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Tenants mostly catch up on April rent, but May payments are just around the corner

Landlords offered payment plans, but that will only work for so long


Apartment renters across the country are making big strides in catching up with the April rent, but landlords and tenant advocates remain apprehensive about what will happen in May, June and beyond.

Nearly nine in 10 households have made a full or partial rent payment on their apartments as of April 19, according to a survey of 11.5 million units from the National Multifamily Housing Council. That 89% figure is up from 84% on April 12 and only 69% on April 5, a rate so low it set off alarm bells. A year ago, about 93% of renters were current by this point in April.

“We are all pleasantly surprised by the April number. May is going to be a tougher month,” acknowledged Robert Hart, president and CEO of TruAmerica Multifamily, during a conference call the NMHC hosted on Wednesday morning.

Given that the majority of shutdowns and job losses didn’t kick in until the second half of March, displaced workers had some earnings they could use along with savings. Many households may find themselves in a tougher predicament when the May rent comes due, especially if they haven’t received a stimulus check yet from the IRS.

Landlords and property managers worked hard to get the delinquency rate down, reaching out to tenants and offering payment plans, waiving late fees, and absorbing credit card processing fees.

“Collections are strong because people are working with residents,” Hart said, adding about 30% of tenants at TruAmerica have requested payment plans.

Hart’s firm has also opened up its office computers to help tenants apply for unemployment insurance. Besides state benefits, unemployed workers and contractors can receive an extra $600 week from the federal government.

Unless renewed, those extra payments will go away at the end of July. And at some point, the backlog of obligations becomes so large that tenants have no way to catch up, even if they can make what they were making before the crisis hit.

That has led social justice and tenant rights groups, like the local Emergency Economic Relief Action for Colorado from Impacts of COVID-19, to continue their calls for a nationwide pause on rent, mortgage and utility payments.

“This will be a catastrophe unlike anything we have seen,” warned Annie Martinez, a community activist and president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, during a news conference the group hosted Wednesday morning.

“It is really disheartening that we have three branches of state government that aren’t doing anything,” she said of the lack of a move to temporarily freeze rent and mortgage payments and bar eviction filings and rulings in the courts.

Although law enforcement officers aren’t participating in evictions, advocates said some landlords continue to post demand-of-payment notices. Some are taking matters into their own hands by changing locks and cutting off utilities, something advocates want to see state and local authorities step in to prevent, said Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, Colorado state director for 9to5.

Thomas Lockhart, an Aurora resident and member of United for a New Economy, said on the call that he and his wife were already struggling financially before the health crisis began. Day labor jobs, his main source of income, are no longer available, and even with rental assistance vouchers the couple struggles.

“I feel scared and our current financial situation has caused myself and my wife to argue unceasingly,” he said. “We have to choose between eating, medical copays and paying our rent.”

Although the loosening of stay-at-home orders will allow more workers to regain an income, Aurora City Council member Juan Marcano said he is hearing from people concerned about catching the novel coronavirus as the economy reopens, about finding child care given that schools remained closed and about keeping a roof over their heads.

“My constituents are very concerned about paying their rents and mortgages come May 1,” Marcano said.