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Tenants, landlords stagger under economic burden caused by COVID-19

Rent was due for many across northern Illinois April 1, and as the economic crisis rolls on due to the coronavirus pandemic, both landlords and renters are struggling to make ends meet.

Nikole Torres-Turnage, of DeKalb, lives in an apartment complex owned by Pittsley Realty, and said while she was able to make rent (due on the 15th of each month), she wishes her landlords would offer more options for tenants facing financial burdens.

“I am fortunate enough to still have a job and was able to pay rent,” she said. “But I wanted to share an email that was sent to all tenants. During a time of turmoil and uncertainty, I think this email was sent in very poor taste.”

The email, sent to the Daily Chronicle, includes a message to all tenants to remind them of their rent due date, either April 1 or 15.

“Please note that your rent due date has not changed and will follow what your lease states,” the email reads, underlined. “We will issue late fees accordingly and appropriately.”

Mike Pittsley, owner of Pittsley Realty, said Wednesday he will work with tenants should they run into financial hiccups.

“80% of people are paying their rent right now, and that’s probably typically normal anyway,” Pittsley said. “But we’re here to listen to people if they do have an issue. We want to be receptive to their needs, too. We typically don’t like eviction as well.”

After issuing a stay-at-home order for Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker also issued another executive order stating that all state, county and local law enforcement officers in Illinois cease enforcing eviction orders for the length of the stay-at-home order. People are still obligated to pay rent and make mortgage payments, and still comply with other obligations under their tenancy, according to the order.

Pittsley said they’re not showing any occupied units to potential renters, and the office is only open for tenants, not the public.

Suburban Apartments in unincorporated DeKalb County sent an email to their tenants offering a “COVID-19 Hardship Late Fee Waiver,” stating rent was still due but late fees would not be applied to it.

“If you face hardship in paying your April’s rent, we can allow a one-time waiver of late fees for this month,” the email, sent to the Daily Chronicle, reads. “But the rent payment must be paid in full on or before 20th of the month. We hope that you are healthy and will return to your normal lives and fight this virus together.”

The email also indicated the property owners are requiring tenants to limit unit gatherings to six people or less to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“I’ve been lucky enough to not have to worry about employment and wages,” said Troy Pierce, who rents with Suburban Apartments. “But I know a lot of people who have not been so lucky.”

It’s not as easy as freezing rent, though.

Many landlords who responded to requests for comment about rental properties during an economic crisis became angry at the insinuation that discussing rent payments would paint landlords, who also have to pay bills, in poor light.

In comparison, tenants reached by Shaw Media reporters were hesitant to speak on the record for fear or retaliation, even though evictions are not lawful currently.

“As a landlord, we have obligations, not just to the banks but to our community, and those come in the form of real estate taxes,” Pittsley said. “I’d say 30% of everybody’s rent check goes to real estate taxes, so when I get one missed rent check, then someone else has got to cover that portion.”

Keith Baldwin, a landlord who has 18 total properties in Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary and Fox Lake, has an apartment he’s advertising in Crystal Lake after letting a tenant out of their lease early. Getting prospective renters to even want to look at the property is hard during a global pandemic, Baldwin said. 

“Everybody’s so locked up at this point, (there’s) not a lot happening,” Baldwin said. 

One tenant of Baldwin’s who lives in Crystal Lake is a waitress, is having trouble making rent since the state mandated that all restaurants go to delivery and carry-out service only.  

“She contacted me right away (and asked) if she could pay me what she could afford,” Baldwin said. “(I told her) I would be happy to work with her on it.”

Another tenant of his is a plumber who recently got pulled off of a project he was working on. 

Baldwin said he expects next month may be an even bigger point of difficulty, as he says a couple of other tenants have told him they are anticipating problems making rent. 

When people receive their stimulus from the federal government, Baldwin said, it should provide relief for a little while.

Baldwin said he will wait for his tenants to get back on their feet and get caught up, as he knows that there will be a gap where they won’t be able to cover their rent for a stretch. Still, not having their rent money could be problematic, especially on properties on which he has mortgages.

Even on ones he doesn’t have mortgages on, there are still property taxes to think about, Baldwin said.  

“I think most landlords, if they wind up collecting short rents in total, the only offset you might really think about in terms of help is reduction in property taxes,” he said. 

Baldwin said he has good, reliable tenants, who are able to pay their rent on time in normal circumstances.

“We’ve worked really hard to qualify people,” he said. “That can be a problem for a lot of smaller landlords; is just getting people qualified and making sure you have solid tenants with good credit. We’ve done that.”

“It’s just a tremendous problem for people,” Baldwin, who has been a landlord since 2004, added. “It’s a little staggering for all of us.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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