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Coronavirus hits home for renters, landlords alike
The Vista
Many residents at The Vista student housing complex are seeking a way out of their leases as Stanislaus State has moved all classes online prompting many out-of-town students to return home earlier than planned (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every facet of everyday life, leaving many renters, landlords and property management companies uncertain about the future.

At Stanislaus State, where in-person classes have been cancelled, students looking to move back home are flocking to social media messaging boards in an effort to find prospective tenants to take over their leases. Student Priyanka Chand has already moved back to her home in Stockton, she said, but is still responsible for paying $890 per month for her master bedroom in a shared student apartment at The Vista until the end of July.

“Because classes have converted online, there was really no point for me to stay there any longer because there’s no reason to be on campus,” Chand said. “I’m trying to get out of my lease, but management has been very uncooperative.”

In order to get out of her lease, Chand would have to find another Stanislaus State student to take it over for her, she said. She and other students living at The Vista have reached out to management to little avail.

“I feel like they should at least decrease the rent or cancel it while this pandemic is happening, but they’re still holding everyone to the full amount. It seems very unfair to the residents, especially during this time,” Chand said.

The Vista did not return a request for comment, but general manager Ryan Baker told Chand in an email Tuesday that while he sympathizes with her, there’s nothing the apartment complex can do.

“Our corporate office is holding everyone to their leases,” the email states. “...I apologize about this news, however, everyone must be treated exactly the same and this is how we are doing it.”

On the Stanislaus State campus, 198 students have moved out of the university’s residential housing so far. The dorms remain open and operational for students whom it was not safe or practical to return home, according to the university.

Students who move out prior to March 29 will see their accounts adjusted and rent fees reversed from March 23 through May 24. Rent fees will also be adjusted for those choosing to move out after March 29.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order this week giving local governments the authority to impose eviction protections for tenants unable to pay their rent due to the coronavirus or a loss of income due to stay at home orders. According to Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, a moratorium would be considered at the county level — something staff is currently looking into, he said, and could be implemented in the coming weeks.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for evicting tenants who haven’t paid rent, but isn’t currently doing so in an effort to protect employees from potential exposure to coronavirus.

“I’m inclined, personally, to support (a moratorium),” Chiesa said, adding a decision could be made by the Board of Supervisors as soon as next week.

It’s unclear how a moratorium on evictions would affect Chand and other students who have moved back home to be with their families and want out of their leases, but property owners who rent to a variety of tenants are responding to the situation with compassion.

“The coronavirus has impacted everyone. It’s not just residents, but also owners. The impact of the virus on the housing market is going to be more evidenced as we move along, and we’ll likely see its true impacts in April because peoples’ hours are being cut right now,” New Bridge Management President Adrian Harrell said. “We don’t really know what that impact is going to be yet, but we do anticipate that we’re going to get a lot of tenants who request a forbearance on their rent.”

So far, just two tenants who live in properties overseen by New Bridge Management have alerted the company that they may not be able to pay their rent due to coronavirus layoffs, Harrell added. As more are anticipated to come forward, Harrell said landlords will likely allow tenants to either pay less in rent for the time being, or work collaboratively on affordable payment plans that will ensure both sides of the agreement can survive.

“We care about all of our residents. We want to make sure that we work with them and that during this already stressful time we’re not adding additional stress on them,” Harrell said. “The executive order from the Governor states that individuals impacted by the coronavirus need to communicate with their landlords or property managers, and that’s our expectation.”

Harrell worries how tenants’ inability to pay rent could impact property owners and their mortgages, she added, especially those who have recently invested in property and have no contingency plan or savings in place.

“This is something that I don’t think anyone anticipated happening, and it’s difficult when renters are impacted because they’re already complaining about high rent in the Valley,” Harrell said. “Our tenants have always been able to pay, however, when someone’s income is impacted, it’s a domino effect...I don't mean to say we’re going to go back to 2008 and we’re going to have foreclosures, but this definitely could impact the housing market in that there are going to be foreclosures at some point.”

While renters can have peace of mind knowing that Stanislaus County officials are working to put a halt on evictions for those affected by the coronavirus, Harrell emphasized the importance of communication until then.

“We understand what they’re going through and we’re all in this together,” she said. “We really encourage tenants to reach out to owners before the rent is due to let them know they are not able to pay rent. It’s best to be proactive rather than reactive.”