Tenants rights groups call for rent and mortgage payments to be canceled

Tenants rights groups across the country are calling for rent and mortgage payments to be canceled -- without penalties -- as long as shelter-at-home orders are in effect. 

Wednesday marks the the first of the month, and that's usually when rent and mortgages are due for millions of people across the country.

But with shelter-in-place orders in effect, businesses closed and work hours cut, some tenants organizations nationwide are calling for rent this month, and possibly next, to be fogiven. They would also like a temporary moratorium on mortgages as long as they are forced to stay at home and possibly be out of work. 

"Banks can affford to absorb this cost. We're all losing money right now and we can't have people losing their homes, too," said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Committee.  

When asked about whether the “cancel rent” idea could become a government-sanctioned reality, Sherburn-Zimmer said; “It has to. I feel like we have no choice.”

He said that over the past few weeks, thousands of renters have called, asking for help. 

Sherburn-Zimmer said financial institutions and corporate property owners should “step up” and absorb the costs of forgone rent and mortgage payments.

“Banks can afford to absorb this cost. We're all losing money right now and we can't have people losing their homes, too," Sherburn-Zimmer said.  “Supervisors passed a resolution yesterday asking the state to cancel the rents. this is actually a common request." 

There is a state-wide moratorium on evictions due to Covid19-related financial hardships, until May 31.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco board of supervisors also enacted an eviction moratorium.

Sherburn-Zimmer said that in order to qualify for that protection, tenants in San Francisco need to notify their landlord in writing within 30 days of the rent being due.

Then, seven days later, they must send their landlord proof of their inability to pay due to the coronavirus crisis, like a layoff notice. 

But Sid Lakireddy, President of California Rental Housing Association, says cancelling rent and mortgage payments isn’t as simple as it sounds.

“We have other vendors we pay. For inspections, landscaping, maintenance,” Lakireddy said, “It totals billions of dollars. Who pays them if we cancel rent?”

Lakireddy said that he agrees renters shouldn’t be penalized with fees if they can’t make rent because of lost income due to Covid19-related economic problems.

But he added: “What people should be doing if they can’t pay is get on the phone with their landlord so both parties can work out a mutually acceptable agreement.” 

He said some of the property owners in his organization have told him renters who can pay rent, but are planning to withhold payment in “solidarity” with tenants who cannot.

Lakireddy said he believes there are people taking advantage of the situation.

More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment in a single week last month - and that number is expected to keep rising.

And even if people get help from the federal stimulus bill - the money is not expected to get in their hands for weeks.


Allie Rasmus is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Allie at allie.rasmus@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter@arasmusKTVU