Landlords are left to fend for themselves: LA apartment manager on lack of protections

The federal moratorium on evictions expires today. However, Governor Gavin Newsom extended California’s ban through the end of September. In LA, Mayor Eric Garcetti added even more protection for renters — with a $100 million renter relief program. 

However, help directly aimed at landlords has been scant. It’s easy to think landlords are rich and will survive economically. But many are not. Some rent out maybe one or two units in a building they live in. Maybe the rent is their only source of income.

KCRW speaks with Evelyn Garcia, who manages a seven-unit apartment building in South LA. Her father owns the building and lives in it too.

KCRW: Tell us about this building. How did your father come to own it?

Evelyn Garcia: “My father got laid off. And he went ahead and refinanced his home and decided that perhaps this was something he could get himself to keep himself busy while he stopped working.  … His regular employment … was sheet metal. And he decided to purchase this.

… This is his only source of income. Yes, he went ahead and purchased it with the funding from his primary home and his retirement savings.”

What happened when COVID struck and people had to stay home and stop working? Did anyone stop paying the rent in your building?

“Yes, they certainly did. A lot of my tenants were unfortunately unable to pay the rent because of COVID. It's been affecting us, but we're willing to work with our tenants, and we've been really flexible with them. 

But at this point, it's mixed feelings because we love our tenants, we've known them for many years, and we treat them as our family. So we're trying to help them as much as we can. But then you get those feelings … who's helping us — in order for us to continue helping them?”

Have any tenants moved out?

“They have. Some of them were very confused at the beginning of the COVID and didn't know [if] we were going to evict, which we assured them we weren't. But they wanted to go ahead and save money, so it was easier for them to relocate.” 

Were you able to find new tenants? 

“We have not. It's been so complicated to find any tenants right now. ... The vacancies that we do have, the funding’s not there. We just simply don't have the money to go ahead and renovate them. So that's one of the challenges, especially when all our tenants are usually Section Eight participants. They stick around for over five years or more. … The damage of the unit, it's more extent [extensive] versus somebody living there for a year, two years.” 

So you have to do a lot of renovations to make the apartments ready for new tenants?

“Correct. And right now, we just don't have the money because we're not receiving our rentals, and weren't able to even pay your mortgage at this point.”

Are you working out mortgage payments out with the bank?

“Yes, we've already spoken to the mortgagor. And thankfully we got a six month extension. And since our bank isn't federally owned, or it's not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, unfortunately it's a private bank. Everything is kind of up in the air. And I know that they have no obligation to assist us. I just don't know what's going to happen after six months, because we haven't gotten a straight answer from them. So anything could happen. We could go into foreclosure after six months from now.”

How would you like city or state lawmakers to help you?

“I would love for them just to acknowledge the fact that we're not rich. …  Mom and Pop landlords are not incredibly rich. We're not making much money. We're here to help our community. And all we want is the same. We want help. We want to be recognized as humans as well. We have families. We have bills to pay, food to put on the table as well. We're just like any other person who's also struggling. 

Everybody says we're in this together, but I kind of feel that landlords are being hanged to dry, I mean left out to fend for themselves.”

In Sacramento, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would bar evictions for past-due rent that was accrued during this crisis. And then tenants would have up to 15 months after this emergency declaration has ended to make payment arrangements. What do you think of this idea?

“Anything could happen in 15 months, unfortunately. I mean, as much as I would love to assist and help my fellow tenants, and help everyone who's struggling, but we're also struggling. 

If they're willing to extend this for 15 months, I would like to know how the city, the mayor, council members, legislature or assembly members are going to help and assist us. 

Because 15 months is a long time. And unfortunately, we don't have that type of money to lend. We don't have that type of money to wait 15 months. … I might not have a property 15 months from now.”

—Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin