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Concern grows for May rent payments during COVID-19

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While some local property management companies have experienced minimal issues with tenants paying rent for April, they’re more concerned about May rent payments as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the community.

Nathan Chambers, manager of Chambers Realty, said May is a concern because most people had money from income in March to make their April rent. Additionally, he said “the government has been dragging” on providing people with unemployment benefits and on businesses receiving funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, which has now been exhausted until Congress appropriates more money.

Chambers said most tenants in their units aren’t service workers and haven’t been laid off. Nonetheless, it’s still too early to see the true impact.

He added that “we’re going to figure it out for them” if tenants need help. And despite the impact of the pandemic, Chambers said he rented 10 units over the last few weeks and now only has three vacant units.

“We’re suffering a little, but not as bad as it could be,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

Victor Wallace, president of Wallace Realty, said he’s seen the “normal amount of delinquencies” from residential tenants that’s typical of each month. Wallace said he’s surprised the company hasn’t had more people call and discuss situations that would prevent them from making their rent payment on time.

Wallace said people tend to pay utilities and rent and buy groceries because “they don’t want that problem hanging over their head.”

For the commercial tenants Wallace leases to, however, such as Wendy’s and Mambo Grill, Wallace said the company has had to work with ones who are shuttered or not operating.

Ellen Robertson, Fisher Realty Leasing manager, said her concern is for factory workers who might have been laid off in the middle of April, which could prevent them from making May rent.

Part of the challenge for property managers is finding the balance between working with tenants while also being a steward of the owners’ money, Robertson said. Fisher Realty manages The Courtyard, Forest Village, Salisbury Square, 516 Flats and 132 Flats.

“I’ll help anyone, but rent has to be priority,” Robertson said.

She added that it’s important for tenants to remember their rent money goes toward providing amenities, making repairs, mowing the lawn and paying taxes and mortgages.

“When rent’s not paid, it all trickles down,” she said.

Chambers said, as a property manager, his job is to work with tenants on behalf of the landlord, and thus, has developed friendships and relationships with the tenants.

“It’s burdensome and heavy on our hearts,” Chambers said about enforcing rent payment during this time, “but the point is that folks have got to be smart with their money.”

Chambers and Fisher Realty, like other properties, have provided resources to tenants regarding unemployment benefits and job opportunities if they’ve been laid off.

But an issue both property managers and law enforcement have experienced is an influx of misinformation regarding whether tenants are obligated to pay rent amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late March, Chambers issued a notice to all tenants that the governor’s order didn’t allow for people to not pay rent. The letter stated that tenants must be smart with their money and continue to pay rent or face an eviction case when the courts are reopened.

Lt. Jason Owens, who works in the Civil Division of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, said the division has received calls daily from landlords and tenants saying people aren’t paying rent or that people are under the impression they don’t have to pay rent during this time. The Civil Division handles eviction cases every day, he said, and anticipates it’ll be “pretty busy” when the court proceedings order is lifted based on the calls that have been received.

Currently, eviction cases aren’t being assigned court dates, and court proceedings have been postponed to June 1 by the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court in an effort to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order. The executive order prohibits utility shutoffs, late fees and evictions. The executive order also states that the North Carolina Attorney General strongly encourages property owners to work with tenants “to the best of their abilities” to implement payment plans and avoid evictions.

But eviction cases can still be prepared during this time if, perhaps, a tenant isn’t paying rent and hasn’t spoken with the property manager. However, no eviction cases have been prepared currently by Fisher Realty, Chambers Realty or Wallace Realty.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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