With the Supreme Court’s decision to end the nationwide eviction moratorium at the end of August and sluggish rental assistance distribution, multifamily owners and operators are still facing the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they also are being proactive in helping their residents as well as their bottom lines.
“Folks don’t want to evict if they don’t have to,” Caitlin Sugrue Walter, vice president of research at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), told attendees at the Multifamily Executive Conference in mid-September.
She pointed to a recent NMHC survey of multifamily firms that found that 100% of respondents offered eviction mitigation programs to their residents.
Jeff Jerden, chief operating officer at San Francisco-based Veritas Investments, said his firm has taken extra measures to keep its residents stably housed, including extending its own eviction moratorium through the end of 2021.
“We don’t want to evict unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. For those residents still in financial trouble at the end of the year, the firm has plans to assess each case to find a resolution.
Multifamily owners and operators have been working with residents who owe back rent to apply for the emergency rental assistance funding that Congress passed late last year and in the first quarter of 2021.
“It has been very slow to come out,” said Sugrue Walter. “It has been getting better but does depend on the state.”
Mary Hollands, senior vice president of third-party business development and operations at Gables Residential, said it’s been important to get education out about this funding to help residents. She added that Gables has designated people on teams to assist residents and also has provided training for team members to be compassionate when helping the residents apply for the funding.
“Residents don’t know where to start,” she said. “You can very clearly delineate who needs the help. They have good intentions that they want to pay. That’s where you should spend your time helping.”
While multifamily owners and operators have stepped up resident communication since the start of the pandemic, Jerden and Hollands also agreed there is an issue of ghosting, where residents are noncommunicative.
“In our portfolio, we have 150 residents who have not communicated with us. We have residents who think we should be forgiving their debt and not the government,” Jerden said. “You need cooperation between both parties.”
Veritas Investments has a dedicated team to focus on assisting residents with the rent relief process and is providing $500 bonuses for team members who get the nonresponsive residents to apply.
His firm’s tech team also has developed a bot to scan the state sites on which applications are pending, approval status, and funding amounts to help streamline the process, while Gables has someone focused on gathering the information manually on a daily basis.
Even when evictions are filed, the owners and managers are continuing their work with most residents.
“There’s a concentration that will have to go into the legal process to move evictions through,” Hollands said. “That’s still coming. We have everyone in the queue and are still trying to get them to pay and out of the queue.”
Hollands added that apartment owners and managers should continue incorporating all of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent future evictions. “Keep the customer service and communications in place,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to turn evictions around and find new ways to pay rent.”
Jerden added that owners and managers need to look at providing more flexibility for renters who may not be getting paid on a regular schedule. Providing alternative payment programs could be another good tool for preventing evictions long term, he said.