CAPITOL — Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, has introduced legislation in the state Assembly that would allow small-scale landlords across the state to postpone property tax payments if they are struggling with unpaid rents and other impacts from the pandemic.
The proposal, which Santabarbara introduced earlier this month in Albany, would apply to landlords that own fewer than five properties.
“Sometimes we forget that many of the people who rent out homes and apartments aren’t faceless corporations,” Santabarbara said. “They are family, friends and neighbors who rent to maintain their livelihoods, and many have struggled in the past year due to COVID-19.”
With little or no rental income, property owners simply have not had the resources for property maintenance or to pay property taxes, he said. “A lot of the small landlords around here are seniors, they use it as a second income,” Santabarbara said. ” A lot of the people we’re talking about have only one or two units.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, rent relief measures and a moratorium on evictions have had a significant financial impact on landlords receiving rent payments.
Santabarbara’s bill would allow municipalities to give landlords owning five or fewer rental units an extension of 180 days after the pandemic state of emergency has expired to pay property taxes if a tenant has not paid rent. Limiting the bill to those that own fewer than five properties would prevent predatory investors from taking advantage of at-risk properties, potentially leading to another zombie property crisis, Santabarbara said.
Santabarbara is scheduled to meet via Zoom on Wednesday with members of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, which represents dozens of landlords in the Schenectady area.
Members of SLIC, as the organization is known, say they are struggling for a number of reasons, including the state order that allows tenants to not pay rent if they have been affected by COVID’s economic fallout. A moratorium on evictions Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered as part of the state’s response to the pandemic has also hurt landlords.
They would be glad for any relief. “Anything,” said Chris Morris of Schenectady, SLIC’s president. “We’re looking for any lifeline, because it has been a horrible year.”
She said many but not all landlords have had problems with tenants not paying rent, and the state-wide eviction moratorium means there is little that small-scale landlords can do, even if they relied on tenant income as an essential part of their livelihood.
“The small landlord we are talking about is the little guy, the little landlord who over the years has started settling in and investing in properties,” Morris said. “There are generally lower rents, they do their own maintenance, these are not the large complexes.”
Santabarbara said the goal of extending the payment deadline until six months after the pandemic emergency ends is to give landlords time to collect rents once the emergency ends, and then pay the taxes. Tenants not paying now are supposed to pay off their missed rent payments once things return to normal — though whether many will be able to remains an open question.
For time, the bill has been sent to committee with no other sponsors. “I’m looking for a Senate sponsor, and once I have that I will circulate it among other members,” Santabarbara said. “I can guarantee other members across the state will relate to this. They are seeing the same thing in their districts.”