Small landlords have been struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public attention has been focused on the eviction crisis as there are many tenants who have lost their jobs and cannot pay the rent. However, there is little information on how the countries eight million independent landlords are managing. Over 75% of these landlords are “small landlords” also referred to as mom-and-pop landlords, which form the backbone of the rental housing market.

Addressing the topic is Maeve Elise Brown, executive director and founder of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, graduate of UCLA Law School and public interest attorney. Brown explains: “We are a statewide non-profit law office, we provide free legal services to low and moderate-income people. We have a broad anti-discrimination mission. We see a lot of people of color, who are small landlords approaching us for guidance. Over the last two years we have seen 20% African American, 20% Asian, 35% older adults, older single women 25% Latinos who are mom-and-pop landlords come in our offices and ask for guidance. Their properties are self-managed. Most landlords have very little information, yet they are a key source of affordable housing, but they are not connected to any support systems. They need to be able to gather information and have their questions answered.”  

Jung Hyun Choi, a senior research associate with the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, who studies urban inequality, focusing on housing, urban economics and disadvantaged populations in the housing market adds: “Small rental units account for about half of rental stocks (2.3 million properties). There is not a lot of data in this space, so we partnered with Avail, which is a platform that sells services to do-it-yourself mom-and-pop landlords manage units and collect rent for over 53,000 properties. In a landlord and tenant survey done, 36% of tenants who specified their race/ethnicity were Black and 10% were Hispanic. In an August 2020 survey, we see Black and Hispanic landlords have faced greater financial challenges amidst the pandemic. We also saw that less than a third of tenants and less than half of landlords are aware of federal rental assistance. Some of the barriers faced by landlords when applying for rental assistance were having to waive evictions during the period of assistance, communicating with tenants, and uncertainty about receiving the rental assistance payment. The top three answers from tenants were uncertainty about receiving rental assistance payment, finding available rental assistance and complicated eligibility criteria.”

John Yen Wong, founding chairman of the Asian Real Estate Association of America, broker for Intero Services Better Homes & Gardens adds: “I I grew up in Chinatown, the Mission District in San Francisco and my parents in their mid- 50s purchased their first home. I have been a realtor for over 40 years and have owned some small properties and have an experience being a housing provider and a tenant as well.  Assembly bill AB-3088: COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 was passed, and it states tenants cannot be evicted if they cannot pay rent between March 1st 2020 to January 31st 2021 due to COVID-19, but they must pay 25% between September 1st 2020 and January 2021. Now, in 2021, assembly bill SB 91: Moratorium Extension and State Rental Assistance Program passed. In terms of eligibility, it is for households that fall under the 50% median income. There are funds that are now available. It is very important to have small mom and pop landlords as they help keep rent prices reasonable.”

Jie Wong, a small Bay Area landlord explains her own experience as a landlord: “I own three properties in Oakland, California. One is a duplex. My family’s income comes from our rental properties. I know COVID-19 affected everyone and no one could escape this. I think I have a very good relationship with all my tenants. I tried to get information for my tenants so they know what their options are. I had one tenant who could not pay the rent, and he felt very guilty. I understood him and he said he would be leaving back to his country, Guatemala. He had his friend move in who, did not pay rent, so I had to go to court, but the courts were closed. So, I spent months waiting. It Is very frustrating since that tenant is still there to this day. If there was a safe way for the courts to be functioning during this time that would have been great.”