Rent in the time of COVID

Landlords and tenants – if you haven't already worked out accomodations for rent during this pandemic, you should do so now. The COVID pandemic is likely to continue longer than any of us expect, but even if it doesn't, it is better to be prepared with an agreement in place for paying rent while tenants may not be able to work or receive a normal paycheck. It is in everyone's best interest to have agreements that manage the problem, rather than enforcing old agreements based on work and activity that many people simply can't do right now.

It should be evident why this is good for tenants, but it is also good for landlords. As a practical matter, it is likely to take at least as long to enforce the terms of a rental agreement as it is for tenants to be able to return to work. And it'll likely be harder to find new tenants than before. Making changes now helps landlords keep good tenants, and keep tenants from choosing to completely skip payments because they know or expect that they can't make full payments for the duration of the pandemic. Working together helps everyone. There are numerous possible options for adjusting rent, which can be combined for even better effect. Some are straightforward, but other, creative options based on the unique circumstances of tenants and landlords can often be the best at accommodating everyone. Here's a few straightforward options to get you started:


A. Reduction – a landlord can offer a flat reduction, such as 100$ or 10%, for the months while the pandemic is active (e.g while a stay-at-home order is in effect, or businesses are closed). If a landlord has good tenants that will have trouble paying due to COVID, lowering the rent will help you keep good tenants while ensuring some rent is collected. If tenants cannot afford the entire amount, either this month or in the coming months, they may choose to pay nothing, which may never be recouped. It is better for everyone to work with the practical reality of this pandemic, remembering that the closure of businesses is neither the landlord nor the tenant's fault.


B. Forbearance – a landlord can offer to forbear a set amount, such as 500$ or 50%, of the rent until after the pandemic has passed and tenants can return to work. This means that the entire rent is still expected to be paid, but only part during the pandemic and the rest can be on a payment plan after we've all returned to work. This kind of agreement means a landlord wouldn't consider a tenant late on payment if they paid the agreed lower amount of rent on time. Tenants would then need to repay the remainder after returning to work, probably starting a month after returning to work. Again, such agreements help keep good tenants paying what they can.


C. Exchange – tenants can exchange work for a reduction in rent. For example, tenants can perform yard maintenance, repair work, or make improvements for a predetermined reduction in rent. But not all exchanged work need be in relation to the property. A homebrewer may provide beer for rent reduction, a marketer provide advice and analysis on promoting the landlord's business, or any other exchange of skills, knowledge, or labor the tenant may have that the is useful to the landlord.


Such agreements should be in writing, but that can be as simple as emails with each persons' name. The terms should be clear, which usually means simple writing in short sentences. If something isn't clear, ask. For tenants, if you agree to terms, send an email saying you agree, even if it seems weird to do so. The best is to repeat what you understand the agreement to be, and say you agree to it.

Finally, these agreements should be for the duration of the pandemic. Trying to decide each month makes it hard for both landlords and tenants, because neither can plan or be assured they will be fine in the coming month. Increased stress also makes us more susceptible to illness, which is exactly what we don't want during a pandemic.

None of us caused this to happen, so we should be kind to each other and work together to get through this with minimal trouble. Everyone has bills and expenses, and everyone is being affected by COVID one way or the other. Reaching agreement to modify rent during this time can help both landlords and tenants pay their bills, keep a good relationship, and help all of us get through this.

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