Opinion: Iowans shouldn’t have to pay rent during COVID-19 pandemic

With nearly 100,000 Iowans having applied for unemployment, a cancellation of rent payment for April and May is both essential and ethical.

Photo+Illustration+by+Raquele+Decker.

Raquele Decker

Photo Illustration by Raquele Decker.

Becca Bright, Columnist


Rent was due in two weeks, but I had been furloughed from two jobs. I had decided to contact my landlord early, hoping for any kind of advanced leniency — or even cancellation of rent. His answer was that his obligations as owner of the house were still demanded of him.

“I expect payment in full,” my landlord replied. I was seething.

When April 1 came, I did pay my rent — but only because my family had sent me the money. A huge portion of Iowans do not have this security.

Out of all that the novel coronavirus has affected, apparently the business of a landlord is immune.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, approximately 3.1 percent of Iowans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last week — that’s nearly 100,000 people. As a move to contain the spread of COVID-19, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has mandated nonessential businesses — retail stores, restaurants, bars — to remain closed until at least April 30. This is likely to be extended as confirmed cases in Iowa are rising by the dozens daily.

The next legislative decision that state and local governments must make is to freeze or cancel all rent payments for the months of April and May. While Reynolds has placed a moratorium on evictions until April 16, this is not enough.

Furloughed Iowans should not have to pay for housing during a global pandemic. It’s unethical.

As a community, we are all facing a pandemic that is potentially fatal for many. Thousands of hard-working people are without any income. A sudden loss of financial stability is terrifying. The pandemic has already displaced University of Iowa students in a multitude of ways. Many do not have the security of savings, or family support, or a safe home close enough to return to.

For property-management companies to still expect rent payments during a crisis of sickness and mass unemployment is both unrealistic and cruel.

This demand of pay by landlords is no longer a necessary one. Within that moratorium, Reynolds also froze property taxes. Most property managements use rental payments, in part, to pay off such property taxes, or mortgages.

Many UI students have remained in their Iowa City living spaces during this pandemic, and most are still being expected to pay their rent — seemingly without regard to Reynolds’ motions.

What’s particularly disheartening is the realization that such resources as unemployment benefits — even stimulus checks from the $2.2 trillion relief package — may be seen by landlords as a direct deposit for rent payment. This aid should be for essential goods, such as food and health needs. Many college students aren’t even eligible to receive a check, which means they are receiving no government help during this pandemic.

It should go without saying that landlords and employees of property management companies need income to live, too. However, expecting an income of rent payment during a time where millions of Americans have lost their source of income is unrealistic.

As a reminder, unemployment benefits and qualifying for a stimulus check is a resource for landlords just as it is for tenants.

However, these aids are unlikely to be enough for both parties. This is why canceling rent payments for April and May is a necessary rescue for Iowans — tenant and landlord — from even more financial loss. Government has the power to freeze rent and taxes.

From Canada to El Salvador, other governments are exercising their authority to cancel certain payments, such as rent, to ease the financial aftermaths of COVID-19. Why can’t the United States? If our economy is the priority, which seems to the message of the Trump administration, then creating a national rent moratorium would help to stabilize the housing market as well as landlords and tenants’ livelihoods.

Even if this needed moratorium is enacted into law, property management companies still shouldn’t have to rely on the instruction of the government to make a moral decision.

The risk of increased homelessness in the U.S. should never be an effect of a pandemic.

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