COVID-19 Landlord Survey
About this Project
In June 2021, Albany Cities RISE program staff initiated an informal survey project intending to gauge COVID-19 impacts and community needs among landlords and tenants. Data collection continued throughout the summer and fall of 2021. The following report reflects the landlord portion of the survey.
Report: COVID-19 Albany Landlord Survey
Published on January 7, 2022
Of the 162 landlords who responded to this survey, 30.9% identified as female, and 60.5% identified as male. 9.3% of participants declined to state their gender.
The majority of landlords who responded to this survey were middle-aged adults, with participants aged 35-44 making up 27.8% of respondents and those aged 45-54 comprising an additional 21.0%. Older landlords were the next largest segment, with landlords over the age of 65 making up 16.0% of participants; 14.8% of respondents were 55-64 years of age. A small number of young landlords were represented in this sample, with just 15.4% of participants being under the age of 25.
Race & Ethnicity
The majority of respondents identified as white (57.7%), followed by those identifying as Black / African American (11.7%) or Asian / Asian American (6.1%). 4.3% of participants identified themselves as being Hispanic / Latinx, and an additional 3.1% of landlords identified as belonging to some other racial or ethnic group. 17.8% of survey respondents declined to state their race or ethnicity.
Most respondents (85.2%) reported being residents of New York State, with approximately 81.5% being local to the Capital District. More than half (59.7%) of landlords surveyed resided in the City of Albany. The most common zip codes among participants who reported an Albany address included 12208 (n = 27), 12203 (n = 19), and 12210 (n = 16).
Three landlords (1.9%) lived in the Lower Hudson Valley, and three (1.9%) were residents of New York City or Long Island. One landlord reported living in New Jersey (0.6%); another was from California (0.6%).
Owner-occupant landlords made up nearly one-third of respondents, while those who did not owner-occupy made up the remaining 65.1%.
Number of Units Owned
Most participants (70.1%) reported owning ten or fewer units, with 51.8% owning four or fewer units and 32.9% managing two or fewer apartments. Only 12.8% of landlords reported owning more than thirty units.
Figure 1: Number of Units Owned by Albany Landlords, 2021 Survey
Albany landlords with arrears reported an average loss of about $28,600 in rental income, which represents a mean of approximately $3,600-7,400 owed per tenant household.
"I'm on the verge of defaulting on mortgages and can barely pay my taxes due to 18 months of no cashflow. This is how I feed my family."
In total, 65.8% of survey respondents reported having at least one tenant who was behind on rent, although some landlords may have had tenants with arrears that were later paid through rental assistance programs. 59.4% of landlords whose tenants owed arrears reported having just one or two tenants who were behind on rent. On the other hand, 15.1% of landlords with tenants who were behind on rent reported that ten or more of their tenants owed arrears.
This finding is bolstered by the fact that the average amount enumerated in Albany non-payment eviction filings during 2021 was $6,283.83, vs. $2,008.05 in 2020 and $1,114.08 in 2019 (source). When considered together, this data suggests that the eviction moratoria implemented during COVID-19 has led to greater amounts of rental arrears; tenants impacted by the pandemic have been able to stay in their homes, even if they are unable or unwilling to pay rent. While some tenants applied for rental assistance, many others did not, for various reasons. The steadily-increasing amounts of rental debt owed by tenants seems to have contributed greatly to the decline in landlord-tenant relationships.
Figure 2: Average Eviction Filing Arrears vs. Average Monthly Rents - Albany, NY, 2016-2021
Only 19.8% of landlords with tenants owing arrears reported receiving rental assistance on their tenants’ behalf during the pandemic. Some landlords (29.2% of landlords whose tenants owed arrears) reported that their tenants did not apply for assistance, while others (13.2% of landlords whose tenants owed arrears) stated that their tenants had applied and were denied. A handful of landlords (5.7% of landlords whose tenants owed arrears). Surprisingly, approximately one-third of landlords whose tenants owed arrears did not know if their tenant(s) had applied for rental assistance.
Figure 3: Rental Assistance Utilization Among Albany Landlords, 2021
Resulting Changes to Rental Practices
Increasing monthly rental charges was among the most common rental practice changes cited by landlords; several of these property owners explained that they were implementing higher rents in order to recover financially from the pandemic, while a few others were using this to effectively screen out lower-income applicants. In order to minimize potential losses, a number of property owners stated that they now use stricter rental screening criteria to evaluate potential tenants. Some examples given included requiring higher credit scores and implementing higher income limits for applications.
"Because it is difficult to evict tenants that do not pay rent, I am not going to rent to any tenant that does not have excellent credit scores."
A number of landlords (7.4%) opined that they are considering selling some or all of their properties, while others had already listed at least one building for sale. The most common reasons given for this included pandemic-related financial losses, inability to maintain the properties, and the passage of legislation perceived as unfavorable. A few landlords suggested that, while they were not yet considering selling off their properties, they were more inclined to allow their units to sit vacant and unrented until the eviction moratorium had expired.
“I was too afraid to take a chance on someone I couldn't remove if they couldn't pay.”
A small number of landlords expressed that they were likely to defer maintenance due to the financial losses they had incurred. At least one landlord suggested that, in the future, property owners would be quicker to initiate legal action against their tenants (as opposed to working with them) because of the current eviction court backlog.
COVID-19 Eviction Practices
Only one-third of landlords stated that they were not planning on filing an eviction against any of their tenants once the New York State moratorium was lifted. On the other hand, 63.2% of landlords expressed concrete intentions of evicting at least one tenant as soon as they were able to. Over half of landlords (52.9%) reported that they had already filed an eviction against at least one tenant since March 2020. Approximately 3% of landlords opined that they were unsure of what they would do when the moratorium ends, while a number of property owners did not respond to this item.
Figure 4: Intentions of Albany Landlords Following NYS Eviction Moratorium, 2021
The statewide eviction moratorium was clearly a source of frustration for many respondents, with more than 7% of landlords mentioning it in their comments without being prompted to do so; the word "moratorium" came up at least 16 times across the 162 responses.
Perspectives on Evictions in Albany
In total, more than half of landlords (52.2%) reported that they had ever initiated an eviction proceeding against a tenant in the City of Albany. The majority of respondents (76.3%) felt that it was more difficult to obtain an eviction in Albany compared to other cities nationwide. Many landlords (71.3%) also expressed similar sentiments about Albany evictions being more difficult than those in other cities within New York State.
Common landlord complaints about the eviction process in Albany included:
- The eviction case backlog that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic
- Difficulties in understanding the court process or feelings that the process was unclear
- The amount of time required to evict a tenant
- The amount of money required to evict a tenant
- Perceived inefficiencies in case scheduling and processing and/or court proceedings
Many landlords offered feedback or provided ideas for streamlining eviction court processes. Some of their suggestions included:
- Offering escrow for rental payments through the Court
- Hiring more court staff to increase capacity
- Implementing online filing for case documents
- Giving fewer adjournments to tenants
- Ending the eviction moratorium
- Providing legal support for landlords who cannot afford it
Relationships & Attitudes
Across the board, many landlords reported significant drops in the quality of their relationships with their tenants due to COVID-19, with 45.5% of property owners observing noticeably worsened situations. To the contrary, fewer than 4% of landlords felt that their relationships with their tenants had improved over the course of the pandemic.
"Some of the tenants have become a lot less respectful to our property...I’m not sure where this came from exactly, but a fair [number] of tenants have the strong belief that they do not need to pay rent."
Figure 5: Distribution of Albany Landlord-Tenant Relationship Quality Ratings, Pre-Pandemic vs. Present
There did seem to be a significant connection between whether or not a tenant had received rental assistance during the pandemic and their landlord's attitudes about the relationship. Among landlords whose tenants had applied for and received assistance, average landlord-tenant relationship quality scores were 3.37 (on a five-point scale, with one representing a poor relationship and five representing an excellent one). On the other hand, landlords whose tenants did not apply for assistance gave their landlord-tenant relationships a 2.74 rating on average. Similarly, landlords whose tenants applied for assistance and were denied rated their relationships at 2.75, on average.
While many landlords and tenants experienced increased animosity during the COVID-19 pandemic, other landlords expressed compassion towards their tenants. One of the important protective factors in preserving these relationships seemed to be maintaining communication, even in the face of financial or other difficulties.
"Several of my tenants are struggling in various ways - the pandemic and other issues they struggle with have hit them hard. We still have a very good relationship, but their struggles make everything harder for all of us."
On the other hand, a significant number of landlords and tenants experienced communication breakdowns during the pandemic, which negatively impacted their relationships; many many property owners expressed frustration with renters they described as being "radio silent."
"The tenants that I have to remind and chase to ask for payment usually don’t answer the phone and don’t communicate when things start to break, because they don’t want to be asked about rent. So they [wait] until things are completely broken."
“Us vs. Them”
A significant number of landlords expressed feelings of persecution or similar themes in their written comments. In total, nearly a quarter of landlords expressed such perceptions. These sentiments were often hallmarked by words and phrases such as: "unfair", "one-sided", "taking advantage", "abusing/abusive", "always/never", and "anti/pro" (e.g. "pro-tenant" or "anti-landlord." The following are some examples of these statements:
- "[In] Albany the [eviction] process is more political and less legal and that makes it hard and unfair."
- "It's [too] one sided, the city focus (sic) [too] much on bad landlords and not bad tenants."
- "Tenants have the ability to misuse the current laws in their favor, and it is widespread knowledge."
- "They have taken advantage of the moratorium and not having to pay."
- "[Always] giving tenants extension and deals, but never helping landlord out with rent."
- "Give landlords back there (sic) rights!"
- "Tenants learn all the ways from the free tenant services how to avoid and delay payment. Then they leave in the middle of the night."
- "[They] abused the system and suffered no true COVID hardship."
It is clear from the way that this segment of landlords talks about their tenants that they have formed a clear delineation between "us" and "them." Their characterizations of tenants are often shaped by sweeping generalizations that paint all tenants in a bad light and portray landlords as victims of a situation over which they have no control.
"Everyone in Albany assumes tenants are wonderful and landlords are evil. That's why almost every landlord I know is wanting to sell their houses in Albany as soon as possible."
COVID-19 has presented a barrage of challenges for Albany residents across the board, and it is clear that the pandemic has already had substantial impacts on the rental housing market. Small, local landlords, many of whom have been economically impacted by COVID-19 themselves, grapple with bills and the costs of property maintenance as as their tenants struggle to pay rent. As these issues continue to increase, tensions flare and relationships between landlords and tenants fray, leading to decreased housing stability for tenants and feelings of injustice for landlords. Many landlords, having been "burned" by lost income during the pandemic, are now altering their rental practices, putting safe, affordable housing further out of reach for Albany tenants.