CORONAVIRUS

Landlords, renters grapple with rent as COVID-19 impacts jobs

One Cedar Rapids property manager hopes to inspire others

Stephanie Schumacher is working reduced hours at one job and was laid off from another as restaurants in Iowa closed for
Stephanie Schumacher is working reduced hours at one job and was laid off from another as restaurants in Iowa closed for dining in as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Schumacher’s landlord is offering flexibility to tenants facing job loss or reduced pay. Photographed Thursday in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — While employment is a question mark for Stephanie Schumacher, at least the Cedar Rapids food service worker has confidence her apartment is not in jeopardy.

Schumacher has three jobs and all are at risk due to COVID-19. Her host position at Caucho, a Mexican restaurant that has transitioned to carryout service, is not needed. Her hours at a coffee stand inside Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa have been reduced, and some clients have canceled appointments for her hair stylist services.

“I am not struggling yet,” said Schumacher, 49, of Cedar Rapids. “I haven’t gotten to that point. I have a little cushion. But I also don’t know how long this will this go on. I work with people, and it is so up in the air. Knowing your landlord is willing to work with you and you will not be out on the streets with nowhere to go is reassuring.”

At a time when jobs — hourly and otherwise — are at risk of layoffs, furloughs or reductions, there is uncertainty for renters and landlords how rent will get paid.

Schumacher’s landlord — Eric Gutschmidt of Gutschmidt Properties — has told tenants he would forgive their rent if they lose their jobs or have hours scaled back due to the global health pandemic. Across 60 units in 45 properties, Gutschmidt estimated 10 percent of his tenants already are impacted economically. And over the next 90 days, that could grow to 30 percent.

“For the indefinite future, if tenants can’t pay rent (because of COVID-19), that is fine,” Gutschmidt said. “We are banding together. This company is not just me. It’s the properties, staff and all of the tenants. It could not exist without all of those components. Without tenants, we are nothing.”

He hopes to inspire other landlords.

The Iowa Supreme Court has postponed civil cases, which include evictions, until at least May 4 except in cases where the tenant poses a “clear and present danger.”

That does not mean eviction notices won’t still be filed for processing after the moratorium is lifted, said Laura O’Leary, president of the Landlords of Linn County, which has about 200 members representing 13,000 units.

“Rent is not being suspended” across the board, she said, noting misinformation circulating on social media.

The topic of rent received a lot of attention at a Thursday meeting of the association.

Landlords were planning differing approaches to the expected challenges. Some planned to waive late fees temporarily or work one-on-one with individuals on payment plans for those financially impacted.

The extent of the impact to tenants will be better known on April 1, when the next rent payment is due.

“Landlords still have a number of expenses that don’t go away,” she said, noting mortgage payments, taxes, lawn care, snow removal and more.

Bob Mitchell, association treasurer, has 20 rental units. He has not yet heard concerns from tenants. He plans to provide his tenants with a list of options for rental assistance, which is available through some churches and social service agencies, he said.

The Affordable Housing Network, which has about 830 units spread across the Cedar Rapids area, is finalizing a 90-day policy to give to residents in the “very near future.” Among the changes will be waiving late fees in April and May and also working with anyone needing to set up a partial payment plan or pay rent late on a case-by-case basis.

“It is important to us to work with tenants who may be impacted by loss of employment or income due to COVID-19 … to ensure our residents have options to maintain stable housing during this time,” said Kim Eiler, director of the Affordable Housing Network.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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