If you are a landlord, then you know that collecting rent is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of your role as the owner of Baltimore rental property. Unfortunately, as a Maryland property management provider, we know it is also one of the details that often feels out of your control—especially right now.
Some investors may think that the only option a landlord has is to evict their tenants when they fail to deliver rent on time. However, as an expert in Maryland property management, we know that this simply isn't true. More often than not, renters want to be able to make their payments on time. Reliable renters know that late or missing payments and evictions can damage their credit—and their future.
COVID-19 has not helped anyone: landlords, your residents, or the brave workers on the frontlines. Renters across the nation are watching their paychecks disappear as they default on rent payments. Although most landlords have some process in place to screen for good tenants, a pandemic is something neither party likely planned for—especially concerning your available finances.
Luckily, adopting a few proactive measures can help you take back control of your rent collection—and emphasize the necessity of payments even during the novel Coronavirus. The reality that many renters don't realize is that when property owners can't afford to upkeep their properties, everyone loses.
Here's what every landlord should know about collecting rent, communicating with their renters, and financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please note: This article is not intended to be used as direct legal counsel. When in doubt, you should always reach out to your attorney or your Maryland property management partner!
Unemployment in the Months to Come
The United States could see the unemployment rate rise well beyond levels recorded during the Great Depression, with permanent job loss as a result of COVID-19 closures a reality. This makes it more crucial now more than ever for Baltimore property owners to know their options and plan accordingly.
There are many steps landlords can take before they should ever need to evict their renters. Plus, it's worth noting that Maryland currently has a suspension on evictions while the courts are closed. It's likely that there will be a backlog of cases as they begin a phased reopening, meaning that any eviction procedure is likely to get caught in a drawn-out limbo.
It is also worth noting from a compassionate perspective that evicting tenants who cannot pay their rent could potentially create a larger public health crisis. However, we also understand that property owners have overhead for their Baltimore rentals—overhead that cannot be avoided if you want to keep everyone housed.
Here are some worthy alternatives to eviction you should be trying from the perspective of a Maryland property management provider.
Be Proactive and Communicate With Tenants
Do not wait until the first of the month to reach out to your renters!
Property owners in Baltimore must be proactive and start the conversation about rent payments with their tenants. There is a good chance they do not feel comfortable reaching out to you for fear that there could be retaliation or even eviction. Just getting the ball rolling on an open dialogue early before any late payments will be beneficial for you and your renters!
It is also important to note that this is a difficult time for everyone and that you manage your relationship with your tenants carefully. Money and finances are always a sore spot when fear is involved.
- Be compassionate and empathetic—and be transparent about your own situation as well.
- Let them know you understand and share with them that you have been affected if you feel comfortable doing so.
- The more transparent and honest you are, the better the outcome—and the more likely you are to execute successful payment plans.
That said, just because rent might be late or paid in installments does not mean your renters can neglect their responsibility for payments.
- If you have developed a payment plan, most renters do not realize this option is available to them.
- If they are unaware that there are workarounds in place, they may avoid payment altogether.
- Landlords should do their best to make their tenants aware and discuss individual situations and options.
Plenty of renters will be eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act—including self-employed or part-time workers who do not qualify under normal circumstances. That said, CARES Act benefits have been notoriously slow in mobilizing—so you should not rely on them when crafting your alternatives.
Create a Payment Plan Now If You Haven't
- Creating a payment plan for tenants is a great way to engage with them and help them pay rent.
- Landlords could consider allowing partial rent payments at the beginning of the month and then spread the remainder across your leasing agreement.
- Whichever form of payment plan you choose, be sure to get it in writing and make it an official lease addendum.
Regardless of what happens with job losses and the pandemic, your overhead as the landlord will still be there. It is important to consider a payment plan to allow more options for both you and the tenant. Use this as an opportunity to reach out to them and make them aware of these options—and keep track of every interaction.
There are also some steps you can take as a property owner to shelter your assets:
- The CARES Act allows landlords to request a forbearance regardless of any delinquency status. To request the forbearance, the borrower needs only to submit the request to his or her mortgage servicer.
- If you face financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19, you should contact your mortgage lender as soon as possible to discuss mortgage forbearance options—regardless of whether your mortgage is federally backed.
- A majority of Americans—landlords included—were not financially prepared to deal with unpaid rent; moving forward, you should be developing a savings buffer for each rental home you own in Baltimore for when the next crisis strikes.
If You Have to Evict, Rely on the Experts
If you've already been communicating with your renters, offering resources to help them make payments, and giving them opportunities to stay current during this time, you should also have been logging every part of the conversation as part of your record for that renter.
While no property owner wants to be the person who evicts their renters at any point—especially during a public health crisis—there are those out there using the pandemic as a chance to live in Baltimore rent-free. This does not represent the majority of renters. However, this small percentage of scammers have no intent on repaying what they owe. This attitude can easily sink your Baltimore rental property if it goes unaddressed.
When the crisis has finally passed, and the courts are ready to address this issue, you should work with your Maryland property management partner to legally pursue eviction. Of course, managing the legal complexities of evictions aren't the only thing your property manager can do for you! They are experts in everything from rent collection to tenant screening and are an invaluable asset during this time.
To learn more about how you can put the skills of a Professional Landlord to work for you, reach out to your neighborhood experts at Renters Warehouse BW Metro!