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How Are Landlords Responding to Coronavirus Fears?

By Regina Gables | March 15, 2020

As of January 2019, American households owed roughly $9.12 trillion in mortgage debt. Considering the increasing costs of housing nationwide, it's no surprise many people can't feasibly pay for their homes. That, among other things, is as good a reason as any for many people to continue renting. But while that may be a boon for landlords, many commercial and residential property owners and managers are being required to take an active role in protecting their tenants and their investments from harm.

That might sound rather commonsense to some, but containing the spread of infectious diseases isn't something that landlords would ordinarily have on their to-do list. That's all changed now that the newest coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is making its way around the world.

With whole countries being essentially shut down thanks to the virus, many people are hesitant to leave their homes. Although 23% of employees did at least some of their work remotely in 2015, that number will certainly increase in 2020, as countless businesses and even educational facilities are mandating that meetings, classes, and other responsibilities can be conducted from home. Other things are changing, too: people are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, as well as rescheduling meet-ups and backing out of travel plans.

Property owners have to roll with the punches and make adjustments, too. Commercial landlords and property owners are overhauling their cleaning efforts in order to satisfy CDC guidance, to minimize consumer abandonment, and to avoid the cancelation of major events. Although the use of synthetic polymers has exploded in the decades since 1940, landlords and tenants alike need to scrub down surfaces where the virus can thrive; one recent study revealed that coronaviruses can live on glass, metal, and plastic for anywhere from two hours to nine days. In other words, commercial landlords need to be diligent about scrubbing frequently used surfaces, adding hand sanitizer stations, and increasing mandatory cleaning efforts overall.

Residential landlords are being impacted, as well. While they might not be responsible for cleaning the units they rent out, landlords are still dealing with the indirect impact the coronavirus is having on the general public. Not everyone is able to work from home, of course -- and with so many events being postponed, the financial effects could be dire for many. Some Americans are fearing bankruptcy or even eviction as a result. And while some nations have already put safeguards in place to ensure their citizens aren't kicked out of their homes as a result of the pandemic, the U.S. is not necessarily among them. The cities of San Francisco and San Jose have already approved measures to put moratoriums on evictions, thus preventing landlords from being able to kick tenants out due to coronavirus-related income losses. That might not be so great for property owners, but it's better than potentially making the outbreak worse as a result of mass evictions.

Real estate agents are also beginning to see how the coronavirus might have negative effects. One agent in Florida had his client recently cancel a showing of a multimillion-dollar condo to a prospective buyer. The reason? The buyer was from New York City -- and had expressed they were feeling a bit under the weather. Other would-be buyers are suspending their home searches until both the news cycle and the spread of the virus calms down. Sales in progress have even been put on pause until more is known about COVID-19. And while some agents haven't seen a difference in the past month or two, others are remaining cautious about what might happen in the near future.

The mantra of many property owners and renters alike: "you can never be too careful." It doesn't seem like a great time to take a risk, so it might be best to play it safe for now. Whether that means overhauling your cleaning regimen, putting a hold on evictions, or staying put for now, it's clear that those in real estate are going to have to roll with the punches and err on the side of caution.

Regina Gables is a Realty Biz News Contributor and a freelance writer. With a background in Journalism, she enjoyswriting on real estate topics such as home buying, real estate technology and opinionated editorials.
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