Survey Documents Impact of COVID-19 on Rent Payments, Finds Landlords Serving Renters of Color More Likely to Pursue Late Fees and Evictions

The Joint Center for Housing Studies has released “How are Landlords Faring During the COVID-19 Pandemic? Evidence from a National Cross-Site Survey,” which summarizes a survey of landlords conducted from February to April 2021. While the majority of landlords (62%) collected 90% or more of their charged yearly rent in 2020, some experienced significant financial difficulties: 9% received less than half their yearly rent. Small-scale landlords and landlords who owned properties in communities of color were more likely to have tenants deeply behind on rent payments. The survey also found that landlords serving renters of color were more likely to pursue evictions and charge late fees, and less likely to offer rental forgiveness or decrease rents.

The COVID-19 Landlord Survey was sent to 58,000 rental property owners in ten cities across the U.S., and the authors received 2,930 partial or complete responses. They used rental dwelling registries in eight cities to identify landlord contact information and information from emergency rental assistance applications in two others. The survey was conducted on a rolling basis from February through April 2021. The questionnaire asked landlords about their entire city-specific portfolio, their 2019 and 2020 rental income, as well as steps they took in 2020 to manage COVID-related business changes. Half of the respondents own at least one single-family home, and half own at least one two- to four-family home. An additional 22% own apartment buildings of any type, and 4.5% of respondents own buildings with 20 or more units.

The survey found a significant drop in rental revenue from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, 88.9% of landlords reported collecting 90% or more of their yearly charged rent; in 2020, 62% of landlords collected at least 90% of charged rent. The share who collected between 50% and 89% of charged rent rose from 8% of landlords to 29%, and the share who collected less than half rose from 3% to 9%.

The pandemic has led to changes in business practices. While 15% of landlords reported granting payment extensions in 2019, nearly 50% did so in 2020. While 3% of landlords forgave outstanding rent in 2019, around one fifth did so in 2020. Landlords were also much more likely to defer maintenance in 2020: while 5% delayed property repairs in 2019, 31% did so in 2020. The share of landlords who brought eviction proceedings against at least one tenant held steady at 15% between 2019 and 2020. The authors note that the fact that the rate did not increase despite a drop in rent revenue likely reflects eviction moratoriums.

Smaller and mid-sized landlords (who own 1-5 units or 6-19 units, respectively) experienced more financial strain than larger landlords. In 2019, 12% of small and mid-sized landlords received less than 90% of yearly charged rent, compared to 6% of larger landlords. In 2020, larger landlords were more likely to be missing rental payments in general, but smaller and mid-sized landlords were more likely to receive less than half their charged rent: 5% of large landlords received less than 50% of yearly charged rent, compared to 10% of small landlords and 8% of mid-sized landlords.

The survey confirms that low-income, Black, and Latino Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Properties in communities with more residents of color were more likely to fall deeply behind on rent, and landlords serving communities of color were also less likely to take responsive actions to mitigate housing instability. The survey results found that, compared to landlords in neighborhoods with no residents of color, landlords in neighborhoods with exclusively residents of color were 8.3 percentage points less likely to offer rental forgiveness and 9.0 percentage points less likely to decrease monthly rents in 2020. The authors also found that even when taking into account differences in rental payment rates, landlords of rental properties in communities of color were more likely to pursue evictions. Renters of color may be at greater risk of housing instability because of how landlords in communities with more residents of color responded to the crisis.

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