How Can Landlords Support Their Tenants during COVID-19?

When tenants are stable, landlords benefit

Many renters are struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic. Though federal, state, and local governments passed a variety of eviction moratoria this summer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention passed another that extends through the end of the year, these are just stopgaps. It’s clear that renters will require additional assistance to address overdue rent bills and other financial burdens once the moratorium expires. And early reports indicate evictions are still moving forward in some parts of the country.  

Landlords also require supports during this period of economic uncertainty. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided information for landlords  on how to retain tenants and set up repayment plans. Although information about landlords and their needs during the pandemic is limited, recent reports suggest owners of two-to-four-unit rental properties are struggling to pay their mortgages and taxes because of inadequate resources and shortfalls on rent. Black and Hispanic landlords, who tend to own fewer properties than their white counterparts because of centuries of racist policies and practices around property ownership, make up a disproportionate share of two-to-four-unit property owners.

Landlords’ capacity to support their tenants in this moment varies widely. Some landlords may be better positioned to provide financial relief and social supports to residents than others. For example, owners of larger portfolios are more likely to have financial reserves and credit to see them through the next few months. And landlords who accept housing vouchers may have more rental income stability than those who are solely reliant on rental payments from unsubsidized renters. Still others may have long-standing relationships with residents and community partners that have enabled them to quickly pivot to address urgent needs and concerns at a relatively low cost.

What we know about the benefits of resident services

Resident services can benefit landlords and renters. Research on cost savings for nonprofit housing providers that offer resident services has not been systematic but suggests housing developments with resident services fiscally outperform those without resident services by way of reductions in costs from vacancy loss, bad debt, and legal fees.

  • A NeighborWorks and Community Housing Partners study (PDF) found that communities with resident services saved approximately $305* per unit per year.
  • An Enterprise Community Partners and Mercy Housing study (PDF) found that the savings from resident services equaled $310–474* per unit per year.
  • Pennsylvania conducted a study (PDF) on the benefits of resident services and found savings of $117* per unit per year on legal expenses and late fees and a reduction in unit turnover by 7 percentage points.

Evidence about the benefits of services for residents similarly comes from public and nonprofit housing providers. Though costly, the Jobs-Plus program, Family Self Sufficiency program, permanent supportive housing (PDF), and other resident services initiatives have improved housing stability and residents’ economic circumstances. A recent review of programs offered by affordable housing providers suggests that tailoring supports to meet individual resident goals, integrating property management and resident services functions, and engaging residents over the long term can improve housing stability and support upward mobility.

What types of services can landlords offer during and after the pandemic?

Public and nonprofit housing providers that offered resident services before the pandemic have shifted to provide COVID-19-related assistance and enhanced cleaning procedures and more. For example, some public housing authorities are offering wellness checkups by telephone or partnering with meal service providers to deliver food. Other affordable housing providers are emphasizing their role as communicators, making their tenants aware of public health protocols, staff availability, and availability of services onsite or nearby. In many cases, public and nonprofit housing providers are well positioned to respond quickly to COVID-19-related needs because of their long-standing relationships with residents and partnerships with community-based organizations.

Landlords can bring resident services to renters in unsubsidized properties

Private landlords could bring supportive services to a wide array of renters. Many private landlords have already taken steps to accommodate residents’ volatile financial situations during the pandemic. For example, a recent survey of small property owners found that 39 percent offered rental payment plans in August alone. Some real estate and property management companies are coordinating with community-based organizations to distribute food and masks, make regular wellness calls, and connect residents to public benefits. Landlords with the means to do so are expanding and improving services for low- to moderate-income residents.

Where possible, landlords should do what they can to support their residents. Residents benefit from living in stable and clean environments that safeguard their health, as do on-site employees, such as building managers and security personnel. Landlords may see savings when their residents and employees are stable, safe, and able to work. In this period of uncertainty, landlords should consider partnering to provide services beyond the bricks and mortar of housing that could continue beyond the immediate crisis.

With no relief bill to provide rental assistance and reductions in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, this is a difficult time for many landlords, who, like renters, are financially squeezed. However, COVID-19 is underscoring the value of service-enriched housing, which will become even more relevant as eviction moratoria expire and renters are further exposed to economic hardship. It is unclear what exactly resident needs will look like moving forward, but landlords with support services already in place may be best positioned to respond to future challenges.  

*Values have been adjusted to 2020 dollars using US government Consumer Price Index data published on October 13, 2020.

Photo  by Aliaksandra Post/Shutterstock