Survey Finds Small Landlords Deferred Maintenance Due to Financial Strains during COVID-19 Pandemic

The Joint Center for Housing Studies released a report highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on small landlords. The report, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Landlords: Survey Evidence from Albany and Rochester, New York,” finds that small landlords in lower-income neighborhoods have experienced a longer duration of non-rent payment than those in higher-income neighborhoods. The most common response to address these shortfalls was to defer maintenance and set up payment plans with tenants.

Surveys were sent to landlords who owned three or fewer properties in Albany and Rochester, New York. For each individual property, the survey asked questions about rental arrears and landlord actions in response to late rent. Surveys were distributed in June and again in October 2020 using contact information from the cities’ rental registries. Surveys were completed by 287 landlords in June and 201 landlords in October.

By mid-June 2020, rents were fully paid in just 59.6% of small landlords’ properties. This reflects a significant decrease from June 2019, when 76.9% of properties generated their full rental revenue by mid-month. In October 2020, rents were fully paid in only 53.8% of properties by mid-month. This decrease in payment rates was largely in communities with an above-median share of renter households with incomes less than $35,000 who spent more than 50% of their income on rent. In these communities, the share of properties that paid in full fell 39.6 percentage points between October 2019 and 2020, compared to 14.9 percentage points in higher income communities.

Landlords deferred maintenance on three in ten properties, the most prevalent response to decreased rent payments and financial strain. Landlords also reported 21.1% of properties had payment plans with tenants in place. Other responses to decreased rent payments included missing property tax payments (8.2%), loan modification (7.3%), initiating eviction proceedings (4.8%), and missed mortgage payments (2.6%).

Landlords were more likely to defer maintenance and initiate evictions when their property was in a lower income, cost-burdened neighborhood, or a neighborhood with higher concentrations of people of color. Among properties behind on rent, 53.3% of properties in lower-income neighborhoods experienced deferred maintenance, compared to 26.9% in higher-income neighborhoods. Further, 12.2% of households behind on rent and in neighborhoods with higher shares of residents of color faced eviction, more than double the rate in neighborhoods with lower shares of residents of color.

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