“I offered my tenants $100 off their rent. I wish I could have given them more”: How mom-and-pop landlords are coping with the pandemic

“I offered my tenants $100 off their rent. I wish I could have given them more”: How mom-and-pop landlords are coping with the pandemic

Thousands of tenants across the city weren’t able to pay their rent this month due to layoffs and lost work. Some mom-and-pop landlords are sympathetic: they, too are facing reduced incomes. In many cases, they can’t pay their own bills and are confronting the possibility of losing their properties. We spoke to a few about how they’re adapting to the new reality.

Jeanne-Marie Robillard, 58, communications director
“I’ve been a landlord for 27 years. I own a triplex with my husband, Mark Pitman. We have three units with a total of five tenants. Four out of five of our tenants were laid off in a two-week span, so it seemed like the right thing to do was to share the financial burden. We decided to waive half of our tenants’ rent this month. We’re still able to cover our mortgage payments, but we’ll be dipping into our own savings to keep everything running. We’ve agreed with our tenants that we’ll review things on a month-to-month basis.”

Jola Kay, 55, travel agent
“I haven’t been working since March 24, and my tenants informed me that they could pay only 50 per cent of their rent for the coming three months because they also lost their jobs. I have eight tenants in two properties, and it’s a big expense coming out of my pocket. They said that the money they can get from CERB—$2,000 per person per month—is not enough to pay full rent and put food on the table. I’ll have to use lines of credit if this persists. The Ontario law has put us landlords in a position without options because tenants can live at the landlord’s cost for a very long time. Why didn’t Mr. Ford encourage tenants to go into a grocery store and pay for only half of their groceries?”

Walter Cheung, 37, real estate salesperson and mortgage agent
“I’ve been a landlord for two years—I have one rental property with a single-family tenant. We are blessed to have been minimally affected by Covid-19 so far. I advised our tenant to speak to us if there is anything we can do to help. We have three months of buffer funds for our investment property, so if  the tenant is struggling, we may allow them to defer up to 50 to 75 per cent of their rent for up to four months without issue. I’d suggest landlords and tenants openly discuss difficulties and try to find a solution together. The landlord needs the rent to sustain the property and keep a roof over the tenant’s head.”

Andrea Lee, 39, law clerk
“I rent out my four-bedroom house to a family with two young children. My tenant and her husband were both laid off as a result of Covid-19. They reached out to me in mid-March to warn me that April’s rent might be hard to pay. I asked them to pay what they can, when they can. They’ve already made a partial payment and have advised that they will make another one soon. I will not receive their full rent this month, but at least they will have food. I will make sure that they continue to have all utilities available to them.”

Andrew Clark, 29, elevator mechanic
“I have seven tenants in six properties, and two of them have lost their jobs to the pandemic. The banks are offering mortgage deferral but adding on interest, so the costs are quite high. I said that if half the rent was paid for April, I’d waive the other half. Tenants not paying rent is the cost of doing business. What’s worrisome is that the Landlord and Tenant Board is closed. I decided that, in a crisis, it was better to show compassion to my tenants. This is a freaky situation for all and I wanted to show our tenants that I care about them, not just about them paying me.”

Jenn Bell, 25, support coordinator
“Like many others, my family has faced layoffs and changes in work schedules. I rent out two units in one rental property, and I was worried, but I knew my tenants would do what they could to pay. I contacted them in mid-March to let them know I would be as accommodating as possible. None of them expressed concern paying rent or job security but I wanted them to know they could approach me in the event they wanted to set up a payment plan. I wanted to extend my gratitude to each of my amazing tenants so I offered them $100 off of their rent. I wish I could have given even more. They are wonderful people who pay their rent on time and take good care of my house. I plan to continue to do this whenever I can as long as this pandemic lasts. But I’m worried for other mom-and-pop landlords who may be forced to sell or foreclose if they don’t receive payment for an extended period of time. This will have a chain effect that could hurt many tenants as well.”

Ruby Degenaar, 51, carpenter
“I just got laid off; I worked at a nuclear power plant. I don’t know when I’ll get another job again or when this pandemic will be over. I own one house with two tenants, and I didn’t receive any rent this month. My tenants refused to negotiate any payments. I depend on their rent to help pay my mortgage, and I might lose my house because of this. Not all landlords are rich. This is a sad time for all. My tenants should be trying to make an effort with their rent. If they don’t pay for months, I might not be able to get them evicted because there are no hearings right now. The government should freeze mortgage and rent payments altogether.”

Natalia Kata, 37, finance manager
“I have two reliable tenants between two properties who let me know in advance if they are unable to make payments. It’s always a possibility—that’s the name of the game. This month, one tenant was able to pay and the other was late. They indicated that they would pay me by mid-April, which is okay with me. I’m not rich by any means, but I do have a small back-up plan for situations like this. I’ve never been the kind of landlord to send eviction notices for one late payment. Respect goes a long way. Communication also helps. We all deserve to have shelter and food. Tenants have to pay rent when they can and put in an honest effort. At the same time, landlords need to make adjustments and consider delaying rent increases and forgiving late payments.”

Sarah Dawn, 39, bakery owner
“My tenants are going through reduced hours and layoffs right now, like many people are. I told them to take some extra time to pay this month if they need to. In the grand scheme of things, a late payment won’t have a negative effect on me, considering most utility companies are also suspending late fees. No rent at all would be worrisome, though. Mortgage deferral isn’t a good solution. The money is still owed but you pay more interest. It’s not a good option if you can avoid it. If tenants need extra time, just ask.”

Tiffiny Corradetti, 35, renovator and paralegal student
“I’ve been a landlord for six years, and I have four tenants. I told my tenants I was willing to take payment via credit card, and I offered a discount because we are all suffering. One of my tenants told me they didn’t have all their rent. They said they could pay half on the first and the rest at the end of this week. I wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage deferral nor do I want one—people don’t understand that a deferral means I pay interest on top of interest. A six-month deferral would cost me thousands of dollars long-term. But non-payment of rent will literally take food off my children’s plates. Late rent could mean putting off a hydro bill. Landlords are people too. We have families and bills to pay.”