There are even some Democrats who collect in rent and hold leases.
Yet landlords are the presumed enemy as Democrats fret over what should do about the end of the federal eviction moratorium. With effective August 1, there's no longer a federal barrier to landlords evicting tenants who cannot pay rent. Some states and cities still ban evictions, but that covers only about one third of the country, leaving several million tenants who are behind on their rent recently vulnerable to eviction.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention used emergency powers to impose the current eviction moratorium last year. So a June 29 Supreme Court decision indicated the court would strike down any extensions of the moratorium past July 31, unless Congress passes legislation making it federal law. That would require at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate, to overcome the filibuster, and those votes don't seem exist. Democrats who have narrow majority both in the House and the Senate likely can't pass a law preventing evictions, and President Biden says he lacks authority to do it by executive action.
Democrats are now squabbling among themselves about who to blame for the lapsed renter protection, with the usual liberal-moderate split. They haven't attacked tenants yet, but that seems inevitable with evictions now underway and the media sure to begin highlighting the plight of recently homeless tenants. However, landlords are not the enemy and lost in the political posturing is the fact that of the tenants, landlords have bills to pay of their own, including mortgages, utilities and property tax. If landlords are supposed to provide free housing during recessions, then somebody needs rewrite most of the leases in America.
Do you have a struggle with rent? How do you keep yourself coping?
There are some ruthless landlords who want nothing but their money and will do anything to get it. Bigger corporate landlords have access to other assistance programs Congress has established, and many can easily afford to continue offering forbearance. However most nation's landlord are individual investors, including'mom and pop" landlords who own a few apartments as their primary source of income. Some rely on these properties to fund retirement. While some landlords unfairly harass their tenants, there are also tenants who abuse the eviction moratorium to dodge rent, with no intention of ever paying it back. No one single anecdote captures the complexity of the problem.
Congress has passed $47 billion in aid to qualifying renters, which is supposed to be indirect aid for landlords since they're the ones who actually get the money. However the program is still in construction. The Treasury Department says states and cities have distributed just $3 billion of that money, or less than 7% of what's available. Treasury isn't sure why so much money is sitting unused, but it's not all that surprising for a new, temporary program which a lot of people don't know about, with varying application procedures across the country.
Landlords are permitted to apply on their tenants' behalf for federal aid covering current or back rent, as long as the tenant signs and agrees a paper application or electronic application. What do breakdowns mean? An industry group representing landlords recently sued the federal government for $26.6 billion, arguing that's the amount of financial loss renters have borne so far. The group cites research that shows that tenants owe roughly $73 billion in combined back rent payments. If states and cities allocated the entire $47 billion Congress has provided for rental assistance, that would still leave nearly $27 billion in uncovered costs related to the federal eviction moratorium.
It's safe to assume that figure is overstated, like the opening bid in many lawsuits. But if this approach for the problem is really helpful - and us-versus-them - their tenant takeover - won't solve it. The situation is that all the political struggle in America is over now.
The United States has a legitimate affordable housing problem. Biden and his fellow Democrats have plans to address it, and it should go through the normal legislative process, to the extent there's such a thing. Some liberal Democrats, however, want an indefinite eviction moratorium as a de facto affordable housing plan. That would damage the original intent of moratorium and pervert Biden's thankless efforts to convince moderate voters his party understands at least a little something about capitalism.
Tenants sign contracts with landlords — leases — that generally need to be bulletproof for the system to work. If the government can abrogate leases for political purposes, all sorts of bad things will happen. Landlords will looser the lease terms even further to reduce the odds of losing money. Rents will go higher to compensate landlords for the added risk of loss. Local governments will pass even more rules to protect tenants, pushing costs even higher.
Leases need to be more or less sacrosanct. Congress showed willingness to protect vulnerable tenants in an extraordinary circumstance and ponied up the money to do it. Treasury says it is probing why payments are taking so long and looking for ways to speed the delivery of relief. When people are hurting, crass opportunists look for a villain they can blame, while somehow profiting in the process. For now, blaming landlords for the lack of tenants is cheap theater. When the remaining billions have gone where they're supposed to go and the pandemic is in the past, that will be the right time to put landlords under the microscope.
Rick Newman is the author of four books including Rebounders: How winners pivot from Setback to Success.