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Eviction fixation: Landlords hit hard by COVID, too

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — While the Biden administration flouts the Supreme Court’s decision ending the national moratorium on evictions, life isn’t getting any easier for millions of rental property owners — many of them small business owners.

On Wednesday, the White House shrugged off constitutional concerns about the administration’s new “targeted” moratorium. President Joe Biden had previously agreed his hands were tied after a lower court and the Supreme Court found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority in issuing the eviction moratorium last year for those who could not pay their rent because of the pandemic.

Yet CDC overstepped again, issuing a “temporary” order pausing evictions until Oct. 3. The agency said the emergency moratorium is needed because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, but critics say the administration is bowing — illegally — to political pressure from the left.

Constitutional law expert Rick Esenberg says Biden’s equivocation is clearly unconstitutional.

“People were rightly critical about Trump’s cavalier approach to what he could and couldn’t do as executive. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, they shouldn’t abandon that respect for the law … We don’t want our president acting like this,” said Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

While the national focus has been on the potential flood of evictions, there has been little attention paid to the millions of rental property owners hit by the same pandemic and an uneven or broken flow of income.

“It’s been tough on landlords,” said Chris Mokler, director of legislative affairs for the Wisconsin Apartment Association.

While tenants struggling with job or income loss because of the pandemic have been freed from rent payments, federal rental assistance to property owners in many cases has been spotty. Meanwhile, landlords must still meet mortgage payments, gas and electric bills, rental repair costs and other expenses to run their businesses.

“My property tax liability per year is approximately $58,000. I’ve lost more than that year to date from tenants, not affected by COVID, but who simply have chosen not to pay rent. … I’ve lost $60,000 this year in rents that are, essentially, never going to get recouped,” Rich Tyson, a rental property owner in Rochester, New York, told the Washington Examiner. 

Others have it worse.

Mokler said he knows of landlords who are facing foreclosure after going more than a year with sporadic or no rent at all. He said the federally funded rental assistance program has been effective for many, but there remain a number of tenants who have, for one reason or another, opted not to apply for the aid.

“Landlords are not getting all their rents,” he said. “Some are surviving just fine, some are not.”

There’s plenty of waste and incompetence built into the programs. A report issued in June found a whopping $425 million in promised rental assistance payments didn’t make it to tenants or their landlords.

The Center for Public Integrity review found some states failed to move pandemic aid to renters, while others have spent the taxpayer money on other things. Some failed to set up a federal assistance program at all. Dane County recently turned over management of $12.4 million in rental assistance funding to a radical organization that publicly supported the 2020 riots that tore up downtown Madison.

As the political battles over the eviction moratorium heat up, rental property owners are being painted as “greedy.” Mokler said that sweeping characterization is far from true. Mokler, who chairs a COVID-19 task force to assist tenants and landlords in navigating the challenges of the pandemic, pointed to a National Apartment Association study that shows just 10 cents of every dollar in rent go to rental property owners.

“There are a number of landlords in trouble and that’s growing. Just how much is hard to say,” Mockler said.

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