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Hanging in There

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Hanging in There

On a landlord’s pandemic plight March 19, 2021
Economy, finance, and budgets

The federal moratorium on evictions ends March 31—maybe. The government keeps pushing the date back. I’ve been in eviction court at least 100 times over the years. I always wear a tie to court. Usually the tenant doesn’t. Advantage, me. Occasionally I sit with the tenant on a bench outside the hearing room and schmooze while we wait for our case to be called. One tenant, Robert, showed me photos of his estranged daughter and said that the girl’s mother had put her in the trash at birth. I asked Robert where he was when that happened. “I was pretty popular in high school,” he said. “I got around.” The daughter was rescued and adopted, earned a Ph.D., and is now a weightlifter, Robert claimed. Maybe the daughter could help Robert with his bed, box spring, and couch. The court gave Robert 14 days to move out.

Those were pre-Covid-19 days. Now it’s a different story. During the pandemic, the share of total apartment debt that banks place into their highest-risk categories has gone from 4.6 percent to 16.9 percent, according to a report from Tripp LLC, a real estate data firm. Eviction protection is starting to take a toll on landlords.

Eviction on nonmonetary issues (like filth, noise, or vandalism) is still doable during the pandemic. That kind of eviction is where real estate meets social work. In Ohio, the landlord must give a nuisance tenant 30 days to correct the problem. The tenant can make noise, say, for 30 days and then, if he’s still noisy, the landlord can begin the eviction process. If a tenant is really horrible, I’ll motivate him with a $200 “moving expenses” stipend to move out early. That’s faster than the court process, which can take six weeks. A guy in Apartment 21 was very loud and very drunk; plus, he broke a banister in the hallway. I gave him his security deposit and the moving stipend. “I’m old enough to be your father,” I told him. “You need to quit drinking, or you’re going to ruin your life.”

“I know,” he said. He left a kitchen table. When I moved the table, I saw a hole the size of a fist in the wall.

Last month, I had a move-out who wouldn’t allow us to show her apartment to prospects because she was “immuno-compromised.” I asked if we could show it when she wasn’t home. No. Also, she put her final months’ rent in “escrow,” she claimed. We were basically locked out of the apartment and didn’t have the rent. I didn’t give her an eviction notice. What good would that do, considering the eviction moratorium? I wished her luck. Lucky for me, she moved.

I’ve lined up rental assistance, via the local community services center, for a handful of tenants—bartenders and waiters, mostly. I haven’t been to court since the pandemic began and have zero evictions pending. What do I do now that I’m not in eviction court regularly? I deal with snowplow guys who bump into fences at midnight and boiler return-line leaks. I hang in there, just like you.

Photo: Vyacheslav Dumchev/iStock

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