Mario Golden couldn’t sleep for two nights before he wrote to more than 60 city and state representatives— including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents Golden’s district of Elmhurst— to advocate for a rent freeze in New York. Both Golden and his husband, Andreas Robertz, are freelance artists whose work in theater came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit. “We rely on contracts so this is immediately impacting us,” Golden said, “and we’re surviving on savings.”
Even with the $1,200 stimulus checks that are expected to roll out in mid-April, Golden is worried that he and Robertz won’t be able to cover their usual monthly budget of $2,600. After paying the current rent of $1,510 per month, plus utilities and other miscellaneous expenses, they are left with $400 for food for two people per month, Golden explained. He reached out to his landlord asking about the possibility of a temporary rent reduction, but hasn’t heard back.
State legislators have made some efforts to ease the housing burden of New Yorkers like Golden and Robertz, such as the eviction moratorium that went into effect in late March, or the statewide suspension of mortgage payments for residential homeowners in the next 90 days. However, this doesn’t provide full financial security for those in need. In the case of the mortgage suspension, for instance, once the moratorium period ends, landlords will have to pay three months’ worth of mortgage all at once. “Mortgages are being delayed but they’re not being credited,” said Louis Adler, who is co-founder and principal of REAL New York.
While these laws provide some temporary protection for landlords and those at risk of eviction, they still leave out many residents who are facing unemployment or drastic pay cuts due to reduced work hours as a result of the shutdown. To ameliorate this issue, state Senator Michael Gianris (D-Queens) has introduced a rent relief bill that would waive rent payments for the next 90 days, without tenants having to pay the accumulated amount afterward. A similar bill has also been introduced in the Assembly by Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.
Despite the widely-shared story of a Brooklyn landlord who forgave April rent for some 200 to 300 tenants, most landlords are granting their tenants rent reductions on a case-by-case basis, according to Adler, whose real estate agency is based on the Lower East Side. In the case of tenants who haven’t lost their jobs or taken pay cuts, “there would be no reason for them not to want to fulfill, or think that they can’t fulfill, their lease obligation,” noted Adler. “If someone did lose their job and they’re looking to stay in the apartment, landlords are working with them but [landlords] want to see that they’re taking the steps necessary to be able to repay whatever rent they might negotiate.”
A Williamsburg-based artist and art administrator, who asked not to be named, said he was able to provide a rent reduction to the two tenants of one of the units in his duplex apartment. The freelancers in the film and arts industry have both faced job loss in the past month and have gone home to Long Island. “After much consideration about how much I should offer them a reduction, I just asked them. I said, ‘What can you guys bear?’,” he said. They finally settled on cutting the rent by a third.
The artist-landlord said he could sympathize with the struggles of his fellow artists during this crisis, and he’s prepared to do whatever is needed to get by, even if that means dipping into his savings. “Obviously, if these tenants leave, then I’m not going to get new tenants during this crisis,” he said, “so I think everyone’s gonna be really reasonable.”
Another example of landlords forgiving rent comes from Business Insider’s politics reporter Eliza Relman. Relman recently shared on Twitter that her sister worked as an ER nurse and her landlord cut her rent in half for the next few months without asking.
a nice thing: My sister is a ER nurse in NYC and her landlord just cut her rent in half for the next few months without her asking. Just because she’s working hard and saving lives. Just a reminder that people are kind and generous 🙂
— Eliza Relman (@eliza_relman) April 3, 2020
But in other cases, some landlords aren’t as informed about renter’s rights. Twitter user @cat_hathaway had to explain to her landlord how during this time, it would be illegal for them to charge her late fees under the new CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27.
I’ve reached a new level of Karen with my landlord this morning. pic.twitter.com/N5Hh84PSO1
— Cat (@cat_hathaway) April 1, 2020
For Mario Golden, the wait to hear back from his landlord only adds to the stress of living in Elmhurst— the “epicenter of the epicenter of the crisis”— while worrying about his personal health. “Last year I had a heart attack and had a stent put in my arteries,” he said. “So I’m one of the people who, at my age 55, and with this condition, I cannot afford to get healed with this virus, you know?”