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Landlords adapting to COVID rules

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COVID-19 rules halting evictions put many property owners at risk, they say; others are trying to give tenants a financial break without going under themselves.

Many multifamily community-management companies, housing-industry groups and individual landlords have called regulations to temporarily upend suspensions of evictions overreaching and even unconstitutional.

“The fact of the matter is that, like any business, we can’t provide services for free,” said Mike Rust, general operations manager for Highland Commercial Properties.

HCP owns and operates 12 apartment communities in San Antonio, covering 1,271 apartment units, and 350 single-family rental homes.

Rust added: “We have employees who count on us to support their own families. We provide water and electricity to many of our residents. All of our apartment residents receive free, high-speed Wi-Fi. We have normal repairs that need to be made. Of course, taxes and city fees aren’t going down, so the potential impact is severe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions through Dec. 31. CDC officials argue people left unsheltered could help spread the novel coronavirus by forcing folks to live with family in crowded conditions or increasing homelessness.

The moratorium doesn’t completely stop evictions. Requirements call on tenants to demonstrate they have tried obtaining government assistance or attempted to pay their landlord. In turn, landlords can still contest the eviction protections in court.

Meanwhile, the City Council passed an ordinance this summer requiring landlords and property managers to provide renters a “notice of tenant’s rights” to help curb any push for mass evictions spurred by nonpayment.

The San Antonio Apartment Association urged property managers and owners to waive tenants’ late fees.

HCP gave every resident 10% off April and May rents, plus a 5% June discount. HCP also opted to forgo fees, and postponed scheduled rent hikes.

“In certain clear and compelling instances, we’ve waived all back rent,” Rust said.

He added San Antonio’s coronavirus relief program has helped most residents who apply for and receive funds, and his firm’s properties negotiate with “residents who will work with us.”

“Essentially, if they show us they are making an effort, we work with them,” Rust concluded.

Even so, HCP has delayed some property upgrades due to direct impacts on the company’s income.

Alamo Community Group, which developed and currently manages 11 affordable-housing communities citywide, guided eligible, affected residents through the city’s housing-aid program.

“We’ve also helped our residents to locate other programs and resources outside the city of San Antonio, like the San Antonio Food Bank and Alamo Area Council of Governments,” said Michael Shackelford, ACG’s policy director.

The apartment association also responded by updating members on guidance and actions taken by state and national apartment associations.

The Texas Apartment Association in October launched an eviction diversion program in Bexar County and 18 others statewide, offering eligible participants up to six months of rental assistance, including debt started in April 2020.

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