Dutch Village Apartments Kushner Cos

A man walks past the Dutch Village apartments and townhomes, owned by Kushner Cos., in Baltimore on Monday, July 29, 2019. 

(The Center Square) – The chance of Maryland losing emergency rental assistance funds because the Biden administration reallocates them is low, the head of an association supporting multi-unit apartment owners said.

Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, told The Center Square that Maryland received three rounds of federal funding for emergency rental assistance, CARES Act funding and two rounds of Emergency Rental Assistance funding, but doesn’t see the state losing out on future rental investment.

“I think the likelihood of the Biden administration taking away money from a state like the state of Maryland is almost zero,” Skolnik said. “Especially if they start to improve their performance on getting the funds out on the streets.”

The funding was primarily given to local governments as the state allotted the funding to 24 local jurisdictions, leaving it to them to distribute.

“Unless the assumption was that making that decision was a bad one, I don't know, I think the state has done its job,” Skolnik said.

The state kept some funds that the Department of Housing and Community Development used for the apartment communities the agency helped fund through low-income housing tax credits.

“Then after that, all the rest of it went to the locals,” Skolnik said. “And that's where the sticking point has clearly been how the locals have rolled out.”

Skolnik said counties like Prince George's have done a good job with the funds, but Baltimore City and County are behind, blaming a big part of that on bureaucracy.

The Treasury Department loosened its requirements on local governments to enable quicker distribution of the funds.

“The requirements early in the process were pretty onerous,” he said. “Some of the local jurisdictions have pushed more onerous impediments on themselves.”

The Maryland Multi-Housing Association has partnered with the United Way of Central Maryland to create STEP, the Strategic Eviction Prevention program, he said.

The association and United Way proposed to the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County that they loosen the regulations. The more than 1,000 apartment communities the association represents in Maryland, minus Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, would bundle applications for tenants behind on their rent.

Apartment managers would fill out the documents, get residents’ signatures and send it to the United Way. The United Way would check the documents “with a fine-tooth comb” before sending it to the local government for the emergency funding to stop evictions.

“We don't know yet if the city or the county is going to agree to it, but we are proposing that, and we're waiting to hear from them,” Skolnik said. “So, we'll see if that helps.”

Discussion points he’s heard in the media and in quotes from some tenant advocates is that “there’s going to be a tsunami of evictions,” which he said has been debunked. The number of evictions in September of this year were the lowest since April and declined by 59% compared to September 2019. The data comes from the District Court of Maryland, not tenant advocacy or landlord data.

“So this whole construct of massive numbers of evictions is just not accurate,” he said.

One component overlooked during the pandemic is what’s happening to small businesses running apartment buildings.

“No one ever suggested that grocery stores or supermarkets, or hospitals shouldn't get paid,” Skolnik said. “Right? No one was allowed to go into a Giant or Harris Teeter or Wegmans or Publix or wherever and go get their food for free and walk out. But there's this massive number of people who think that people should be allowed to live in rental housing, if they don't own and not pay their bills.”

Members of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association are willing to do payment plans for people who communicate with them and work something out.

“But if a person's lived in an apartment for literally now working on 18 months, and hasn't made a payment, and hasn't said a word to the person that owns the company that owns the property, why should they be able to live there for free? Should they be able to live there for eternity without paying their bills?” he asked.

People also forget that in a jurisdiction such as Baltimore, if a tenant fails to pay rent it will take six months to get a court date. A district court judge must issue a judgment against the tenant. And then the landlord has to file a writ, which the judge has to grant before the sheriff’s department or constables schedule the eviction. The tenant gets notice of that eviction.

“At any point in that process you can pay the rent and stay and everything stops,” he said.

An apartment community with several hundred units with tenants may weather some tenants paying late. But smaller communities may not, he said.

“If you're a small landlord, if you're a mom-and-pop landlord, and you were in your residence, now your tenant's not paying you. What do you do? You literally could lose the property, because someone's living there without paying rent, and you're still expected to pay your mortgage and pay your bills,” Skolnik said.

He acknowledged mortgage companies were working with landlords during the pandemic. But he said the debts don’t go away.