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Retail Store And U.S. Household Evictions Skyrocket Due To Missed Payments

As the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues, almost one-third of U.S. households, 32%, have not made their full housing payments for July yet, according to a survey by Apartment List, an online rental platform. Retail Store And U.S. Household Evictions Skyrocket Due To Missed Payments

About 19% of Americans made no housing payment at all during the first week of the month, and 13% paid only a portion of their rent or mortgage.

That’s the fourth month in a row that a “historically high” number of households were unable to pay their housing bill on time and in full, up from 30% in June and 31% in May. Renters, low-income and younger households were most likely to miss their payments, Apartment List found.

In April, May and June, the majority of missed housing payments were made by the end of month, Apartment List reports. Almost 90% of households had paid some or all of their rent or mortgage payment by the end of June. But with late fees tacked on, those households may be more likely to miss their next housing bill, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

“Delayed payments in one month are a strong predictor for missed payments in the next,” Apartment List says. While 83% of households who paid their May housing in full and on-time also did so in June, only 30% of households who were late in May did so in June.

Worries About Evictions Mount

States started to reopen their economies last month, but spikes in coronavirus cases led many to re-close sectors or pause reopening plans altogether.

“The economic fallout from the pandemic does not appear on track for the quick V-shaped recovery that many had originally hoped for,” reports Apartment List. Plus, the continued coronavirus recession has more Americans worried about evictions and foreclosures, Apartment List found.

Renters are especially vulnerable. About 36% of renters, who are more likely to work in industries devastated by the coronavirus, missed their July housing bill, compared to 30% of homeowners.

The federal eviction moratorium, which covers around one-fourth of renters in the U.S., put in place at the beginning of the pandemic has been extended to the end of August. But many people are still worried about an imminent wave of evictions across the country, as tenant protections vary greatly depending on the state and even city. Many — though not all — states and cities have instituted their own eviction bans; some have already expired, leaving tenants vulnerable at a time when coronavirus cases are increasing in many spots in the U.S.

Many households have already spent their one-time stimulus check, and the extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance — used by many to cover essentials like housing — runs out at the end of July. That means even more households could potentially miss their rent or mortgage payments in coming months.

Housing advocates are calling for a uniform, nationwide eviction moratorium that covers all renters, as well as other federal aid in the form of emergency rental relief. The House or Representatives has passed several measures, including the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act and the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020, to address the housing crisis. Neither bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Updated: 9-1-2020

Retail Eviction Proceedings Pick Up As Economy Restarts

Some tenants, particularly those from apparel, fitness and theater sectors, continue to struggle with rent payments even as coronavirus shutdowns lift.

Proceedings for the eviction of retail tenants are picking up across the country as courts reopen and states’ moratoriums on evictions are expiring or getting curtailed as the economy reopens.

In Miami, a luxury-shopping-center landlord began legal proceedings to evict Saks Fifth Avenue two weeks ago for nonpayment of rent amounting to $1.9 million as of early July.

In other parts of the country, smaller retail landlords also have filed lease termination and eviction notices to restaurants, bridal shops, entertainment operators and co-working tenants that haven’t paid rent and weren’t able to come to mutually agreeable modifications to their leases.

Before the pandemic, most of these disputes end up getting resolved before the sheriff throws them out, but lawyers said they are seeing higher volumes of disputes which could lead to more evictions.

“We hope and think that the outcome of the lawsuit is that Saks would come to its senses and pay its rent in full. If Saks still doesn’t do so, we’ll have a whole host of other options for the space,” said Matthew Whitman Lazenby, chief executive officer of Whitman Family Development, a private company that owns the ritzy Bal Harbour Shops in Miami.

Saks Fifth Avenue has a ground lease with the outdoor mall and pays percentage rent, or a percentage of sales as rent. Compared to fixed rents, such lease structures already have built-in protections if sales fall.

“It’s perplexing,” said Mr. Lazenby. Bal Harbour Shops was closed from mid-March until the third week of May, and Saks Fifth Avenue recorded stronger sales in June this year compared with last year, he said.

“Unlike the majority of our landlord partners, Matthew Lazenby and the Whitman family have not acted in good faith.

Not only have they chosen not to adequately assume their fair share of the damages created by the global health crisis still gripping our nation, they have used the press and legal system to bully tenants,” said a Saks Fifth Avenue spokeswoman, adding that the company has been able to work with other landlords “to amicably and logically share the losses incurred during the pandemic.”

“For many years, Saks has been a significant part of the success of Bal Harbour Shops, and we expect to continue to be part of that success for a long time to come,” the spokeswoman added. The luxury-department-store operator, whose parent company Hudson’s Bay Co. went private in early March, had a hard time before Covid-19 competing with online upstarts and other rivals.

While overall retail rent collections have improved to 77% in July from around 54% in April, some tenants, particularly from the apparel, fitness and theater categories, have continued to struggle with payments, according to data from Datex Property Solutions, a real-estate data firm that tracks rent collection on thousands of properties across the country.

During the coronavirus-shutdown period that started mid-March and extended to as late as August in some cities, tenants have implored their landlords for deferrals and lower rents to stay in business.

States also imposed moratoriums on commercial-real-estate evictions, which offered temporary respite until they expire. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s moratorium until Sept. 20 from a previously extended Aug. 20 deadline.

Landlords said they have modified tens of thousands of leases over the past few months, including deferrals or discounts in exchange for lease extensions or other concessions, such as the removal of clauses that prohibited certain types of tenants in the neighboring space, such as direct competitors or other uses of common-area space. But for some, negotiations reached a stalemate and landlords said they have no choice but to resort to litigation.

“It’s an unfortunate but necessary tool to enforce the lease,” said Derek Waltchack, partner at Shannon Waltchack, a real-estate landlord based in Birmingham, Ala., with more than 400 tenants across 64 properties. “We also have to balance the expense of securing new tenants versus working with our tenants and providing some rent deferrals.”

Mr. Waltchack said his firm has taken legal action against more tenants for missed rent payments, mostly bars and restaurants, compared with a year ago. He added that the majority of his tenants would subsequently pay the rent late rather than get evicted.

He said his firm lost 10 tenants, mostly bars and restaurants, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Minneapolis, Eric Ruzicka, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, said his law firm has commenced around 30 eviction filings for commercial tenants, including restaurants, children’s play zones and bridal shops that were hurt by the drop in tuxedo rentals for proms.

He expects most cases to be resolved before trial and that many of his landlord clients still have a desire to work things out. So far, only one, a restaurant, has an eviction trial date set for late September.

“Landlords need to figure out which tenants are going to thrive and make the center better and which ones have been struggling already,” said Mr. Ruzicka. “If it was a good relationship before coronavirus, it’s a salvageable relationship.”

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Updated: 9-27-2020

More Homes Are Going Dark As Moratoriums On Utility Shut-Offs End

Utility companies say they can’t afford indefinite halts to shut-offs without raising prices for all customers.

Latoya Dandridge was laid off from her school cafeteria job in March during the coronavirus shutdown. Six months later, she is now anxiously waiting for the moment when her electricity will be shut off.

In North Carolina, where Ms. Dandridge lives, a moratorium on utility disconnections ended Sept. 1. Similar reprieves imposed during the pandemic are ending in more states, putting more people at risk of losing access to water, electricity and gas as they struggle to find work or are quarantined at home.

Ms. Dandridge, 36 years old, said her unemployment insurance payments, which she applied for in June, have yet to arrive. Her electric bill, unpaid for months, is now $600. A sister is helping her make car payments, but there is no more money left to borrow.

“It may be a week. It may be the end of the month,” said Ms. Dandridge, whose four children take classes on school-issued laptops in her apartment in Fayetteville. “I don’t know when they’re going to turn it off.”

Since the pandemic started, 36 states have issued moratoriums on utility shut-offs for people who couldn’t pay their bills. In other states, utility companies voluntarily stopped disconnecting customers who fell behind.

Between now and mid-October, an estimated 24 million households are set to lose protections as moratoriums end in nine states—they have already expired in 14 states—leaving 13 in place, according to an analysis of state moratoriums by Carbon Switch, an energy efficiency startup. Moratoriums are currently set to expire in Texas at the end of September, Virginia on Oct. 5, and Washington on Oct. 15.

Utility companies say they can’t afford to halt shut-offs indefinitely without raising prices for all their customers.

“Every utility in the country is facing the same situation,” said Chris Eck, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, which serves 6.1 million customers from Maryland to Ohio. “It’s rather unprecedented. We have to balance the needs of customers with what makes the most sense to keep the lights on.”

Duke Energy, which has 7.7 million customers from Florida to Ohio, plans to resume disconnection notices between September and December in different states. In late August, the number of people behind on payments was only about 4% higher companywide than last year, but many customers owe more than usual. For example, in Florida, customers with accounts overdue by 60 days or more owed nearly $15 million in June, compared with just over $1 million in June 2019.

However, Barbara Higgins, Duke’s chief customer officer, said the company expects to disconnect fewer people than it typically would, because the company is helping customers find outside financial assistance, waiving fees and offering new payment plans, among other changes.

“It’s in nobody’s interest to have a large number of customers default,” she said.

California, Illinois and Massachusetts all recently passed measures intended to protect utility customers, such as extending moratoriums, debt forgiveness and waiving reconnection and other fees.

But the debt burden is growing in many states. In Massachusetts, the amount of money owed by utility customers through July was $200 million more than through the same time last year, according to reports filed by utility companies. More than 10,000 customers were 90 days or more behind in payments.

“Arrearages are going through the roof,” said Charlie Harak, a Boston-based attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, which advocates for low-income residents.

Before the pandemic, one-third of the U.S. population faced difficulty paying utility bills, according to the group. The federal stimulus this spring provided $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP.

Advocates for low-income residents say the funding won’t be enough to cover utility payments people owe. Losing utilities often causes people to live in dangerous conditions. During the pandemic, that could mean crowding more people into homes, low-income-housing advocates say.

For people who live in federally subsidized housing, nonpayment of utilities is frequently a lease violation that leads to eviction. Many states already bar providers from disconnecting service during the winter. Some advocacy groups are calling for states and companies to extend moratoriums through the winter.

Payment plans to avoid shut-offs often require customers to pay a portion of the past-due bill on top of a current bill, which advocates say isn’t practical for many people unemployed during the pandemic.

Yet some low-income advocates say extending moratoriums is a double-edged sword. If they last until spring, some customers could have a year’s worth of unpaid bills that it will be even harder to pay.

Nonprofits have stepped in to help customers. Denise Holmes, 58, of Jeannette, Pa., said Catholic Charities paid $108 in July to keep her gas connected. But she has a $165 sewage bill due Sept. 30 with the water authority in Westmoreland County. “I do not know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m scared, to put it bluntly.”

In North Carolina, just over 1 million out of 8 million electricity customers had accounts 30 days or more overdue as of the end of July, up 30% from last year, according to state data.

Derrick Fourong, 46, of Elm City, N.C., said his electricity was shut off earlier this month after he was unable to pay $150. His carpentry business, which he runs out of a shop at his home, has suffered during the pandemic, he said.

For several days, Mr. Fourong wasn’t able to draw water from his well and used rainwater to flush his toilet. He borrowed $250 from a friend to get power turned back on. Now he owes his friend money, and his next bill is due in mid-October.

“I’m still in the hole,” he said.

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