LAWTON – Moratoriums against eviction for non-payment of rent can be a two-edged sword: a blessing for tenants but a curse for landlords.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a temporary halt on residential evictions from September 4 through December 31, to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The CDC’s order applies to “any property leased for residential purposes, including any house, building, mobile home or land in a mobile home park, or similar dwelling leased for residential purposes.” The stimulus package Congress passed on December 21 extended the national eviction moratorium for a month, to January 31, 2021.
The moratorium also applies to federally backed mortgages such as those issued by the Veterans Administration. In addition, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has extended its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through February 28 for homeowners with FHA-insured single-family mortgages, and through March 31 for qualifying multi-family property owners.
“We have 15 tenants who are taking advantage of the moratorium,” said Barry Ezerski, co-owner of P&B Rentals in Lawton. “One of them hasn’t paid anything in more than six months,” even though the CDC emphasizes that tenants “still must fulfill their obligation to pay rent” during the moratorium.
Thirteen of those 15 properties are owned by active-duty or retired military personnel. “These owners are living month-to-month,” Ezerski said. “Not having that rental income poses a financial hardship on them.”
P&B manages approximately 750 properties in Lawton and throughout Comanche County. Most of those are single-family homes, but the portfolio also includes a few duplexes and some quads.
Many of those properties are owned by individuals who previously lived in Comanche County and decided to let their houses for rent, Ezerski said. Some, such as military personnel who were transferred from Fort Sill to another military installation, are paying rent or a mortgage somewhere else and may also be paying on a mortgage on the rental house they own in Comanche County.
December is typically a tight month for many families “because they’re spending their money on Christmas,” Ezerski noted. In addition, some tenants have lost their jobs. “Certainly we have people in Lawton who are struggling.” The moratorium is “keeping them from being out on the street,” he said. “But some have jobs and are using the moratorium to play the system.”
When the Comanche County Courthouse reopens, tentatively scheduled for January 4, “We’ll be filing some eviction proceedings,” Ezerski said. “In a normal year we can get a court date two to three weeks out.” But 2020 has not been a normal year.
Most property owners are willing to help their renters with payment plans, Ezerski said. “We have 10 to 15 renters who are unable to pay their full amount but at least they’re making partial payments,” he said. “Most of the owners of the properties we manage would be more than willing to accept something rather than nothing at all.”
In a typical month, 60 to 90 of the tenants in properties managed by P&B will not have paid their rent by the 5th of the month, “so we send them a notice,” Ezerski said. Most of them respond in a timely fashion, but there are always some who don’t. “If not, we’ll start eviction proceedings.”
If a judgment is rendered against them, the Sheriff’s Office can deliver the notice the next day “and they have three days to vacate the premises.”
Sometimes the landlord can garnish the renter’s wages. Some renters skip out in the middle of the night to avoid paying what’s owed – but the debt follows them as a judgment on their credit report, Ezerski noted. And some debtors declare bankruptcy to escape their creditors – but that, too, appears on credit reports.
Some tenants leave rental property in shambles. “We’ve had people who stole the appliances, and others who destroyed them.” One tenant “apparently had anger issues,” Ezerski recalled. “He took a baseball bat or a hammer to all of the walls, kicked in the doors and damaged the appliances.”
The majority of the people who rent “are good tenants and take care of the houses, but then there are the small number who cause most of the trouble,” Ezerski said. “We’ve heard just about every excuse imaginable.”