The local association representing landlords in the Finger Lakes is speaking out, as calls grow louder for a rent strike in May amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo has put a freeze on evictions, which is active for a three-month period ending in late-June. However, that has not changed the fact that most landlords are expecting rent, despite the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people across the board. 

The Finger Lakes Landlord Association responded in a letter to what they described as an “age-old” criticism of its behavior. Deb Hall, administrator of the group, called it a “pervasive” problem, and pointed out that landlords are not the "wealthy ruling class lording over a bunch of peasants," that some portray them.

The association has 135 landlord members and represents a total of 3,750 units in each county of the Finger Lakes. 

“Most landlords are responsible rental property owners who provide an essential service in our communities. Without homes to rent, within a wide range of price points, thousands of people would be hard pressed to find adequate housing, from rural communities to big cities,” Hall said. 

Hall said public housing agencies help but struggle to provide the service as is demanded in the region. 

“Because of the COVID-related eviction moratorium, which is in effect until mid-June, landlords are working with tenants who legitimately cannot pay their rent,” Hall said. “If a tenant is experiencing hardship because of COVID-related issues like sickness or income loss, they are highly encouraged to contact their landlord now, to work out a deal. However, rent is still due.”

The economic impact to landlords, like most others as unemployment skyrockets across New York and the rest of the US, has been significant. Hall contended that landlords have taken a 25-percent hit on income from rental properties. Meanwhile, some smaller landlords have lost 100 percent of their income. "No rent equals no property taxes," she said.

She notes that 60 percent of landlords own 15 units or less, making them an essential small business in every local economy.

That may only exacerbate a problem already prevalent in most communities around Upstate New York. The New York State Association of Counties said the outcome of the economic shutdown, which followed the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, will devastate municipalities. Estimates show that as much as 20 percnt of local budgets could be wiped out.

However, the concern raised by Hall and Finger Lakes Landlord Association is simple: Dire economic circumstances could follow and damage affordability, availability and stability of the rental housing supply throughout the region if non-payments become too prevalent over the next two or three months.

They are bracing for more non-payments in May and June.

Mary Evans, a Seneca County renter who did not lose her job at the start of the pandemic, said she is sympathetic, but understands some of the negativity toward landlords. “I have a great landlord now, but that hasn’t always been the case – and I have friends who are out of work now, and have been given no assistance by theirs,” she said. Evans recently began working in healthcare, a matter of months before the pandemic began. “So many of the people I went to school with who were offered jobs are unemployed now, and living day-by-day. Some of them were able to pay rent this month, others weren’t. Some landlords were willing to work with them, others weren’t.”

It is a mixed bag out there, but Finger Lakes Landlord Association said it ultimately wants to help support the community and economy as best as it can during these difficult times. 

“We are the largest small business in town, without a storefront,” Stephen Austin, Finger Lakes Landlord Association president and property owner, said. “We need to change the stereotype and rewrite the narrative, as landlords and as an industry.”

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