When New York initially went into shutdown mode and renters expressed fears about paying rent, many leasing agents and landlords promised to work with tenants on a one-to-one basis. But, perhaps rattled by talk of rent strikes and rent cancellations, some landlords are showing little flexibility, leaving tenants scrambling for relief.
Cathy Sutton (not her real name) received a lease renewal notice in mid-April that included a $45 rent increase. Referencing her history as a tenant of over five years who always paid her rent on time, she counter-offered, suggesting she go month to month or sign a 90-day, short-term lease at a reduced rate.
She got the $45 increase waived, but a note forwarded to her via an employee on the landlord’s behalf said lowering the rent wasn’t possible. It went on to say, “frankly we were hoping we could rely on our tenants who still have jobs to continue their tenancy and help maintain the stability of the New York City housing market."
Sutton was shocked.
“Seems my landlord thinks that the responsibility for the city’s housing market stability is on the tenant alone—he has no part to play,” she says. She points out her job security is uncertain and, like many New York City renters, she is hesitant to sign a 12-month renewal.
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For another tenant in a jam, her landlord stopped communicating with her, despite her attempt at resolution. Molly Wareham, who asked that we use a pseudonym, is stuck—she wants to stay in her Manhattan two bedroom but can only pay half the rent. Her roommate left, her lease is up, and her landlord has stopped responding—even though, as Wareham points out, there are one bedrooms available in the building that she could afford.
"Until a clearer picture of the full extent of the losses is apparent, many landlords are in delay mode," says Arik Lifshitz, CEO of DSA Property Group, a property management and development firm.
There’s no shortage in the number of people looking for roommates. Roommate matching site RoomZoom says the amount of New Yorkers who need new roommates is up 40 percent compared to pre-shutdown numbers. That doesn't always mean they are having success.
Wareham is using RoomZoom and has been told her listing is good but if she could "manage to lower the price on the room [she] might get more bites." The question is, how to broach this with a management company, or a landlord that has gone silent? And, as Wareham has made clear, she herself can't pay a larger share.
Lifshitz says he is dealing with situations where a roommate has left and his company is mostly asking the tenants who can make their payments to pay, and "devising a reasonable payment plan."
He's sympathetic to the landlord who suggested tenants have a responsibility to keep the city's housing market afloat.
"Tenants who have the means, can and should pay their rent, frankly that shouldn’t be up for debate. It's imperative that we maintain as much of the economy as we can. If everyone takes this as an opportunity to shirk their responsibilities, the economy will break down even further," he says.