Survey Highlights Landlord COVID-19 Financial Concerns, Finds Landlords Failing to Participate in Rental Assistance Programs

The Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP) released a research brief, “COVID-19 and Rent Relief: Understanding the Landlord Side,” based on a survey of over 600 property owners in Philadelphia whose tenants applied for state or local COVID-19 rental assistance. The results indicate an increase in financial concerns among landlords since the onset of COVID-19. At the same time, 37% of tenant applicants to Philadelphia’s rental assistance programs have been unable to receive assistance because their landlords were unresponsive or refused to participate in the program.

Forty-three percent of surveyed landlords had one to five rental units in their portfolio. The share of landlords who reported difficulty paying for upkeep of their properties increased from 23% prior to COVID-19 to 28% since COVID-19. The share of landlords who identified tenant non-payment of rent as a problem increased from slightly more than 25% before COVID-19 to slightly more than 50% since.

Despite financial challenges, many landlords are apprehensive or unwilling to participate in Philadelphia’s COVID-19 rental assistance programs. Some landlords report that concessions required by the rental assistance programs were unreasonable. Sixty-one percent felt it was unreasonable or somewhat unreasonable to be required to forgive a tenant’s back rent. Owners were more amenable to concessions such as waiving late fees and entering a repayment agreement with tenants. Nearly 78% of owners said it was reasonable or somewhat reasonable to waive late fees and nearly 73% said it was reasonable or somewhat reasonable to enter into a repayment agreement.

Philadelphia’s rental assistance program funded by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency offered a maximum of $750 per month in assistance and did not allow landlords to charge tenants the remainder of the rent. Fewer than 15% of surveyed landlords said they would be willing to accept $750 as the full rent amount. In mid-October, the program was revised so that landlords could require renters to enter a payment plan for the remaining amount.

The findings suggest that some landlords would be willing to participate in a rental assistance program, but certain landlord concessions may discourage them. A small portion of landlords are unwilling to participate under any circumstances. Programs should include safety net measures for renters whose landlords refuse to participate.

The research brief is at: