Encourage Tenants to Seek Rental Assistance

November 10, 2020

The federal eviction moratorium has caused a world of hurt for property managers and landlords, especially given that the vast majority of owners are mom and pop shops, not large investment companies. The moratorium, ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September,  is likely to be extended past the Dec. 31 end date written into the original declaration, said Megan Booth, director of federal housing, valuation and commercial real estate policy for the National Association of REALTORS®. “No president wants to have people forced on to the streets in January,” Booth said during the Property Management Forum at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo on Monday.

And that expectation is fueling NAR’s drive to continue pushing for urgently needed rental assistance to housing providers so they can pay their mortgages and other bills needed to maintain their properties.

The moratorium was implemented nationally to address the added public health risks that could arise from tenants with overdue rent being forced from their homes in the midst of a pandemic. Meanwhile, the language of the states’ own eviction protections vary. California’s moratorium is already in place until Feb. 1.

In some states, rental assistance is available through the CARES Act, but it is up to states to set up such programs. In most cases, though, tenants must make the request themselves, Booth says; neither landlords nor property managers can seek it on their behalf. One exception: Mississippi allows landlords to apply directly for rental assistance because of late rent payments.

Amy Hedgecock, the forum’s vice chair, made it clear that rent is not forgiven during the moratorium and late fees can still be charged. It is also not the responsibility of landlords to notify tenants about the CDC order.

More immediate help for tenants who are struggling with rent and other immediate needs during this difficult time is available from the United Way. Nationally, the United Way’s 2-1-1 program, which connects people within information and referrals, is available in 96% of the country, said Hilary Palotay, director of the 2-1-1 national initiatives at the United Way. With the COVID-19 crisis plunging many more people into desperate situations, the demand for services has skyrocketed. Call volume has jumped 200% in the past year. Palotay said she expects the 2-1-1 program expects to handle 20 million calls and make 14 million referrals this year. “Requests for rental assistance have become a top need,” said Palotay.

In addition to rent help, the uptick in requests triggered by the pandemic have largely been for utilities assistance, food, and medical costs. Property managers and building owners interested in helping tenants can direct them to call 211, which is set up as a nonemergency number in most states. At the 211.org website, it’s easy to learn about services in other states as well. “We encourage people in need to dial 211 as soon as possible, as soon as they realize they will have trouble paying,” Palotay said. “The earlier they call, the more help is available.”