31% Can’t Pay the Rent: ‘It’s Only Going to Get Worse’

First it was the waitress whose restaurant closed. Then the waiter, the bartender, the substitute teacher, the hairdresser, the tattoo artist and the Walgreens manager.

One after the other, the tenants called and emailed their landlord, Bruce Brunner, to say they were out of work and the rent was going to be late. A week after the bill was due, some two dozen of Mr. Brunner’s 130 tenants had lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. He’s working out payment plans and using security deposits as a stopgap while directing tenants to the emerging patchwork of local, state and federal assistance programs.

“Six weeks ago, you could name your price and you’d have multiple people applying,” said Mr. Brunner, who lives in Minneapolis, where he owns and manages 20 duplexes and triplexes across the city. “Now you’re deferring and working out payment plans, and it’s only going to get worse.”

One week after the first of the month, tenants nationwide are already struggling with rents. In interviews with two dozen landlords — including companies with tens of thousands of units, nonprofit developers who house the working poor, and mom-and-pop operators living next door to their tenants — property owners say their collections have plunged as much of the economy has shut down to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Daryl Carter, chief executive of Avanath Capital, a Southern California company with 10,000 units across the country, said his buildings reduced April rents by 10 percent. Deidre Schmidt, chief executive of CommonBond Communities, a nonprofit affordable-housing provider with about 6,000 apartments in the Midwest, expects as many as 40 percent of her tenants, most of them hourly workers with low incomes, to fall behind on their monthly bills. Joseph Razavian, a part-time landlord in Atlanta who works at a software company but owns a duplex and a triplex as investments, is bolstering his reserve fund by putting off nonessential maintenance like fresh paint and new rain gutters.

“The whole market just changed,” said Gustavo Lopez, a property manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.