Landlords are also worried about the rent

  • Remi Hinxhia in his property on the corner of Main Street and Loudon Road in June 2014. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 4/2/2020 3:43:06 PM

On April 1, Concord landlord Paul Maggiotto got a message from one of his tenants, a cook at a local restaurant, who told Maggiotto ​​​​​​ he could only afford to pay a third of his usual bill for the month.

Many area landlords reported receiving similar notices on the first of the month from tenants who said they would be paying only partial rent – some saying they could not pay anything at all.

Maggiotto understands why the government is temporarily forgiving tenants who can’t pay rent while they are out of work due to COVID-19. He wants his tenants to get the support they need.

“I guess what I want to know is, if they’re going to forgive people for not paying rent, are the banks going to forgive us for not paying mortgages?” he said. “Are we going to have to pay interest on all that time where we’re not paying mortgages?”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has offered support in the form of forbearance, or a pause or reduction in mortgage payments for a limited period of time, for property owners with federally backed loans, but there hasn’t been too much state guidance on the matter.

Gov. Chris Sununu said in a press conference on Wednesday that landlords across the state have contacted his office with concerns, and that a relief program combining state and federal funds would likely be released early next week.

“For the landlords who are clearly going to be experiencing a cash crunch ... know that we hear you and a relief package is coming,” Sununu said.

Meanwhile, tenants in major cities across the country have proposed strikes on rent, something that is causing fear among landlords who say they depend on rent to pay their bills.

Rosemary Heard, executive director of CATCH Housing, an organization that owns and manages 325 affordable housing rentals in Merrimack County, said many of CATCH’S tenants misunderstood Sununu’s moratorium, which expires at the end of May, after it was announced last month.

People didn’t realize they still have to pay for their rent when it eventually lifts, she said. That could leave people in a vulnerable position down the road, she said.

“What really worries me is that people are going to get so far behind on their rent, that when we get through this period, whatever this period winds up being, that people will be so far behind that they will not be able to catch back up,” she said.

“We want to encourage people to pay their rent, or pay whatever you can of your rent, because I don’t want residents to wind up in a situation, two, three months from now, where they have not paid anything and wind up in debt. That would be the biggest tragedy of all. It doesn’t take long for it to add up.”

Under pressure

A new federal law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, puts in place protections for homeowners with federally backed mortgages, according to the Consumer Finanical Protection Bureau’s website.

One is a foreclosure moratorium for homeowners who are experiencing a financial hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency. To be eligible for protections under the CARES Act, a property owner’s mortgage must be federally owned or backed by a federal agency.

Maggiotto said he’s eager to see a comprehensive plan from the local government on how it will to support landlords during COVID-19. He said bills are already stacking up.

“I see these proposals for bailouts to the bank, but is it going to trickle down to the landlords and trickle down to the tenants?,” Maggiotto said. “The city of Concord still wants me to pay my property tax, I just sent them $15,000, the city of Concord still wants me to pay the water bill, the state still wants me to pay taxes on my business.”

He said the crisis is also impacting people who are looking to move into new spaces. He has a newly renovated unit on Thorndike Street that hasn’t seen any interest in weeks.

“It’s a beautiful space,” he said. “Under normal circumstances, I would have received calls on it immediately. It would have been spoken for quickly.”

Landlord Remi Hinxhia said the situation presents as a catch-22. An eviction freeze helps tenants in the short term, but if he can’t pay his bills, he won’t be able to afford to keep his buildings, and tenants will lose their homes anyway.

“Keep in mind that if a landlord loses his property, that will be the same thing for the tenant, they’ll lose their home,” Hinxhia said. “It’s a domino effect. If I get impacted by the bank, my tenants will be affected. I hope they understand that we are people too, and have all the best intentions to help our tenants. But there needs to be cooperation.”

Hinxhia said he’s been taken aback by news in other parts of the country about rent strikes. Tenants in New York and California are organizing rent strikes for the month of April, arguing they will not be able to pay their landlords for the foreseeable future and that there are not enough protections in place to support renters.

In both states, governors have passed similar moratoriums on evictions to what Sununu ordered in New Hampshire.

“I want to support my tenants,” Hinxhia said “You can buy buildings, rent apartments open restaurants again, but we cannot buy people’s life. That is my No. 1 concern now, and I want to work with people. But I think striking is a little bit taking advantage of the situation.”

“We should get together and help each other as much as we can instead of threatening and saying, ‘I’ll go on strike and you won’t get money.’ Then what? This situation is not going to be forever. What happens when the emergency ban is lifted up? We have to evict these people, which is not our intention to do it. Everyone needs to have a warm place for their children and their families, but we also have families as well.”

Challenging times

Many local landlords said they have no wish to dismiss tenants – they need them for their survival, too.

“I don’t know what corporate does, but I know individual landlords, we gotta understand because we don’t want empty apartments,” said Jim Bashios, owner of South Street Market and landlord to 18 tenants in the city. “That’s our bottom line.”

Bashios said most of his tenants are retired and on government programs like disability or Social Security. Only a fraction of them are still working. For those who are still working, he offered a temporary reduction in rent.

“That’s how I make my living. We depend on it a lot, so it’s hurting us as well, but we understand, it’s not their fault so we shouldn’t think of it like that,” he said.

“We’ve let it slide now, but at the tail end of it, it comes back to us, so it all works out at the end, whether they pay it back slowly, but right now they need it for other bills as well.”

Grace Lessner, public information manager for New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, said the people who rely on government assistance have remained relatively stable during the last few weeks.

Landlords who house a lot of Section 8 tenants have reported a feeling of more stability during the crisis of COVID-19. Brian Pepin is the landlord to one rental property on the east side of Manchester, where his tenants are on Section 8 housing.

“Their rent is so insignificant on their portion, that if I were not to receive their portion, it wouldn’t hurt me at all,” he said.

Pepin works full time in trucking, and his rental is not his main source of income.

A problem for people who are recently unemployed has been accessing the state’s site to file for unemployment. Those who have been able to access the site say they are still waiting for the claims to be reviewed.

Additionally, Americans will receive payments of up to $1,200 through a federal stimulus package.

“It’s great that there are all of these rescue programs coming to people’s aid, but the timing of those programs is critical,” Heard said on Wednesday. “Rent is due today, but a lot of folks lost their jobs two weeks ago or more.”

Candace Gebhart, paralegal at New Hampshire Legal Aid and co-director of the Housing Justice Project, said they’ve been getting a lot of calls and directing them to local welfare offices.

“Many people don’t know that, but that is our go-to,” she said. “I know that is certainly going to put a lot of stress on the local welfare offices, but that is the first measure.”

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