One local property owner is offering his tenants an immediate reduction in their rent amounts, and he hopes others will do the same as a measure of financial relief amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barry Lee Myers sent a letter to each of his tenants last week notifying them that their rents would be reduced by 10 percent throughout the crisis, or until April 2021 at which point he will re-evaluate.
Myers, the former CEO of AccuWeather, owns "a few dozen" units in the State College and Bellefonte areas with tenants who are both students and non-students, including families.
"I believe we should all help one another during this time and so I am providing a ten percent rent reduction as of April 1, 2020," he wrote in a letter to all of his tenants.
While he said he has not yet addressed the issue of how to handle a tenant who loses their income entirely and is unable to pay a substantial amount of their rent, he said he instituted the immediate reduction "to help people in this time of need" and to set an example.
"I would hope other property owners would follow suit with their plans," Myers said.
His brother, AccuWeather founder and chairman Joel Myers, owns rental properties on the westside of State College managed by Westside Village, with about 250 to 300 mostly Penn State student tenants.
Joel Myers said he sent a letter to each of his tenants offering to forgive the final month of rent in July. Alternatively, they can pay for the remaining four months on their leases and receive a 30 percent discount. He said he wanted to be empathetic because, while student renters still have access to their units, many will likely not return.
"I can't speak for anyone else. It's tough on everyone. There are still mortgages to pay and maintenance and all the other expenses," he said. "But it is a hardship on students and we are trying to do something for them."
How other local property owners will address the economic hardships being brought on by the spread of COVID-19 — or requests from Penn State students who have leases on apartments they will likely not return to — is largely unclear. StateCollege.com reached out to 15 other owners and management companies representing dozens of rental properties in the area. Two said they had no plans for rent relief or special accommodations at this time, one declined comment and nine did not return messages.
A representative for The Rise, 532 E. College Ave., said tenants there who face financial hardship would be asked to pay $100 and work out a payment plan with no late fees assessed through the end of April while apartment management awaits further guidance from its corporate office.
Continental Real Estate Management is not charging late fees next month and will communicate individual requests for modifications to property owners.
"Continental will not be charging late fees in April," Scott Hanna, vice president of Continental Real Estate Management, wrote in an email. "The properties we manage are owned by individual owners and it is up to each owner as to how they will proceed. We have reached out to them and have not heard back from many of them. If individual tenants make requests regarding their rent, we will communicate that to the owner of their property and we will respond to the tenant accordingly."
The Station, 801 Toftrees Avenue, does not have any special accommodations in place currently, but is compiling requests to send to its corporate office for further instruction, said community ambassador Jenna Rutledge.
For homeowners with a mortgage, there has been some measure of federal protection should they face hardship due to the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency have ordered mortgage servicers to stop new foreclosures and evictions and suspend those in progress, offering some protection to millions of people until at least mid-May, according the Washington Post. The directive does not apply to servicers of mortgages not backed by FHFA or HUD's Federal Housing Administration, but they are expected to comply.
Homeowners with federally backed mortgages can also apply for payment forbearance for up to a year.
But there's no federal plan for the more the nation's 43 million renters. Landlords with FHA loans on single-family properties have some protection if renters are unable to pay, but that represents a very small portion of the nation's tenants. Some cities that have the authority to do so have ordered a temporary stop to evictions and others have created rental assistance funds.
Pennsylvania's Supreme Court last week closed courts and ruled that evictions for late rent or mortgage payments were to be halted until at least April 3.
"This Court is aware that the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may cause individuals to suffer a loss of income, which in turn may delay rent payments, mortgage-loan payments, or the like..." the emergency order stated.
At a borough council meeting last week, Councilman Evan Myers asked if the borough had authority to prohibit evictions of people who lose their jobs as a result of business closures during the pandemic.
"I realize that’s also a hardship on the people who own those buildings because they have certain things they have to pay, but it all trickles across," Myers said. "I’m not 100 percent sure what we can do but I think we need to try to do something."
Council members suggested they would advocate for ongoing state and federal efforts to enact an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 crisis.
Douglas Shontz, borough communication specialist, said staff and solicitor Terry Williams were researching whether the borough had the ability to issue its own temporary halt of evictions.
"At this point, we’re not sure but it’s important issue to our community and council," Shontz said.
Editor's note: Joel Myers is the father of StateCollege.com publisher Dan Myers. Barry Lee Myers and Evan Myers are Dan Myers' uncles.