How Landlords Are Affected By COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump and the CDC have ordered a nationwide halt on evictions until the end of December. This could prevent millions of Americans from becoming homeless during a pandemic and record unemployment. But some landlords say this moratorium leaves landlords unsheltered from financial difficulties. Katrina Bilella owns property in Chicago, but she joins us now from New York, where she's living with family and friends. Ms. Bilella, thanks so much for being with us.
KATRINA BILELLA: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: And may we ask why you're staying with family and friends right now?
BILELLA: I am staying with family and friends because, ironically, my tenants have displaced me. So I own a unit in Chicago. I bought it about three years ago. My intention was to stay there and live there. Then I was relocated to Denver for work, so I decided I will rent out my apartment so that when I eventually move back to Chicago, I can live in my home.
So I found these tenants. They signed a lease October of 2019. And since then, it has been an absolute nightmare. They paid rent late every month, and I tried my best to work with them. I understand, you know, we're human. Things happen. I figured getting some rent was better than no rent.
Then March rolls around. They owe me $630 from March. And since then, I have not seen a single penny in rent. The lease ended in April. They've been squatting in my apartment since then. And I could not afford to pay my rent in Denver and my mortgage in Chicago, so I moved out of Denver and I am now living with family and friends.
SIMON: What are your monthly expenses on your place in Chicago?
BILELLA: So there's a bunch of expenses. So there's my mortgage. I also have HOA fees, my homeowners insurance and taxes, and that all comes out to about $1,700 a month. I am still paying those bills.
SIMON: You've got tenants who won't pay anything to you. And at some point, you must begin to run out of money, also.
BILELLA: Yup. I could potentially lose my property, which I renovated myself. I, you know, paid my friends in pizza to help paint the walls. We redid the floors. Like, I truly consider this my home. It's not an income property.
SIMON: Are there any kind of assistance programs that might help you in Cook County or the state of Illinois?
BILELLA: So there is one program that - it's a $5,000 grant. Your tenant has to apply for it. Around 200,000 tenants have applied, and it's a lottery. About 30,000 landlords will receive $5,000. My tenants owe me over $12,000 in rent. So if I am able to get into that lottery, that would be incredible, but it, unfortunately, really only helps a little bit.
SIMON: Is there anyone you can ask for help? I imagine you've surveyed the landscape pretty much already.
BILELLA: I think absolute worst-case scenario, I can maybe ask my parents. But my parents are older. They want to retire.
BILELLA: And, you know, they're not going to retire because I have to support my tenants? That's not right. My dad was furloughed, and my mom actually has cancer, so she's been on leave. So I have, you know, my own personal things going on as well.
SIMON: I hate to ask this, but have you thought about evicting your tenants?
BILELLA: Yes. So I actually contacted an attorney in March when they were late and not paying. They stopped responding to me completely. I had no idea what to do. This isn't the only place I own. I'm not, like, a professional landlord by any means. And he recommended that I try to evict them. And the purpose of that was actually to just start a conversation. I figured if they received an eviction notice, maybe we could start a conversation, work something out.
So my first court date was scheduled for July 20. Then I received a notice that it had been moved to August 17. And now I received another notice that it has been moved to December 23. By then, my tenants will have been in my unit rent-free for nine months.
SIMON: And will owe you almost $20,000 or something.
BILELLA: About that, yeah.
SIMON: On the other hand, in this economy, if you evicted them, would there be any guarantee anybody else could move in?
BILELLA: If I am able to get them out, I will probably just try to sell this unit. I just accepted that I probably won't be getting any of that money back, to be honest. The sooner I can get my tenants out, the sooner I can sell my property and stop losing on it every single month.
SIMON: In the best of all possible worlds, the people who are in that apartment now would be able to pay, right?
SIMON: But they can't at the moment.
BILELLA: They can't or they will not. I'm not sure. The unfortunate truth is that we do have tenants that are taking advantage of the situation. Right now, the way the eviction moratorium is written, there is no incentive for tenants to work with landlords. My tenants haven't spoken to me in months, and they legally don't have to. With the housing crisis, it's now somehow become my civic duty to provide free housing. It doesn't make any sense, and we're putting this burden solely on landlords.
SIMON: Katrina Bilella, who owns a small property in Chicago, thank you so much for being with us.
BILELLA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.