Anyone who has rented a home knows the stress and frustration that go into finding a place to live. Throw a global health crisis into the mix, and it reaches a whole new level. The world has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and this includes real estate and the rental market. If you’re a renter right now, you’re bound to have many questions—with safety and health a priority.
“Landlords and property managers as a whole are taking COVID-19 very seriously,” says Danny Hardeman, chairman of Texas Realtors® Leasing & Property Management Committee.
The novel coronavirus has forced people worldwide to adjust to a new way of living and doing things, and that includes landlords and current and prospective tenants. Here, the experts address the most pressing questions on the minds of renters today.
If I lost my job, do I have to pay rent right now?
Jobless claims recently surpassed 40 million since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. However, rent is still due.
“A tenant is expected to pay rent per the terms of their lease,” says Connaé Pisani, principal broker for National Real Estate Management Group in Grosse Pointe Park, MI. “Certain exceptions may be made, however, and these situations are handled on a case-by-case basis with the approval of the property owner. In general, if a tenant has the means to make a rent payment, they are expected to do so.”
Hardeman says continued communication with your landlord is extremely important, especially now.
“While exceptions exist, the overwhelming majority of landlords and property managers are aggressively working with tenants to execute payment plans and also provide tenants with valuable resources they can tap in to for rental assistance during these times,” says Hardeman.
Can my landlord evict me or are there tenant protections during a pandemic?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was put into place on March 27, 2020, to provide financial aid to businesses and individuals during the coronavirus pandemic. It places a 120-day moratorium on evictions (starting March 27, 2020) for tenants who live in a “covered property,” which is described as follows:
- Participates in a housing program as defined in Section 41411(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994
- Participates in the rural housing voucher program under section 542 of the Housing Act of 1949
- Has a federally backed mortgage loan or a federally backed multifamily mortgage loan
During the moratorium period, landlords may not charge penalties for nonpayment of rent.
“The CARES Act moratorium ends on July 25, 2020, after which time landlords must provide tenants with a 30-day notice to vacate the property before proceeding with an eviction action,” says Hardeman. “There are also state- and county-specific moratoriums in effect as well.”
Also, tenants living in a multifamily property with a federally backed mortgage loan cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent or charged late fees if their landlord has requested mortgage forbearance.
How do I find out if I’m covered by the federal moratorium on evictions?
The Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, have created online resources for renters to determine if they’re covered by the CARES Act. Fannie Mae’s website can be found here, and Freddie Mac’s can be found here.
How can I find out if my state has issued an eviction moratorium?
Reach out to your local housing authority, or search online for the name of your city or county, plus “eviction moratorium.”
The National Consumer Law Center has compiled a list of state moratoriums and housing actions related to COVID-19. Scroll through to find the steps your state has taken.
Are apartment tours happening right now?
Physically walking through a home or apartment to view it is riskier now more than ever, but it is still possible—with some precautions.
“With proper social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizing, having an in-person showing can still be a safe option,” says Sarah Stinson, a spokesperson for Turbo Tenant.
“In-person apartment tours are allowed now, but with occupancy restrictions,” says Pisani. “We are not conducting open houses or showings en masse for the foreseeable future.”
Should I rent a home sight unseen?
Renting a home sight unseen is not a new concept, but it’s not ideal. Thankfully, there are a variety of workarounds online that will give you a realistic feel for the rental.
Tools such as photos, online tours, and virtual walk-throughs on FaceTime or Zoom are the next best option to actually touring the property and will give you a sense of the layout and amenities.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Stinson says the best way to learn about a property is to develop a relationship with your future landlord.
She says future tenants could also ask to speak with a current or past resident to determine if the home is a good fit for them. If possible, she recommends driving by the location to get a feel for the neighborhood.
Can I do all required paperwork online?
Although many landlords and property managers have made renting and rent payment a paperless process, the pandemic has forced late adopters to embrace technology and finally move their paperwork entirely online.
“In today’s day and age, a touchless rental process is a real thing,” says Bob Preston, president and broker/owner of North County Property Group in Del Mar, CA.
Preston says prospective tenants can submit their rental application online, and receive their lease agreement online for electronic signature.
Is moving allowed right now?
While many cities and states have put restrictions on which business can be open at this time, moving is considered an essential service. One’s moving date is often non-negotiable, and having the ability to hire a company to ensure your move is safe and quick is vital. Therefore, moving companies are still operating throughout the country.
Should I delay relocating because of the pandemic?
Relocating during a pandemic may not seem like the best timing, but if you must, it is doable.
“With proper safety precautions and the use of online tools to assist in the process, there isn’t any reason why delaying would be necessary,” says Stinson. “Unless, of course, there are restrictions in a renter’s area.”
Hardeman says it should be a personal decision after weighing the pros and cons involved with relocating during a pandemic.
How has the coronavirus affected rental prices?
While it varies by state, in most cases, the coronavirus has not affected long-term rental prices, says Sheryl Jenks, licensed real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Sayville, NY.
She says short-term rental demand increased significantly due to people from city centers seeking more space and outdoor areas to shelter in place.
Are apartment complexes taking any safety precautions to protect tenants against COVID-19?
Most landlords and property managers have been quick to safeguard tenants against possible COVID-19 transmission.
“Landlords have taken these measures to ensure the safety of their tenants: hand-sanitizing stations, more frequent cleaning of common areas, and temporary closing of some common areas such as pools, gyms,” says Stinson.
She recommends keeping the lines of communication open between landlords and tenants and to discuss what measures they are taking, and what role the tenant should play.