The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended lives across the world, severely impacting economies and people’s livelihoods. Despite governmental measures to stem the economic fallout, many ordinary citizens continue to struggle.
In New York City, the epicenter of the fight against the virus in the United States, a renters survey suggests that up to 40% of the city’s tenants are unable to pay this month’s rent due to the crisis. In the US, there have been nearly 10 million unemployment claims over the past weeks. Some renters have signed petitions to lobby their local governments to freeze rents. Others have participated in ‘rent strikes’ across US cities.
One landlord in Brooklyn, New York, Mario Salerno, has waived all of April’s rent payments in his 18 apartment buildings in an attempt to ease the economic burden on the hundreds of tenants residing in his properties. “I say don’t worry about paying me, worry about your neighbor and worry about your family,” Salerno told local media in response to his decision.
While Salerno’s decision is lauded by many tenants across the city as an act of goodwill, it is not a universal one. If rent were waived across the board, some have expressed concern that a lack of payments could have serious downstream consequences, as owners find themselves unable to pay their own mortgages and bills – and in effect hastening the economic downturn.
On July 1, many property owners are set to pay annual real estate taxes to local governments. In New York City, property taxes make up around 30% of the city’s revenue, which funds a myriad of public services – including healthcare.
Further government action?
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered a 90-day moratorium on all home evictions in the state to ensure inhabitants are not forced to leave their homes during the crisis for being unable to pay rent. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also pushed for a rent freeze.
Critics, however, say only a government proposal that lifts the burden on both landlords and tenants will suffice in the longer term. “There is a burden of financial responsibility that will fall on someone,” says Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), an association which represents about 4,000 landlords. “It’s not fair to fall onto tenants or building owners.”