Landlords and Coronavirus
Long before any Governor issued emergency orders for their state, coronavirus was already altering the fabric of our lives and commerce in unexpected ways. In the last month, millions of workers across the country, from hotel and restaurant workers to office assistants and managers, have been laid off, furloughed, or prohibited from working by legal measures. Even the most white-collar of professions are not immune; doctors not working directly with COVID-19 patients are facing salary cuts because of canceled appointments and delayed non-essential surgeries.
Partially in view of likely economic hardships, and out of concern that displaced families would crowd together in shelters or on the streets while social distancing is paramount, most Governors have frozen all non-essential evictions for the time being. Almost all evictions, such as for non-payment, fall into the “non-essential” category.
Additionally, all courts throughout the Commonwealth have closed, with a tentative reopening scheduled in May. This closure includes housing courts and like all things, is subject to change as the situation develops.
What NOT to Do
As a landlord, what should you do if your tenant cannot pay rent during this time period?
In a word: do NOT evict them, or do anything that could be constituted as a de facto eviction. Such actions include:
- forcibly removing tenants’ property
- turning off heat and other utilities
- interfering in any way with tenants’ use of the unit
If you do any of these things, a tenant is within his or her rights to call the police, as unlawful evictions during this time are treated as a criminal matter, not civil. A tenant is also able to call the court, which is open on an emergency basis, and have an order issued against you to halt the eviction.
Legal aid groups have widely circulated materials informing tenants of the law on this matter and the actions to take against you should they feel threatened. Should you unlawfully evict, or even appear to unlawfully evict tenants, during this time, you face serious legal and financial consequences once courts reopen.
Additionally, media sources are keen to share stories about “bad landlords” during the course of this pandemic, with a focus on tenants’ points of view. Combined with your disgruntled tenants sharing your actions on social media, you could face not only bad press but harassment from angry strangers and a loss of future business.
So what should you do?
This is a situation in which prioritizing long-term relationships over short-term rent payments will save you a good deal of time, legal trouble, and money.
Though evictions have been paused, tenants are still required to pay rent, even if they pay it well after it is due. You should talk to your tenants proactively, discuss their particular situation, and set up a payment plan if applicable. It’s always best to consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your options and to ensure any agreement you make with your tenant is enforceable. If you are a Landlord and have questions about your rental agreement during the coronavirus, call our office and speak with an experienced attorney.