Utah’s housing costs were a problem before COVID-19 and sudden record unemployment, with public officials and housing advocates working on possible solutions to a shortage of affordable properties.
With 10 million people filing for unemployment and far more expected nationwide, national reports show nearly a third of renters didn’t pay during the first week of April.
Francisca Blanc with the Utah Housing Coalition says the coming months will likely be worse.
“Specifically May and June will be very tough,” Blanc says.
But Blanc and other housing advocates say the solution lies in clear communication between renters, landlords and banks.
“Communication. It’s crucial at this point.”
Tenants who cannot afford rent because of the public health crisis and its economic impacts cannot be evicted prior to May 15, according to an executive order from Governor Gary Herbert.
That doesn’t mean tenants can ignore their landlords.
Communication needs to be specific and written, according to a joint press release from the Utah Housing Coalition, Action Utah and the Crossroads Urban Center.
“If you or a loved one is suffering from health issues or loss of wages due to COVID-19, we recommend consistent correspondence with your landlord as well as keeping detailed documentation of your changing circumstances,” the release said.
That documentation should include proof of your loss of income.
The groups also warn against signing a new agreement called a “lease addendum.” Such agreements are not required by the governor’s order and could bind renters to further terms that limit their rights.
In their words:
“First and foremost, we encourage tenants to write landlords a letter, explaining your situation and attach proof of lost wages or increased costs (childcare, healthcare, etc.). Renters should remain willing and eager to come to an agreement on how to make later rent payments. Unless you have already received unemployment benefits and/or the federal stimulus check, be careful about payment schedule agreements. Ultimately, you have until May 15th to figure out a plan that works for you and your landlord. Send information in an email and follow up with a phone call with your landlord to confirm they have received it.“
Blanc says the biggest mistake would be for renters to ignore the problem out of a sense of fear or shame.
“Tenants might be panicking because they know they don't have the income and somehow they're just waiting for someone to knock on their door,” said Blanc.
Blanc emphasizes the crisis has been so widespread, many landlords are experiencing the same anxiety as their tenants. Both will make it through more easily if they realize that.