SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. — Danielle struggled.
She was a struggling actress who struggled to find work during the COVID lockdown. So she took advantage of the state and L.A. County moratorium, which allowed her to defer most of her rent. But several months later, she still struggled — to pay it all back.
“I dipped into my savings,” said Danielle.
She stood a few blocks from her apartment building, lest her landlord see her talking to a reporter. Danielle did not want to reveal her last name or where she lives. Given her opinions, anonymity will keep her from having any scrapes with her property owner.
“The moratorium is like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound,” said Danielle.
It’s not sustainable, she added. Renters still owe landlords back rent. The moratorium only delays the problem, forcing tenants to accumulate a mountain of debt.
“Are they expecting people to pay double rent for a year (until) they get caught up and don’t get evicted?” asked Danielle.
Danielle thinks property owners, especially those who are wealthy and have paid off their mortgages, would be just fine if they forgave a few months’ rent in exchange for long-term and trustworthy tenants.
She says landlords, even in places with rent stabilization or “rent control” are allowed to raise rents at a rate higher than wage increases or the cost of living.
“I’m not speaking (to) most landlords,” said Danielle. “But they are making an enormous profit anyway. There is a difference between being comfortable and being greedy.”
Meanwhile, Roni, who lives just a couple of miles from Danielle’s apartment, is struggling too. She also works in the entertainment industry, and she also lost work during the COVID pandemic.
“I’m scraping by,” said Roni, who claims she doesn’t have enough income to cover her bills.
When we met with her, she had many of those bills spread out in front of her on her dining room table. Roni pointed to one in particular that is giving her great anxiety because it has come due. It’s her property tax.
“It’s $43,467 a year,” said Roni.
Unlike Danielle, she isn’t a tenant. Roni is a landlord. And these aren’t her household bills. These are bills tied to a six-unit apartment house she owns with a mortgage payment.
“That’s $6,216 dollars a month,” Roni added, as she held up the bill.
Like Danielle, Roni also did not want to give her last name or reveal the location of her property. And like Danielle, she too racked up debt and had to dip into her savings and reserves.
Roni explained that she lives below her means so she can hold onto her investment. However, she notes how the federal government gave some of her tenants an extra $600 in unemployment income and stimulus checks, presumably to help pay the rent.
“And I’m still not getting paid,” said Roni.
Some of her tenants haven’t paid rent since April of 2020.
Dan Faller, president of the Apartment Owners Association, said the government’s rent moratorium is simply unfair.
“They’re forcing the owner to provide housing… and not charge them," said Faller, who added that, during the pandemic, the government will not allow landlords to evict tenants who claim a COVID-related economic hardship.
Yet, says Faller, those same tenants aren’t given a free pass at their neighborhood grocery store. They can’t fill up their cart and walk past the checkout line without paying, offering, instead, an “IOU.”
“What does the grocery store do?” asked Faller. “(Eventually) it closes down. It moves out.”
Faller admits to being an unabashed capitalist who believes in an unmolested free market.
“But we don’t have a free market.” said Faller. “These tenants feel they are entitled to free housing. Now that’s a ridiculous concept in an economic system like America’s."
Faller goes on to claim how, in order to get reelected, politicians support the moratorium. Virtually no one in government is on the side of property owners, as he sees it. Faller added, flatly, that there should be no moratorium. If the renter can’t pay, he said, they have to go. It’s that simple. The market has spoken.
However, Faller noted that he feels sorry for the tenant.
“But if I own the building that you’re in, I have to pay the mortgage," he said. "So, if you don’t pay me rent, or I don’t have somebody paying me rent in that apartment, then I’m gonna lose the building. And you’re gonna lose out too.”
Danielle said the pandemic was an unprecedented, unfortunate, and unavoidable worldwide disaster. So why then, she wonders, should renters like her be forced to leave the place where they live comfortably and contribute to the same free-market economy that Faller extols.
But Danielle added that she understands the landlords’ situation.
“The government… is not offering real help,” said Danielle. “They are not offering relief to the landlords. I get that it’s a capitalistic society. I get that everyone wants to make money. But you’re dealing with people, and you’re dealing with humans.”
Danielle added a message to property owners: “At the end of the day, your renters are your customers. And if you want long-term renters, you should treat them with respect.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation into law extending the rent moratorium to June 30. The law also allows the state to subsidize up to 80% of the tenants’ back rent between April 2020 and March 2021, as long as the landlord forgives the remaining 20% and does not pursue evictions.