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The pandemic-driven struggle of small landlords

The image that most people have about a landlord who rents out property is a well-to-do businessperson who enjoys a vast empire of real estate that provides them a comfortable life. That stereotype is often misguided, specifically when it comes to smaller property owners who may own one or a handful of properties.

Those landlords do not enjoy support staff that tends to the properties. Smaller real estate investors have to be more hands-on to turn anything resembling a profit. They also account for less than half of the total number of all rental property nationwide.

Yet, there is little safety in those numbers.

Property owners’ limited options

A pandemic-filled 2020 saw renters losing jobs and finding themselves unable to make ends meet. For most, the monthly payment required to remain in their dwelling represents the most significant expense. Some decide to move out for more affordable living conditions. Others remain thanks to help from the federal government.

Media coverage of the crisis primarily focuses on the rights of renters. Forgotten landlords are suffering financial peril largely in silence. Financial help in the form of mortgage forbearance is an option for some, but not all. Federal funding totaling $2.6 billion in rental subsidies helps and can provide landlords with 80 percent of unpaid rent for low-income tenants.

However, the devil is in the details. Securing a forbearance can wreak havoc on a property owner’s credit rating, with the landlord facing a significant payment when the deferral ends. Eligibility for partial financial relief requires them to forgive the remaining 20 percent and avoid eviction proceedings.

For now, countless landlords, similar to their renters, exist month to month, hoping for an end to the uncertainty that a virus created.