VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Moratoriums on evictions – moves intended to help the most vulnerable by temporarily pausing rent for people impacted by COVID-19 — could end up causing more harm than good for the very people they were meant to protect, according to some economic and policy experts.

What You Need To Know

  • Landlords may be reluctant to rent properties in future

  • Moratoriums could make developers frown on affordable housing investments

  • Landlords responsible for taxes on property for which they did not collect income

  • Volusia landlord trying to organize peers to lobby government for help

The problem is twofold, according to economic analyst Hank Fishkind. On the one hand, landlords are likely to be more apprehensive about renting out their properties going forward. On the other, housing developers may not see affordable housing as a prospect worth investing in.

“It doesn't help when the government starts applying moratoriums to rent,” Fishkind said. “Because that gives you the incentive not to build affordable housing.

“Instead, I’ll build a townhouse and condos for sale. I won’t build affordable renting because of fear that the government’s going to come in and tell me that I should not evict people, and let them live in my place for free, on my nickel.”

On the landlord side, many property owners throughout Central Florida said they believe the current state and federal eviction moratoriums aren’t fair or reasonable. The mandates pass the problem on to small-time landlords who can’t afford to cover the cost, they say.

“I just can't get my head around the fact that the government effectively took my livelihood for months, and now they want me to pay taxes. With what?” Volusia County landlord Peggy Parker said. “I have no money coming in. You halted my livelihood. “

Parker estimates losing between $15,000 and $20,000 this year from one rental property alone, where she said a former tenant essentially became a “squatter,” refusing to pay rent or utilities all year. Parker initiated eviction proceedings in March, just before Florida’s first state moratorium halted the process.

To recoup some of that lost income, Parker recently moved into that very property, putting her own home up for rent. She said her tenant left the place dirty and in poor condition — without removing many items, including furniture. 

“We hauled bags and bags and bags of garbage out of here,” Parker said.

No Relief For "Mom and Pop" Landlords

With property taxes looming, Parker said she called her local tax assessor’s office to inquire about concessions for landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She was told there would be none.

“The small landlords are going to have to get some assistance,” Parker said “The big landlords have gotten billions of dollars through the CARES Act. Small landlords, ‘mom and pop’ landlords … we absolutely got nothing.”

Wealthy real estate entities will reportedly benefit from billions of dollars in tax breaks provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But the legislation doesn’t provide for the same type of relief for small-time landlords like Parker, who don’t bring in nearly as big of a profit.

The federal eviction moratorium implemented by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention may pause rent payments for some renters — not all, as many across the country are still being evicted. But the mandate does not come with any accompanying promises of relief for tenants or landlords. And that, Fishkind said, is dangerous for the economy.

“It jeopardizes the economy of the United States, particularly in areas like Orlando, where the . . . parameters of this unique COVID recession have been particularly deleterious,” Fishkind said.

What recourse do landlords have, then?

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Fishkind said. “And unless there is prompt federal action, which does not appear to be forthcoming, they [landlords] will be left to their own devices.”

Parker said she is hoping to organize with other like-minded landlords in her situation. She wants to write to representatives and ask for governmental assistance.

“I truly believe that if your property was caught up in the moratorium, that property should be tax-exempt for the year,” Parker said.

"Where Will They Go?"

Looking ahead to next year, industry experts warn the current federal eviction moratorium will protect neither renters nor landlords from what appears to be a looming financial crisis.

“All [the moratorium] does is to push off a terrible problem,” Fishkind said. “Better to push it off than to have that terrible problem manifest itself, I’ll grant you that. But that’s about the best thing that anybody can say about it.”

Characterizing the CDC’s order as a “sad indictment of a failure of leadership and policy,” Fishkind said the public health institute had to step in, after the U.S. federal government failed to adequately protect its citizens from the pandemic’s ramifications.

He praised local leadership in Central Florida, however, saying officials like Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings are “really trying,” despite not having access to as many resources as the state or federal government.

For her part, Parker said she’s worried that small landlords like herself may not survive in the market going forward. At least once a week, Parker said she receives calls from companies who want to buy up her handful of Central Florida properties.

Parker said she refuses every offer, as she wants to continue her work. But if she can’t bounce back from the deficit she’s facing, she might not be able to — and that doesn’t bode well for lower-income renters, she said.

“When we disappear as small landlords, you can expect the larger landlords to raise your rent. To not have properties available to those with lower incomes,” Parker said. “There just won't be any, so the housing market will be in such distress for those people on the low end.”

“Where will they go?” she asked.

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.