The pandemic has created a trickle-down effect for millions of people across the state. People have lost their jobs and their homes, businesses have folded, and many folks are struggling.
But there’s another segment of the population that has been affected and frequently is overlooked: the landlords.
Prior to March 2020, Angie Khoury and her husband, Jason, had 13 single-family rental properties, including two in Winter Garden. Last year was to be the shift from buying and renovating homes to actually building some capital, she said.
In September 2020, an eviction moratorium was ordered to keep landlords from forcing out their tenants for non-payment. But what helped the tenants hurt the property owners, Khoury said.
Currently, her tenants collectively are $64,000 behind in rent payments.
The Orange County Emergency Rental Assistance Program was set up to provide $33.4 million of federal funds — up to $20,000 per renter — to assist residents unable to pay their rent due to loss of income related to COVID-19 and who were at risk of eviction.
But there were qualifications — and it wouldn’t cover tenants who simply stopped paying their rent after the eviction moratorium was set in place, which was the case for some of Khoury’s renters.
She found herself in survival mode.
As the pandemic continued, Khoury lost her job as a yoga instructor and her husband, who works in Hilton Hotels’ banquet industry, was furloughed. He returned to the job in September but was working an average of just one event per month.
Khoury said she understands many of her tenants have been financially devastated and would have worked with them before evicting them.
“When a tenant doesn’t pay rent, I’m not a heartless person, but at the same time, 18 months now, it’s getting pretty long,” she said of the moratorium.
When Orange County offered a rental assistance grant, Khoury and her property manager sent applications and information to her tenants; only one initially applied.
“We’re average, middle-class people,” she said. “We’re not living this lavish lifestyle. It’s been tough. I have a heart. … I’m not trying to put people out.”
To stay financially above water, Khoury has had to sell some of her rental properties.
“All this hard work and energy we’ve put into it … it’s emotionally draining,” she said. “Selling half of them would lift a weight, and it would reduce the risk. I do have tenants who have paid, and they have carried me though this — but this is not sustainable.”
Khoury said she was not opposed to the eviction moratorium when it was first announced.
“Whenever we saw that it started to continue and it kept being extended and extended and extended, that’s when I had to make some tough decisions,” she said.
Khoury has some tenants who continued to pay their rent on time, others who struggled but managed to get the rent paid and others who simply stopped paying their rent because they were legally allowed to.
“The sad thing is even without the eviction moratorium, I would have never evicted … the ones who reached out,” Khoury said. “I don’t blame the tenants at all. I feel like it was just so poorly managed (by) the government. They were so quick to get on unemployment and to offer the PPP, but with this, I feel like they’re actually creating a bigger crisis. … I have one tenant who is almost $14,000 in the hole — and that’s just one.”
Also feeling the effects is her property manager, who gets paid her 8% after Khoury receives her rent money. She has employees who work for her, Khoury said, and she also has other portfolios besides Khoury’s.
“It’s an extremely stressful situation,” Khoury said. “It’s a lose-lose-lose situation for all of us. … I went from a really good excitement … to a survival mode. It’s heartbreaking for the tenants too. I hesitate to say I’m against the eviction moratorium, because it was a good thing. It’s just going to create more debt.”
‘WE’RE JUST ORDINARY PEOPLE’
There has been a bit of good news for Khoury in the last week.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 26 voted against President Joe Biden’s latest eviction moratorium extension. The decision blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from enforcing the moratorium on evicting renters.
However, Khoury said she isn’t celebrating just yet.
I’m kind of in a sit-and-see situation because … they said evictions could resume not too long ago and then it was reversed,” she said. “How long are we going to play this game of back and forth?
Locally, Khoury has found some recent relief in the form of Orange County’s grant program.
“One tenant had applied for and got approved … for her entire back rent (four months) that she hadn’t paid,” she said. “And they approved three months in advance, too, which was pretty awesome.”
Another tenant who was 12 months behind in rent has applied as well, but an influx of applications means approval could take a while, she said.
“The thing that shocks me the most is I think I gave myself enough padding, when buying the homes and doing repairs,” Khoury said. “I created such a padding in the amount of rate of return that if I had a huge repair come up, it was OK. I never thought in my wildest dreams that the government would be literally tying our hands.
“This is my career, this is how I pay my bills,” she said. “It’s not like we’re a huge corporation. We’re just ordinary people trying to get by as well.”