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5 Things Independent Rental Owners Should Do to Protect their Businesses During COVID-19

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1. Get Relief for Businesses
2. Review New Responsibilities and Benefits for Employers
3. Understand Consumer Reporting, Eviction and Rent Restrictions
4. Create a Business Continuity Plan
5. Discover Additional Operational Guidance

Independent Rental Owners (IROs) may be uncertain about what steps to take to mitigate risk, protect employees, and support customers in the face of the unique challenges presented by COVID-19.

1. Get Relief for Businesses

Federally-funded programs are available to assist you during these uncertain times. In addition to these programs, you may be eligible for state, city, and county resources.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loans

  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans are intended to be partially forgivable and help businesses maintain payroll or make mortgage, lease, and utility payments. Eligibility restrictions and other requirements apply.
  • SBA Debt Relief Measures: The SBA will provide debt relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) & Emergency Economic Injury Grants: Up to $2 million in EDILs are available to qualifying small businesses and nonprofits, at an interest rate of up to 3.75 percent for small businesses. Additionally, small businesses are eligible for a one-time, emergency advance of up to $10,000 to those harmed by COVID-19 within three days of an EIDL application. 

Main Street Lending Program

The Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program will provide up to $600 billion of loans to small- and medium-sized businesses. The program is expected to launch on May 1.

Tax Credits and Deferrals

  • Options for tax relief include:
    • Income tax deadlines for filing and payment are extended until July 15.
    • The employer portion of payroll taxes may be deferred to 2021 or 2022 if you do not take a PPP loan.
  • The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service launched the Employee Retention Credit, designed to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll.
  • Learn more about tax benefits available to the industry through Congress’ COVID-19 relief packages in NAA's member webinar, "Tax Resources for Weathering the COVID-19 Emergency."

In addition to NAA’s litany of resources, utilize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s coronavirus toolkit with a compilation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for businesses and employees.

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2. Review New Responsibilities and Benefits for Employers

Expanded Emergency Family and Medical Leave and Paid Sick Leave Requirements

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3. Understand Consumer Reporting, Eviction and Rent Restrictions

Consumer Reporting

Apartment owners and operators that furnish information about their residents to credit reporting agencies are restricted by new federal law.

  •  If a furnisher agrees to a payment plan for a consumer affected by COVID-19, they must report such obligation or account as “current”, or as the status reported before the accommodation unless the consumer becomes current.
    • Such credit protection ends 120 days after the enactment of the legislation or 120 days after the COVID-19 national emergency declaration is terminated.

Eviction

The CARES Act created a 120-day moratorium on evictions, late fees and other penalties for covered properties, including those:

  • With a federally backed mortgage through the VA, USDA, FHA, HUD, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  • Participating in a covered housing program, such as public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers

Note: While the CARES Act appears to be limited to covered properties and programs, Section 4024 leaves room for an expanded interpretation. NAA is working to close any loopholes from ambiguous language in its Phase 4 advocacy efforts.

The courts will decide on issues of clarity. To ensure compliance with the legislation, NAA highly suggests you work with local counsel to understand your unique responsibilities for the properties in your portfolio.

  • Application and Scope: The temporary moratorium on eviction filings and late fees only applies to evictions for nonpayment of rent, not for other causes.
  • Late Fees: Owners are prohibited from collecting fees during the moratorium period. Once the period ends, late fee provisions would apply if the resident was not current with payments.
  • Notice Requirement: Owners of covered properties may not issue a notice to vacate until the moratorium period expires or before 30 days after the notice.

Note:  Please keep in mind “notice to vacate” has a specific legal meaning determined by jurisdiction. Therefore, you must consult local legal counsel on how to proceed.

We highly recommend you work with local counsel to understand how state and local laws intersect with the moratorium and your unique responsibilities.

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4. Create a Business Continuity Plan

This plan should consider the long-term market implications for your portfolio, including property cash flow; occupancy rates; loans or leverage on the property; lender cooperation—covenant deferral or waiver, payment restructure, interest-only payments; and rental interruption or other insurance without pandemic/epidemic as an exclusion.

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5. Discover Additional Operational Guidance

As we look toward the future, additional guidance should be considered:

  • Transparency in communication is key to reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety for employees and residents, such as in the form of weekly updates.
  • Have a plan in place to address deferred maintenance and how your employees will handle the backlog, in addition to other items such as capital expenditures post-COVID-19.
  • NAA encourages members to follow the CDC for updated recommendations. Before deciding to use or make PPE available, review business policies for compliance with OSHA standards. Train staff on proper usage of such items, including removal, to prevent further exposure. 
  • Rent collection may continue to be challenging in the months ahead. IROs should consider offering payment plans to residents and should make sure that late fee assessments comply with the federal CARES Act, or other state or local executive or emergency order.
    • Stay in contact with residents regarding payment status and provide a list of local assistance programs. 
  • NAA stresses grassroots advocacy, to include contacting your local Member of Congress. Emails are good, but phone calls and virtual meetings are better.
    • This is critical for small business owners, as Members of Congress do not always understand the direct effects that legislative changes have on IROs.
    • Open and ongoing communication between Congress and owners will assist in creating an understanding of our industry and address concerns for upcoming programs.
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Further information on COVID-19-related best practices, guidance or legal compliance resources is available. In addition, NAA highly recommends you contact your state or local apartment association to learn more about the state and local resources available to you.