The Coronavirus Pandemic has created a difficult scenario for housing advocates and landlords alike. On one hand, renters are dealing with the economic fallout of it—having to choose between essentials. On the other hand, landlords are dealing with costs that are stacking up and a mandate to provide a safe place for people to live, regardless of the economic impact.

The Finger Lakes Landlord Association says that a September survey, which was conducted internally, shows that around 30 percent of those who are not paying rent are skipping payments as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning they lost their job and simply do not have the means to pay rent. The other approximate 70 percent of those behind on rent either haven’t disclosed a reason why to their landlord or, alternatively, say they aren’t paying rent because of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order on eviction.

“They’re saying, ‘I can’t be evicted, so I’m not paying rent’,” Deb Hall said last week. She’s the administrator of the Finger Lakes Landlord Association. The advocacy group represents landlords in counties throughout the region, including Seneca. There are approximately 150 members, which make up upwards of 5,000 residential rental units.

“There’s a double-edged sword here,” Hall continued. “Not only does the state have moratoriums on eviction based on the pandemic as well as some laws that were written because of it, but so now does the CDC, which is obviously a federal organization, which came out of an executive decision to ask the CDC to provide some guidelines.”

Hall said the Office of Court Administration at the state level has also offered guidance on some of the moratoriums. In New York, Cuomo’s executive order banning evictions has been extended through the end of 2020. Then there is also the legislative push happening at the state level to cancel rent or create a lengthier rent and mortgage cancelation period. 

“It’s coming at us from a lot of different directions, state and federal,” Hall added.

She said that at the start of the pandemic tenants were being contacted directly by landlords that were part of the association. They were asked if anyone in their respective households had lost jobs or were impacted by the virus. They were also being provided guidance on how cleaning would take place in common areas of rental units. “From day one landlords have been involved—intimately involved,” Hall explained. Then that relationship changed when the eviction moratorium went into effect.

“It’s been a different kind of landlord-tenant relationship because there have been issues with non-payment—a lot of issues actually with non-payment,” Hall said. “So once those things started surfacing, then the misunderstanding from the governor’s executive orders that there was an eviction moratorium—some renters started saying, ‘well, I don’t have to pay rent because the governor said I didn’t have to.’”

The Finger Lakes Landlord Association said that the eviction moratorium, in their view, was aimed at preventing the spread of the virus and preventing or guarding against homelessness. “We have landlords who are reporting that they have tenants that are over $9,000 in arrears since March,” Hall recounted. “That’s a lot of money— that’s a car. So we’re not sure how the tenants are going to be able to repay these, let alone that loss of income directly affecting the landlord not being able to pay their property taxes, keep up with maintenance, or pay mortgages.”

There isn’t any clear answer, or definition of what will come next in the middle of a global pandemic, but Hall and the Association are hopeful that there will be answers given at the state-level. “We’re going to continue advocating for answers and best solutions moving forward. We’re also hopeful that if there isn’t going to be a legislative change to the eviction moratorium—that we can at least get financial assistance from the federal government. The landlords we represent are crucial to local economies in the Finger Lakes, and are small businesses,” Hall concluded.

Editor’s Note: In next week’s Gazette and Review check out a look at the housing crisis caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic from rent cancelation advocates, who say that housing should, no matter the economic outcome, be viewed as a human right.

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