How a rent freeze would impact tenants, landlords

Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 18:56:28-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The KC Tenants group continues to push for a rent and mortgage suspension or freeze.

Many people spoke out on Thursday, as KC Tenants held a virtual rally with partners across the state, urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to issue a rent and mortgage suspension or freeze.

More than 200 people joined the rally.

"It's not radical that the state do their job and help working families," one participant said.

"We need statewide action to cover all tenants," another virtual attendee said.

This comes after Parson said it's not a priority because the courts aren't taking action on evictions.

"We'll evaluate that every day if it comes to be a problem," Parson said.

Metro Lutheran Ministry and other social services know it's a problem.

"We're seeing just so many calls for financial assistance for rent and utility help," said Becky Poitras, development director at Metro Lutheran Ministry.

Poitras said they've seen a 300 percent increase in families using their pantry. Normally they'd serve 50 to 55 families between all three pantry sites, but now the need has tripled.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council rent tracker, nearly a third of Americans have not paid April rent yet.

Metro Lutheran Ministry usually receives about $50,000 a year from the city for homelessness prevention, but this year they received $98,000 — before COVID-19 hit. Poitras said it was perfect timing.

Poitras said she knows many more people will be seeking assistance in the coming months.

"Unless their landlord has a government-backed loan, there's no guarantee they won't be evicted. The local orders are discouraging evictions but we can't guarantee that it's not going to happen," Poitras said.

The federal CARES Act issued a ban on landlords filing new eviction notices. Tenants are covered if their landlord has a federally-backed loan.

However, the National Housing Law Project said in a summary that tenants are often not able to access information on whether their landlord has a federally-backed loan or not.

"Advocates should assert that a landlord who files an eviction suit (for nonpayment of rent) during the federal moratorium period must plead and prove that the property is not subject to a federally-backed mortgage loan," the NHLP advised.

Cody Johnson's company, Big Chief Properties, rents out several houses in the metro. He said his business is small enough that he can work with his tenants if they're late on rent.

He said doesn't think big-time corporations would be on-board with the KC Tenants proposal.

Johnson said people don't take into account the extra costs landlords have to pay.

"Being self-employed, we have to pay our own health insurance every month. We have to pay insurance on the properties, any repairs that pop up," Johnson said.

Even if mortgages were suspended, he wonders if bigger landlords would have the cash flow to keep their employees on the payroll.

He said he's fortunate that he doesn't have a lot of outstanding debt on his properties, so is not as worried about mortgage payments as other landlords.

"It would also depend on if the freeze is permanent, meaning that the landlords never recuperate it? Or are those mortgage payments going to go to the back-end of the loan then?" Johnson said.

KC Tenants said it's up to state leadership to work these answers out.