Local landlords have begun feeling the pinch of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s eviction moratorium. Since March 4, the state has prevented landlords from evicting tenants in an effort to allow vulnerable populations to self-quarantine.
Initially scheduled to conclude in June, the governor recently extended the moratorium until Sept. 30. Now, some landlords say a portion of tenants are taking advantage of the moratorium to skip out on rent payments, not only cutting into those landlords' finances, but causing concerns about what might happen once evictions are reinstated.
“As a small landlord, we’re being put in a situation where the law is not really protecting us,” said local Realtor and property owner Tony Ramirez. “A lot of landlords are just in the middle, or we’re caught in this situation with tenants that are being abusive.”
Out of the 20 units he owns, Ramirez says around two tenants have stopped paying their rent. He admits it might not sound like much, but to a small landlord like himself it could mean the difference between making a profit or breaking even.
“That eats all your cash flow, sometimes it puts you in a negative situation,” he said, noting he's seen a new vehicle in the driveway of one of his tenants who's not paying. “I’m involved with a lot of landlords and they have the same problems.”
Unlike renters, landlords haven't received moratoriums on their mortgages and other debt payments, putting pressure on property owners to keep revenues flowing. Yet, without the threat of eviction, landlords have few options.
Some say the problem has worsened the longer the moratorium's lasted. In the beginning, property owners and rental assistance agencies say renters mostly paid their rents, but as word spread about the moratorium, that's begun to change.
“When COVID first hit, it was pretty quiet in regards to assistance,” said Ashley Vorhees, site director for the Bakersfield office of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Fresno, which provides rental assistance. “Now we’re still stuck in the COVID moment, but obviously landlords still have to pay their own bills.”
She said her office receives around 30 calls per day about rental assistance, around 80 percent of which include people behind on rent by multiple months.
“We’ve had people behind four months. And some we’ve had to turn down simply because we can’t go that far back,” she said. “We can manage one to two, but going back that far, it’s really tough.”
The Housing Authority of the County of Kern has experienced a 10 percent decline in revenue at some properties, according to Executive Director Stephen Pelz, which can force the agency to reduce services at those properties.
“Some tenants mistakenly believe they aren’t required to or are choosing not to pay rent even though very few have experienced a loss in income,” Pelz wrote in an email. “With the generous unemployment benefits available currently and the stimulus checks, most households who have lost employment have sufficient income to pay our affordable rents. If they have lost income, we work with them to avoid eviction.”
Although evictions may be temporarily on hold, once the governor ends the moratorium, a wave of evictions may hit Kern County and the state as landlords seek to collect on rent that's been due for the past few months.
“The floodgates will open and we will be swarmed with assistance calls,” Vorhees said, adding some renters may be unable to come up with back rent, which could lead to more evictions.
“How do people come up with $3,000 at once to pay the landlord when they struggle monthly to get by as it is?” she said.
For Ramirez, the moratorium could cause more harm than good. He sees the governor’s order as potentially worsening the state and county’s homelessness crisis.
“In two or three months, we’re going to have landlords that are more strict on their policies,” he said. “They are going to request people that maybe have no evictions, or didn’t use the moratorium, and that’s going to make everything tougher on tenants that are not even missing on rent payments right now.”
In the end, he fears everyone may be impacted.
“The rents are going to go up,” Ramirez said, “because someone has to pay for that deficit.”