Collaborating on eviction relief
When landlords and others work together, it usually benefits all.
Audrea Rease
When the coronavirus crisis began to appear in the U.S., I was optimistic it would be short-lived; a temporary aberration.

And as the mother of an 11-year-old Atlanta Public Schools student, when schools shifted to virtual learning, I held out hope kids would go back to school in person in a few weeks.

It soon became clear that was not going to happen.

This crisis would be far deeper and have more lasting impact  than any of us could have imagined.

As an apartment landlord, apartment dweller and someone who runs a nonprofit aligned with apartment owners and property managers, I’ve realized landlords have been in a unique position since the pandemic began. They’ve been alternately demonized and then pressured to save the day, while often in need of a bailout themselves.

Not all landlords received mortgage or other financial relief. And not all tenants received stimulus checks or unemployment compensation.

However, as someone on the front line in conversations with property managers and landlords representing 26,000 apartment units (130 apartment communities are now registered for our eviction relief efforts), I can share solutions landlords are using to address the growing delinquency on their books. As we live in a world of acronyms, I’m making this EASY.

■ Exit: Instead of filing eviction, some landlords are now offering tenants a planned or negotiated exit, including “cash for keys” if they timely vacate and leave the unit in good condition. This is much faster than an eviction, which could take months (if not a year or more) depending on county court backlogs. A planned exit gives the landlord possession of the unit more quickly and enables the tenant to move on without an eviction on their record.

■ Assistance: Assess each tenant and, if feasible, put your tenant on a payment plan and consider other creative ways to facilitate payment. By retaining current tenants with payment plans, forward-looking landlords can avoid incurring “turn costs” to prepare the unit for a new tenant and bypass downtime while waiting to re-lease.

■ Sign up the tenant or property for assistance programs: There are rent-assistance and food-security programs offered across Atlanta.

Landlords, take time to identify those resources and share them with your tenants. The time invested up front identifying such programs pays longterm dividends that are a winwin for landlord and resident.

Consider the fact our small nonprofit alone raised more than $2.8 million in funding since April to assist tenants living in qualified metro Atlanta apartment communities. As a result, participating landlords have seen increased rent collections and tenant retention than they would have otherwise seen.

Some have agreed to waive up to 30% of outstanding rental balance, submitting applications — singly or en masse — to our fund, collecting 70 cents on the dollar versus having tenants tie up their apartments for months without paying rent. One landlord has submitted more than 60 applications and has collected more than $70,000 in delinquent rent — rent the landlord would have been lucky to collect at 20 cents on the dollar post-eviction.

■ You: Consider what you’d want someone to do for you, if you were a tenant struggling to maintain your primary residence.

There are ample noncash things you can do. For one, being compassionate is free. And communicate with your tenants in a way they can understand per the CARES Act to demand possession. These notices were incredibly alarming and difficult to understand.

One tenant told me she was so frightened by the notice she vomited for hours after receiving it. She thought she had to leave that same night, but she and her children had nowhere to go.

These notices were necessary to protect the landlord’s rights and to get the attention of delinquent tenants. However, we know in some cases the notices caused tenants to make drastic, short-term decisions without an understanding of their basic rights, leading to further destabilization of families.

Allow me to round out my eviction-relief plea by sharing three common misconceptions.

Yes, there are eviction moratoriums in play, but even where those apply, the funds tenants owe continue to accrue. Without an assist, that means working people already in tenuous financial straits may never recover from the financial toxicity foisted on them by this pandemic.

Believe it or not, some landlords and even some apartment residents do not believe eviction-relief efforts like ours are real. Our founder sat down and called 150-plus landlords when our efforts more recently expanded into Cobb County.

Many landlords either did not call back or asked that we stop “punking” them.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I would share that, just as landlords and tenants are not as alone as they may think they are in this eviction crisis, neither are the rest of the players.

The collaboration and “hive mind” being deployed to address this crisis is real, is heartening and can be effective.

From individuals and foundations to corporate pocketbooks, compassionate public servants, anonymous donors and myriad nonprofits, we’re seeing that an unprecedented pandemic does not have to result in unprecedented evictions.

Audrea Rease is executive director of Star-C, a nonprofit sustainable education model with an affordable housing solution.

The Eviction Relief Fund is part of Star-C, and currently its primary focus. Rease also is a partner in TriStar Real Estate Investment (a commercial real estate investment company), which has a social impact fund that improves education through affordable housing by addressing transiency.