemployed Americans, found that outstanding rent debt would climb to $7.2 billion before the end of 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Meanwhile, Moody’s Analytics projects that the rent debt could reach close to $70 billion by end of the year unless there is additional stimulus funding. At that time, an estimated 12.8 million Americans would owe an average of $5,400 from missed payments, according to Moody’s.
Many tenants have been unable to make their rent payments since March, as businesses closed and unemployment rose, according to the Journal. These renters have been allowed to stay in their homes thanks to federal and local eviction moratoriums, but these moratoriums are set to expire by January or sooner, leaving millions of Americans to either meet their back payments or face eviction.

Once the moratoriums expire about 30 million to 40 million people across the country face eviction, according to the Journal, citing estimates from federal government officials.
In the meantime, many renters are piling up credit card debt. Credit payments to small and medium-size businesses tied to rental real estate rose by more than 70 percent in the spring, according to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

New York denied rent relief for 57K applicants
The state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal has turned down thousands of applicants


Of the approximately 94,000 applications for Covid-19 rent relief that New York’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal received between July 16 and Aug. 6, more than half were rejected, Crain’s reported, citing a report on the program from HCR.

As a result, more than 57,000 New Yorkers who didn’t meet the program’s requirements did not receive aid from the agency. While the state has distributed about $23 million so far, around 5,400 applicants have not yet received their payments, which total almost $16.8 million, according to Crain’s.

Requirements for the rent relief program stipulate that applicants must have lost money due to the coronavirus pandemic, spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent and have an income less than 80 percent of their area’s median income. If an applicant meets those requirements and was rejected anyway, they can appeal to HCR.

When the program was first rolled out in mid-July, the website was immediately flooded with applicants, necessitating an extension on the deadline to apply. HCR has increased the amount of aid that’s given out each month — it distributed approximately $3 million in August, $9 million in September and $11.5 million in October — but disparities persist among the communities who’ve benefited. Relief has been provided to 2,029 white households, but only 1,490 Black households.

Jay Martin, executive director of the landlord-friendly Community Housing Improvement Program, expressed disappointment in the efficacy of the program’s distribution of funds thus far.


“Renters need a bailout,” he told Crain’s. “There’s no getting around that, and certainly canceling rent isn’t a viable alternative.”
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Cuomo gives tenants 60 days to answer eviction notices
Landlord representatives decry continued lack of financial relief

Late afternoon on Election Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline for tenants to answer eviction petitions.
His executive order stipulates that any summary eviction proceeding for nonpayment of rent pending as of Nov. 3 must be answered within 60 days. The order does not apply to holdover evictions and others for nonpayment of rent.
The extension comes as a pause on Civil Court deadlines was about to run out — which would have opened the door for default judgments in eviction proceedings. Cuomo had renewed the suspension of deadlines — which only affected eviction proceedings — each month since March. A previous executive order, however, indicated that he would no longer do so after Nov. 3.

It’s the latest development in what court officials have called New York’s confusing policy response to tenants’ coronavirus dilemma. Currently, residential evictions can proceed, but the courts have said they are moving slowly.

Legal publication Law360 reported that out of 17,388 residential nonpayment evictions filed since June 22 in New York City, only 2,585 — or 15 percent — have been answered. Were it not for Cuomo’s executive order, those tenants would have received default judgments.

Ellen Daviidson, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said that tenants were told for months to hold off on answering while Cuomo’s pause order was in place. Now, the courts must act to inform tenants of the rule change, she said.
The Office of Court Administration “must contact all these tenants with instructions on how to answer,” Davidson said.
Representatives of property owners were also not pleased with the announcement. Nativ Winiarsky, an attorney at Kucker Marino Winiarsky and Bittens, called the action “incredible.”

Winiarsky noted that extending the deadline to answer an eviction does nothing to provide financial relief for landlords who have been unable to evict nonpaying tenants.
“The system is about to collapse, and all for the sake of short-term political expediency,” said Winiarsky.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Workers in prime earning years are struggling to pay rent: Survey
Greater percentage of older Americans can pay rent because they have accumulated wealth, fewer dependents

The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on older Americans, but it’s people in their prime earning years who are struggling most to pay the rent.
That’s according to a recent survey from rental management platform Avail and Urban Institute — a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank. Only 51 percent of renters 30 to 49 years old paid full rent in September, according to the findings. The survey polled 2,452 tenants and landlords.
Those above and below that age range fared far better. Of the renters 29 years old and under, 68 percent paid their full rent in September. Meanwhile, of those 50 and above, 73 percent paid their full rent, the survey found.
More older Americans can afford to pay rent because they have accumulated wealth over the years and have fewer dependents, the report found. The data showed that even older Americans with lower incomes paid rent at higher rates than younger Americans who earned more. “Renters hit the hardest are in the prime age range for supporting dependent children,” the survey noted.


Predictably, lower-income households had a harder time paying rent. Nearly half of households with annual incomes below $25,000 said they weren’t able to pay full rent in September, compared to just 9 percent of households with annual incomes of $125,000 and above.

The survey also found that renters in smaller multifamily buildings owned by individual landlords struggled to pay rent more than renters in larger, corporate-owned multifamily complexes. About 13 percent of renters in small multifamily buildings owned by individual landlords said they couldn’t pay September rent. That compared to just 5 percent of renters in big multifamily complexes owned by institutional investors. Those renters tend to make more money, the survey found.
Missed rent payments are also translating into distress for small landlords, many of whom are struggling to pay mortgages and property taxes. The survey found that many small landlords are increasingly feeling pressure to sell their properties.


The survey highlighted the role federal assistance programs play in helping Americans pay rent. Nearly a third of survey respondents said they were able to pay their September thanks to federal unemployment assistance, and 29 percent said government assistance had helped them through the pandemic.

Seventy percent of survey respondents who couldn’t pay rent blamed loss of unemployment and income. Those numbers could rise in the near future as Covid lockdowns and restrictions increase to counter the latest wave of infections spreading across the U.S.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
The City’s ‘Worst Landlord’ Responded to His Tenants’ Rent Strike by Trying to Evict Them
Standing outside the four-story brick apartment building in Crown Heights she calls home, Jemiah Johnson took her turn with the black megaphone. “This building is literally killing us!” the 26-year-old mother shouted to the small crowd of neighbors waving homemade signs scrawled with phrases like DEFEND RENT STRIKERS and TENANT POWER. “My child is waking up three or four times in the middle of the night struggling to breathe.” At the November rally, she and her fellow mask-clad tenants described a long-standing pattern of neglect and shoddy repairs: crumbling ceilings, leaky pipes, walls caked with mold, repeated desultory work that never truly fixes anything. “It’s deplorable,” Johnson said. “And he feels he deserves something for that? I don’t think so.”

The “he” is Jason Korn, called the city’s worst individual landlord in 2019 by Public Advocate Jumanne Williams, and Johnson and 15 other tenants in the building at 1616 President Street who have gone on a rent strike. The pandemic served as their tipping point — several recently lost work and are unable to pay anyway — beginning in May. For a while, it seemed like the strike was going to work: Korn agreed to Zoom negotiations in late October, but then he abruptly pulled out a couple days before they were to begin. Now, he has upped the ante by taking the first step to evicting most of the people in the building, with notices warning rent-striking residents that they will be dragged to housing court unless they pay what they owe.

“I immediately thought, Okay, take me to court,” said Angela Robinson, who has lived in the building with her family for 17 years. “Let the judge see what’s going on. We’re fed up with this nonsense.” Her own President Street horror story started in 2017, when a leak led to a gaping hole in her kitchen ceiling, with the guts of the building spilling out. The problem was only fixed after a lengthy run in housing court, and now she says the mold that once riddled her cabinets and walls is returning. Residents say the same cycle has played out in many units. The landlord has sent a steady stream of handymen through their homes over the years, but they have patched rather than really fixed the problems. Now that those visits come with the risk of COVID-19, rent strikers have begun denying access for repairs until they’re assured that problems will be fixed once and for all.

The issues at 1616 President Street start at the front door — tenants say the locks are defective and the intercom system is broken — and carry throughout many of the apartments. The building, which is run by Lilmor Management, has more than 123 open violations (17 of which were reported over the last two weeks) from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for conditions that run the gamut from roach and mouse infestations to peeling lead paint to mold issues like Robinson’s.

“For him, we’re animals. That’s how [the landlord] treats us,” said Rose Helesca, who has lived in the building for roughly two decades. Early each morning, after lengthy shifts caring for COVID-19 patients at an Upper West Side nursing home, Helesca rushes to take a scalding shower to rid herself of any traces of virus she might track home to her three young children. If her neighbors are showering, she has little choice but to wait — usually 20 minutes — for hot water. While she’s waiting, she might stare at the mold creeping up the walls or at the cracked ceiling. “I’m outside sacrificing, helping, why can’t the landlord make sure me and my kids are living comfortably?” she said. “This building needs a miracle.”
Josh Rosenblum, one of Korn’s attorneys, said October’s sit-down would have been “more cathartic than productive,” since it would have been a conversation between the landlord and the tenants’ association — with lawyers on both sides present as silent observers. Korn’s attorneys are now demanding a list of needed repairs and dates when workers can access residents’ apartments and say they’re willing to negotiate repayment plans with individual renters. “The landlord’s not looking to evict anybody, but if you don’t communicate, you don’t pay rent, you don’t give access, you’re essentially forcing our hand,” said Rosenblum. Laura Dismore, a lawyer with Brooklyn Legal Services who represents the tenants’ association, says residents have been clear about the desire to sit down and simply have a conversation with their landlord. “Having a chance to be heard is a really powerful thing,” said Dismore. “To turn around and say that the tenants aren’t forthcoming with information, that they aren’t getting what they need, is misleading.”

The tenants’ association aims to meet with Korn later this week in hopes of preventing evictions; the residents are waiting for confirmation that those talks will move forward. Those on rent strike recognize the risks they’re up against if they go to housing court, but for them, the possibility of losing their homes is worth the risk to improve them. “I’m not going to give up the fight,” said Vincia Barber, who helped form the tenants’ association in February, “I could be the only one standing up, and I’ll still stand up to him.”
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

Eviction crisis looms as millions rely on federal moratorium expiring this month​

Black and Latino neighborhoods have seen twice as many evictions as white ones.​

In the three years that Samantha Vernon lived in her rental apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she never thought she’d be leaving because of an eviction.

The single mother of two who was forced out of her home last month is now living at her sister’s place. Half of her belongings were left behind during the eviction. The other half is being held in a storage unit, packed in trash bags.

“I had to put it in trash bags because they wanted me out so fast,” she told “Nightline.” I never would have thought this would happen to me -- never.”

An essential worker, Vernon has been working with the United States Postal Service in Harrisburg for three years. But over the summer, as the coronavirus continued to spread across the U.S., she chose to go on 12-week family leave in hopes of avoiding exposing her daughters to the virus after a union representative reported multiple coworkers had become ill.

This meant she’d only be getting paid two-thirds of her normal salary, though, and soon after taking the leave, she began to fall behind on rent payments. She thought she’d be able to pay the money back.

Then, in September, her landlord sent her a complaint telling her that she owed roughly $2,000 in rent.

Vernon said she began paying off the money she owed immediately, sending $1,500 in rent owed throughout October. At a hearing in early October, a district judge ruled that Vernon could stay in her home so long as she was making payments.

But still, Vernon was evicted from her home on Nov. 5, when a Harrisburg marshal appeared at her door. She was only a few hundred dollars away from paying off the rent she owed.

“I said, ‘Well I have $900 now. … I can go get a money order and give it to you guys. Can I stay?’” Vernon said. “They specifically told me, they did not want my money. … I begged them. I said, ‘Listen, I don’t have nowhere else to go.’ They told me, ‘That’s not our problem. You have to go.’”

Vernon said she was given 15 minutes to leave. When she called the leasing office later that day, she said she had been told that if she’d called them the day before to tell them she had the money, everything would’ve been fine.

“I thought me giving them their money was communicating,” she said. “But I guess that wasn’t enough for them.”

In a statement to ABC News, the complex’s management company said, in part, that it “complies with all state and federal landlord-tenant laws, and all orders and statutes enacted in response to COVID-19.” In Vernon’s case, it said that “a hearing was held in landlord-tenant court” and that “the court ordered the eviction.”

Vernon is one of the thousands of Americans who’ve been evicted from their homes during the pandemic, and millions more are facing a similar fate come the end of the year: With nearly 10 million fewer jobs in the U.S. than there were in March, an estimated 6.7 million renter households -- about 19 million people -- are currently unable to pay their rent, according to the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“The United States is facing the greatest eviction crisis we have ever seen in our country’s history,” said Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University School of Law. “Renters are stretched threadbare. They are paying for rent with their food budgets. There’s been an increase in food pantry requests as much as 2,000% in some states.”

Despite a temporary federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lasting until Dec. 31, in the last week of November, landlords throughout 27 cities filed 3,000 evictions.

The CDC’s emergency order may have been able to save Vernon from losing her home. The order supersedes state eviction rules and is meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through homelessness and overcrowded homes.

“When an eviction occurs, families end up doubling up, or they’re transient. They’re surfing from couch to couch or staying with friends and family,” Benfer said. “And this increases their contact with others and it decreases their ability to comply with the CDC’s pandemic mitigation strategies, like self-quarantine and social distancing.”

Of the 44 states that implemented eviction moratoriums since March, 27 lifted them before September, resulting in an estimated 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 excess deaths, according to a recent study.

To qualify for the CDC protection, tenants must earn less than $99,000 a year as an individual -- $198,000 for married couples -- and they must also show that they’ve asked for governmental rental assistance, declare that the pandemic has created financial hardship and indicate that they’d be homeless if they’re evicted.

Vernon, who admitted to making mistakes, like missing a court hearing, found out about the CDC’s protection too late. Now that she’s living with her sister, she’s entered into the exact situation that the order was intended to prevent.

“My 11-year-old, she’s upset. She doesn’t have her room anymore. She doesn’t have space,” Vernon said. “She likes to be alone right now. She’s at that age, and she can’t really do it right now.”

The eviction has also stained Vernon’s history as a tenant, making it difficult to pass a renter background check and find another home of her own. She says she’s applied to rent about 12 apartments and all of the applications have been declined.

“The application fees is about $50, $40, $30. So I spent over $200 on application fees and I got denied,” she said.

Caleb Cossick is a housing advocate with Greater Harrisburg Tenants United who tries to help people like Vernon before they enter the courthouse for their eviction hearings. He stands outside handing out print-outs of the CDC’s declaration and letting tenants know about the order, which landlords aren’t required to do.

Cossick says that in addition to not telling their tenants about the CDC moratorium, some are also finding loopholes to avoid it entirely.

“One of the biggest issues is the clause that states it only covers cases of nonpayment of rent,” he said. “So, landlords can say that the lease is expired, the lease is terminated, [that] there was some violation of the lease. They can claim fraud for any sort of thing, honestly, and when they do that, they can sue for possession.”

He also says that interpretation of the CDC order is left to judges to interpret, posing other challenges to tenants.

“In a lot of cases, they side with the landlords almost across the board, and they don’t show a lot of sympathy. They don’t seem too interested in the idea of limiting the way eviction is processed due to COVID-19,” he said.

Each week, Cossick says the number of people seeking help rises and that the majority of his clients are single mothers of color. An ABC News analysis found that during the pandemic, the rate of evictions in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods has been twice that of mostly white neighborhoods, even as COVID-19 affects minorities disproportionately.

In Houston, Constable Alan Rosen is responsible for enforcing evictions around the city. He says it’s the “absolute” worst part of his job and that seeing a family going through an eviction “brings it so much further home.”

“I have children. I have a family. … and if I could house them in my house, I would,” he said.

The wave of evictions has led Rosen to raise money to start an eviction clinic where those at risk of losing their homes can seek legal help. So many tenants, he says, never could have seen themselves facing eviction.

He says that landlords and tenants should be working together if the tenant has a history of paying on time.

“I can’t tell you how many landlords that the courts ask … ‘Has this tenant ever not paid their rent in the whole time they’ve been living in your apartment complex,’” he said. “And they said, ‘No, they’ve always paid their rent on time and they’ve always been good tenants.’ Work with them. Do everything you can to help that person. This is not somebody that doesn’t want to pay their rent.”

Melissa Flores is one such person seeking help for the first time. The single mother works as a housecleaner in Houston but has been unable to find work during the pandemic, making it difficult to pay her $920 per month rent.

“I’ve never been in this situation ever before in my life,” she said. “I’ve never had to come out to ask for help -- never. I’ve always made it through everything. Struggled a little, but I made it.”

Rosen’s clinic helped Flores invoke the CDC order, thereby avoiding an eviction -- for now, at least. The CDC’s order will expire on Dec. 31.

As tenants struggle to pay their rent, landlords are also facing financial hardships. Many still have a variety of expenses for the properties they own, including mortgage, property taxes, insurance and repairs, according to Catherine Burnett, associate dean for experiential education at South Texas College of Law.

“It’s a big problem, and it’s a problem that impacts the renters and the landlords as well,” Burnett said. “Right now, we’re helping the tenants with the CDC declaration but I think as a society we have to think, ‘What’s the impact on the mom and pop who have three or four rental properties, and that’s how they’re funding their retirement?’ They’re people, too.”

Caleb Kruckenberg, a lawyer with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, is representing several landlords who’ve sued the government over the CDC order.

“The CDC can’t go in and say, ‘We have picked a winner and a loser and tenants don’t have to pay any more, and landlords have to provide free housing,’” he said. “The CDC just does not have that authority.”

The New Civil Liberties Alliance works to stop what it says is government overreach. With regard to the CDC order, Kruckenberg says the federal government is overreaching when it locks landlords out of their states’ eviction processes and imposes fines on those that don’t comply.

“We need to follow the rules that the Constitution set, and the CDC doesn’t get to make this very difficult decision about what to do with housing policy,” he said. “The CDC is a public health organization. They’re not a housing policy organization. They’re not Congress. That is the structure that the Constitution envisioned and that’s why this lawsuit is so important.

Kruckenberg said that once the CDC order ends in December, he expects there to be “a lot of action in housing courts across the country” as a wave of eviction lawsuits hits the system.

By January, there will be an estimated $34 billion in back-owed rent, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

“The likelihood of tenants being able to pay that back to a property owner without federal rent relief is very unlikely … and this is one of the reasons why we need relief from Congress as quickly as possible,” Benfer said.

When the CDC order expires in the new year, Benfer said “millions upon millions of individuals and children will face eviction. They will face the health harms that it causes, they will be threatened with COVID-19 contraction and death, perhaps, and they will also be hard-pressed to recover. Eviction is a jagged slide with no ladder back up, and this is something that our country will be recovering from for generations to come.”
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
This is scary.

Landlords jarred by sudden drop in rent collection​

As pandemic intensifies, 1 in 4 tenants paid nothing last week

Market-rate apartment owners just reported the lowest rental payment rate since April.
In its monthly survey, the National Multifamily Housing Council found that only 75 percent of renters in 11.5 million market-rate apartments paid some or all of their rent by Dec. 6. The figure represents a 5-percentage-point decrease from November, and is nearly 8 points lower than it was a year ago.
The president of the Washington, D.C.-based lobby group, Doug Bibby, said the results should come as no surprise.

“As the nation enters a winter with increasing Covid-19 case levels and even greater economic distress — as indicated by last week’s disquieting employment report — it is only a matter of time before both renters and housing providers reach the end of their resources,” said Bibby.

He also said that the group, which represents landlords, was encouraged by news of a potential relief bill from Congress. The specifics have not been announced, but Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told CNN that the four-month, $908 billion package will include rental assistance, and is expected this week.
In the meantime, as Covid-19 cases in the United States pass the 15 million mark, property owners are hoping renters will continue to pay — even as other expenses fall by the wayside. In his 2016 landmark study on eviction in low-income communities, Princeton researcher Matthew Desmond noted that “rent eats first,” meaning it is prioritized over other household expenses.

Indeed, the consistency of rent payments in the multifamily sector have made the asset class a relative safe haven for investors during the pandemic, especially in areas where regulations do not prevent rehabbing apartments and raising rents.
Although examples of apartment distress have so far been isolated, all might not be well in the multifamily sector.

The NMHC rental tracker does not distinguish between partial and full payments. And there is no accounting for instances where tenants and landlords may have negotiated a plan to use security deposits as payment — a practice which was adopted officially by some locales to keep rent payments flowing.
But the survey is conducted the same way each week, and the drop in collection last week was the largest since early in the pandemic.

A weekly survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that in November, nearly 9 million out of 53.3 million rental households were not caught up on rent. Households behind on rent were disproportionately lower-income, an indication that the recovery from this crisis will be more uneven than that of past crises.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Tenants Can’t Pay Rent. Landlords Won’t Pay Bills. What Happens Next?

New York’s looming foreclosure crisis could lead to massive corporate windfalls - or to large-scale social housing conversions. The choice is ours.
New York stands at a crossroads.
As thousands of tenants fall behind on rent amid the pandemic-induced recession, many property owners will be unable to make their mortgage payments. Private equity investment firms like Blackstone and Jared Kushner’s Cadre have amassed billions just for this moment and are ready to swoop in, purchase properties at rock-bottom prices and then generate returns by driving up rents, displacing tenants and adding to New York’s already record-high rates of homelessness.
That’s exactly what happened in 2008, when private equity firms took advantage of the mortgage crisis by buying up a slew of relatively affordable housing and setting out to maximize rents and skirt regulations.
But there’s another option. The city and state governments have existing programs at their disposal and bills in the works that could convert distressed buildings into social housing—housing that is deeply affordable, decommodified, and democratically operated.
These are the two paths facing us today: widening inequality and corporate profiteering, or expanded affordability and community well-being for decades to come.
How the Mountain of Debt Accumulated
New York’s looming foreclosure crisis was catalyzed by the pandemic, but the groundwork was laid by decades of risky, predatory and—for a time—tremendously profitable financial practices by landlords and their lenders.
Rental housing in New York City, as in many other places, has increasingly been run as a business based on escalating levels of debt on the assumption of ever-rising rent levels, property values, and profit margins. In the last decade, debt levels have more than doubled; according to rough estimates based on public filings, between 2010 and 2018 average debt levels per unit of housing increased by 121%.
Short of some major intervention, unpaid rent will continue to pile up past the historic highs set earlier this year—and firms like Blackstone will pull out the 2008 playbook and repeat it word for word.
The process goes something like this: a landlord buys a building with a conventional mortgage. Their property values rise. The landlord expels long-term tenants and charges new tenants higher rents. Based on these higher rents, they go back to their bank and refinance for a larger mortgage. They can pocket this influx of cash or use it to buy more buildings. Meanwhile, their monthly mortgage bill has grown. If they can’t keep up the payments, they may lose one building, but they hold on to all the money and additional properties they accumulated along the way.
As long as property values and rent levels rise, as they did for most of the last twenty five years, the model works splendidly for landlords. But when they stop rising—and if they start falling—landlords find themselves facing mountains of debt they can no longer pay. What happens next?
Investors smelled blood in the water even before the onset of the pandemic. Predicting a downturn, investment firms at the end of 2019 had $142 billion set aside to spend on distressed properties. By May 2020, that figure had risen to $328 billion. Those looking to profit include both locally based New York City real estate players like Alma Realty and transnational private equity firms like Blackstone.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of our fellow Americans and nobody wants to capitalize on anybody’s misfortune,” one investor told the Wall Street Journal. “But I will tell you, real-estate investors—when you take the emotion out of it—many of them have been waiting for this for a decade.”
If this sounds familiar, it should: it’s exactly the playbook investors used in New York and in cities around the world in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. When the subprime market blew up and unemployment cascaded, homeowners and landlords alike faced difficulty making their mortgages. Private equity firms went on buying sprees and became the world’s biggest corporate landlords.
In New York City, when over 5,500 multifamily buildings faced fiscal and physical distress, these companies pooled capital from both private investors and institutional funds, such as union pensions and sovereign wealth funds, to buy up a major slice of New York’s housing sector at the bottom of the market. From 2005 to 2009, firms like BlackRock Realty Advisors bought approximately 100,000 units of rent regulated housing, advocates estimate— roughly one in ten available units.
Conditions for tenants deteriorated while real estate rates profit soared, more than doubling between 2010 and 2018 in many neighborhoods. Buildings flipped fast, with the volume of sales on rental apartment buildings skyrocketing from $1.29 bullion in 2010 to $8.31 billion in 2016. In short, in the aftermath of the crisis, investors turned larger profits than before while tenants suffered and homelessness spiked.
We now face a strikingly similar situation.
Over 1 million people have lost work statewide, more than in the previous recession. In the Bronx, 41% of residents were receiving unemployment insurance by the summer. Between April and July 2020, 26% of New York tenants could not pay rent, and 39% more had little to no confidence that they could pay the following month. The state’s meager rent relief program has been so restrictive as to deny 57,000 tenants in need of financial assistance, the vast majority of applicants, and spent less than half of its federally allocated funds. This program was recently updated but remains limited, with many tenants fearing they will be rejected a second time. Many tenants continue to pay the rent while forgoing other necessary expenses or going deeper into usurious debt.
Short of some major intervention, rent arrears (unpaid rent) will continue to pile up past the historic highs set earlier this year—and firms like Blackstone will pull out the 2008 playbook and repeat it word for word.
Another Way Forward: Social Housing
Instead of allowing Wall Street to capture greater control over the housing market, New Yorkers should use the crisis to set a new trajectory—to reassert our control over our homes and make the state more affordable for the long term.
We can do this by converting distressed properties into social housing. We already have several forms of social housing, from public housing to limited-equity cooperatives, in New York City and across the state. Most were planned during economic crises and produced as part of the recoveries.
First, the city and state should set aside funds to immediately buy out buildings on the brink of foreclosure. This can be done either through direct acquisition or by funding Community Land Trusts and community-based organizations, and should give residents the right to determine what form of social housing they want their buildings to become. Vouchers and operating subsidies should be added to make vacant apartments affordable to people currently facing homelessness. Programs for this purpose already exist, but are currently too poorly funded to make a dent in the crisis or to compete with private buyers.
City and state legislatures should also pass laws that give tenants and community-based organizations a first shot at buying buildings when they’re put up for sale, and provide public support if they opt in to a social housing model. A similar “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” has long existed in Washington DC, was recently adopted in San Francisco, may soon come to Berkeley and Oakland, and has already been introduced in New York City and State.
Similarly, when banks are ready to put an apartment building into foreclosure, they should first offer the debt in question to non-profits at a discount. Tenants in distressed buildings organized for this kind of program after 2008 and won such a “First Look” agreement with New York Community Bank and the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, which can serve as a model for a more widespread program.
New York must also rethink its model for dealing with tax delinquency. Instead of promoting the privatized and profit-oriented system of tax lien sales established under the Giuliani administration, the city should instead develop a system that keeps working-class people in their homes and transfers buildings from unfit landlords to Community Land Trusts.
Finally, we must continue the progress made through the 2019 rent law reforms by expanding tenant protections, establishing eviction moratoria, creating more meaningful pathways out of homelessness, intensifying building code enforcement, and using the tax code to curb real estate speculation, flipping, and underusage like pied-à-terres and warehousing. These have long been on the housing movement’s agenda, but are even more urgent amid recession and widespread stay-at-home orders.
These policies wouldn’t be cheap. Social housing costs money to build and operate, and would lower property tax revenue as for-profit housing becomes non-profit or tax-exempt.
But here, too, lies opportunity. New York city and state budgets are over-reliant on revenue from rising real estate values. In addition to falling more heavily on the poor, this leads local governments into a perverse dependency on real estate capital, in which the tools of public policy—taxation, land use, public subsidies, and more—are used in ways that prioritize housing’s profitability over its affordability, and make ongoing gentrification and displacement inevitable.
This helps explain our enormously inefficient public spending on private housing, including a sprawling shelter apparatus which fails to provide the homeless with permanent housing and the wasteful 421a program for luxury developers which costs New York almost twice the amount the city spends on financing affordable housing production. New York simply cannot keep raising the money we need to fund public services through a model that assumes ever-rising land and property values.
Now is the time to reorient our budgets by passing progressive taxes and by moving money away from temporary shelters and toward permanent housing. If spending on a program of acquisitions and conversions seems expensive, its costs must be measured against those of inaction: a perilous increase in homelessness, an economic recovery swallowed by rising rents, and a massive missed opportunity to create large quantities of affordable housing that can weather the turbulence of real estate market cycles.
This moment presents New York with a challenge: will we stand back and allow speculators to reap windfall profits, or will we stand up and initiate a historic transition toward social housing?
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
December NYC Apartment Rent Collections Drop To 79%
More than a fifth of New York City renters haven’t paid December rent, a new survey shows.
Almost 21% of renters didn’t pay rent before Dec. 14, according to a Community Housing Improvement Program survey of landlords who own more than 80,000 units combined, up from 17% last month.
“[Landlords] have borne a significant financial burden as the government has done absolutely nothing to help them, and not nearly enough for their tenants. This cannot continue,” CHIP Executive Director Jay Martin said in a statement. “The government needs to step up and provide rental assistance to renters who cannot afford to pay, and give housing providers property tax breaks to offset their lost rent arrears.”
While rent collections went down, so did the vacancy rate, which hit 11.8% this month, down from 13.2% in November. Still, even with this shrunken vacancy, overall demand is down and landlords are offering concessions at high rates to get new tenants into their empty apartments. On average, landlords offered 1.61 months of free rent to entice new renters.
Landlords have faced rising costs alongside their falling revenues. Operating income for CHIP members is down over 22% this year while expenses have climbed 10%, respondents said.
The drop in rent collections comes weeks before both the statewide and federal eviction moratoriums are set to expire on New Year’s Day, while congressional lawmakers attempt to push a stimulus package through that could provide direct rental assistance. A lack of funding, even if the moratoriums are extended, could worsen the city’s affordable housing crisis and push small landlords to sell their properties.
“That has distributional impacts and could lead to way less affordable housing,” Urban Institute Policy Program Manager Kate Reynolds told Bisnow earlier this week.
 

John Walkup

Talking Manhattan on UrbanDigs.com
Interesting article! I’ve been a landlord in the city, so I have plenty of respect for the group. That said, I do wish the math on their side was more transparent before discussing $1B shortfallls and need for help. Simply start with sharing actual lease rate data. Even on a 3 or 6 month delay, but please give us some real numbers instead of trade group hand wringing. The real numbers may well top $1B so help us help you by closing the trust gap!
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Landlords got screwed royally by the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. Why did it happen? There is little question that there were abuses of the statutes at that time: of
1) receiving tax abatements but not living up to the commitment that all units would be under rent regulated leases,
2) submitting inflated prices for renovations to fraudulently raise rents,
3) submitting applications for building permits stating occupied buildings as vacant in order to do the types of construction which would harass tenants out, etc, etc.

But rather than admit there were any issues when it came time to negotiate the renewal of the statute, the lobbyists for the industry took a "my way or the highway" approach to zero changes to the existing. It was tone deaf given the changes to the makeup of the legislature, the amount of bad press, the increase in tenant advocacy, and the simple fact that there are many more tenant voters than landlords.

So far we have seen legislators simply kick the can down the road when it comes to back rent, evictions, etc under the pandemic. But eventually something concrete will need to be done. My fear is that faced with potentially putting millions of tenants on the streets all at once, if the industry takes the same type of stance it will be met with the same kinds of results.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

John Walkup

Talking Manhattan on UrbanDigs.com
Mass evictions may be more painful to landlords. If you're a landlord and have a non-paying tenant at rent $X, would you want to evict and bring in a new tenant at .75($X) or would you hold out for a brighter future? Extend and pretend or mark-to-market? No bank wants to see their collateral value marked down by 30+% and the loan-cull would begin.
 

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Every eviction represents a vacancy which needs filling. We are already at record level vacancies (and the real level of vacancies is well understated by the published figures which are largely based on "listed" units), which has resulted in record rent decreases. So what happens to inventory levels and rents with 50,000 to 100,000 more vacant units?
 

John Walkup

Talking Manhattan on UrbanDigs.com
Or if it gets really ugly, just a lawsuit and a friendly judge away.... I'm sure REBNY has some amicus briefs ready to go.

I think we may have seen peak progressivism.
 

lewistselt

New member
Too many vacant apartments with no one to rent them. Adding more vacancy through eviction most likely would worsen the situation we've already been dealing with. I currently have 85% of a particular rental listings portfolio "unlisted" through strategic advertising and converting so what everyone sees on Streeteasy is not the whole picture!! Unless we've already reached a saturation point where going to 100000 vacancies won't change anything, but I doubt that would be the case.
 
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