This is just one of the many calls that landlords receive almost daily, and due to COVID-19, the volume of these calls have increased. Here are just a few samples:
• “Can you come and clean-up the human feces on the front sidewalk? Don’t you know it is unsanitary?”
• “My kitchen sink is clogged. Can you send someone over now?”
• “The kids upstairs are making a lot of noise; can you tell the tenants upstairs to control their kids?”
• “The guy downstairs is smoking weed and it is coming through my window. It’s hot today and I don’t want to close my window. Can you get down here and make him stop?”
• “The trash cans in the back are overflowing again. Can you send someone to clean it up?”
Emergency stay-at-home orders that have shut down businesses and left millions unemployed has adversely impacted us all, but no one seems to notice how this is affecting landlords. Since tenants, by and large, are working at home, people are spending more time at our rental properties. This situation has created many issues among neighbors who typically do not see each other except for mornings or evenings. Now apartment residents are seeing and hearing each other all day, and rather than solve issues like civilized adults, they complain to their landlord about noises, smells, children, pets, and the extra trash accumulating in trash bins from all the take-out meals and Amazon shipments.
In the media, we hear about nurses and doctors working around the clock to save lives. Yes, they are truly exceptional and are heroes. But just like any major emergency, support personnel are just as important as those working on the front lines by supplying the needs of front-line personnel. Well, we landlords are the behind the front-line soldiers of today’s pandemic fight.
The San Fernando Valley area is dominated by apartment buildings with “mom and pop” owners that are self-managed or operated by smaller property management firms. Since March, calls coming into property management offices for virtually all types of assistance has more than tripled, and property managers today are working 10 to 12 hours a day trying to address issues, calming fears, mediating between neighbors, and of course, clearing someone’s clogged toilet. We are all in this together, but when it comes to being a landlord, we continue to go about doing our thankless job keeping members of our community safely housed.
Just like other small businesses, government is slowly choking the life out of landlords. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been subject to regulations banning evictions, late fees and rent increases and are being punished for attempting to collect rent. Yet, despite all of this, the city of Los Angeles has increased water bills while tenants who are home are using water, and the city’s trash haulers have recently increased fees 6.15 percent. While we are challenged collecting rent, our property taxes, insurance, mortgages, and maintenance expenses continue to increase and are due.
Like those in the restaurant business, landlords are being told to do much more for less or in some cases for nothing. And just like restaurateurs, it is uncertain how long landlords can hold out. Even now, our state’s legislators are contemplating the extension of eviction restrictions because they believe landlords are politically expendable. However, apartments are not emptying because of evictions; tenants are leaving their rental units to either buy homes (A lender called us to verify the payment record of a tenant who had not paid a us a dime since April.) or they are relocating out of state, or some are merely moving across the street into a cheaper apartment in this depressed rental market.
Landlords are not the villains that our elected officials and tenant groups falsely claim we are. We are only small business owners trying to make ends meet with both our hands tied behind our backs in an environment of increasing costs and lower income with no end in sight. We are some of the heroes in this crisis, trying our best to keep tenants housed, their toilets running, and their stove working while at the same time, dealing with situations that the police do not care to do anything about.
Irma Vargas is chief financial officer of RST and Associates, a property management firm in Los Angeles. She serves on the board of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.