The Supreme Court’s decision last week to strike down the pandemic-era eviction moratorium may arrive too late for many struggling independent landlords, even as it appears to heighten the risk of eviction for tenants behind on their rent.
Thursday’s decision by the U.S. high court found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lacks authority under federal law to impose an eviction ban, which was set to expire on October 3. The court stressed that Congress, rather than the CDC, must specifically authorize an eviction policy.
"The federal eviction moratorium was a lifeline for millions of families, the last remaining federal protection keeping them safely and stably housed throughout the pandemic," Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement to Yahoo.
"The tragic, consequential, and entirely avoidable outcome of this ruling will be millions of people losing their homes this fall and winter, just as the Delta variant ravages communities and lives," Yentel added.
At least half a dozen states, including New Jersey, California, New York and Washington, have policies in place to protect renters to help keep families in their homes.
“You just can't flip a switch and evict people,” said Paul Getty, CEO of First Guardian Group, a real estate investment and broker firm. The eviction process could take up months because of the backlog and the court systems, he explained.
“You still need a legitimate case to do that. It's very problematic,” Getty told Yahoo Finance.
However, the ruling doesn’t mean renters in states without protections will be immediately removed from their homes — an outcome that appears all but certain to prolong the pain for “mom and pop” landlords struggling with mounting costs, some of whom haven’t been paid by tenants in over a year.
While eviction filings are expected to ramp up, it is unclear how quickly already backlogged courts can process new filings, or how effective the remaining patchwork of state and local protections will be in keeping renters in place until they secure rent relief.
Is the government going to now pay me $70,000 that they stole from me? I doubt it.James Bathgate, a landlord in California
Although ample federal relief is available, the Treasury Department said recently that barely 10% of the $47 billion allocated for tenant relief has actually been distributed, with states and localities struggling to dole out the money amid insufficient infrastructure and overwhelming demand.
Meanwhile, many struggling renters were hoping to receive emergency rental assistance from the government to pay back their rent and remain in their homes. However, applying for assistance has been challenging for tenants and landlords alike.
A recent survey of renters by the U.S. Census Bureau found an estimated 11.4 million were behind on rent as of early July. The pause on evictions provided a critical backstop in ensuring renters could stay in their homes until relief money was received.
To that end, the White House announced new steps to help renters and landlords hit by the pandemic. That includes help from the Treasury Department to reduce documentation requirements for hundreds of thousands of emergency rental assistance applicants.
The department has also warned state and local governments they could lose funding to jurisdictions doing a better job of providing relief payments to at-risk renters and landlords.
A landlord’s lament: ‘It doesn’t help us’
Some landlords, however, slammed the lifting of the ban, describing it as “too late.” Many independent property owners have been swamped by rising costs associated with taxes, insurance, utilities and upkeep, even as tenants have gotten government lifelines.
“We're already been forced to sell our house so it doesn't help us,” James Bathgate, a landlord in California, told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
“I do feel sorry for the thousands of other mom and pop landlords, many of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes, just like us and rely on rental income for their retirement,” Bathgate said. “If they've been able to hold out, hopefully they can now survive.”
Bathgate owned a rental home in a rural town in San Mateo County, in Northern California, where he says he is owed more than $50,000 in unpaid rent dating back to March of 2020. Yet according to Bathgate, a tenant refused his pleas to pay and demanded a jury trial because she knew at the time the county wasn’t holding trials.
After months of trying to strike a deal with his renter, whom he says was employed during the pandemic, Bathgate made the decision to put his house up for sale, which he has owned since 1983.
“We had to sell the property because I couldn't afford it every month, not getting any income from rent and being forced to take $3,000 a month expenses on the property,” he explained.
Even once the jury trials started up again in July, Bathgate doesn’t expect to recover the money he has lost. “Is the government going to now pay me $70,000 that they stole from me? I doubt it,” Bathgate said.
Although the court ruled in favor of Bathgate, his tenant has yet to make good on the debt. His case is fairly typical of the estimated 40% of small and medium-sized U.S. landlords that count on rental properties to fund income or retirement.
These same property owners, many who continue to work with renters to help them get rent relief, have been frustrated they cannot remove tenants who are unwilling to apply for rental assistance.
For those reasons, a few landlords are actually paying their tenants to leave. Some say they have no wish to keep renting to tenants who have repeatedly shown them that they cannot or will not pay.
“[If] I'm going to evict somebody, but they're not going to be evicted until January next year. And it's gonna cost me 3,000 bucks to do that,” First Guardian’s Getty said.
“Would I not be better off just offering three or $4,000 to that tenant and directly bypass the attorney, the eviction process and get them the heck out,” he added.
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv