SCHENECTADY — Flustered city landlord Anand Dhanraj says four tenants owe him $26,000 accrued during the past 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m struggling right now,” said Dhanraj, who owns eight units. “My family is suffering. Every dollar I get I’ve got to put towards the taxes, because I don’t want the city to take my properties.”
Dhanraj, who asked for help from local group Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, said he’s been cursed at and reported to the police when he tried to collect rents.
“They call my wife a bitch,” he said. “They said we are harassing them for rent; we are not supposed to ask them for rent. The governor told them not to pay rent,” he said with a chuckle. “Right now we can’t even talk to them.”
Now $30,000 in credit card debt, Dhanraj said he put his three-family building on Bridge Street for sale. He said he can’t take much more. Two of the tenants there owe a combined $17,000.
“I’m not going to that house anymore, because I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t want to get aggravated or lose my temper,” he said.
In August, a state judge put a moratorium on evictions because of the pandemic.
Four months later, state legislators approved emergency legislation banning evictions through May.
A property owner since 2004, Dhanraj said the process for removing a tenant who owed big money was straightforward prior to the pandemic.
“Within six weeks or a month I could get a tenant out,” he said.
Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, a group that’s in contact with about 100 landlords, property managers and real estate agents in the city, supports legislation proposed by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, to offer tax relief to small-scale landlords across the state.
A spokeswoman for Santabarbara said he is working with SLIC to help allay landlords’ concerns.
Meantime, SLIC is requesting that the city enact changes that would help landlords during the pandemic.
— Schenectady’s Finance Department refrain from publishing in The Daily Gazette a list of owners who are delinquent on 2020 property taxes and face liens;
— Refund late fees and interest on property taxes on all rental properties from March 2020 to the present, and not impose late fees and interest until six months after the pandemic is declared over;
– Apply a one-time property tax credit to bills of $2,000 per property for every two- to 12-unit apartment or mixed-use building;
– Establish a grant program where a landlord can apply to recoup losses from unpaid rent since March 1, 2020 until the end of the eviction moratorium;
– Establish another grant program where a landlord could request money for “excessive property damage” by a tenant that the security deposit doesn’t cover, from March 1, 2020 to the end of pandemic.
Chris Morris, co-founder and director of SLIC, said her organization doesn’t want homelessness during the pandemic or any other time.
“But it’s at the expense of the landlord,” she said. “So you wind up having people who’ve invested their life savings and their livelihoods, dependent upon the properties, and they are not getting paid because so many tenants have decided not to pay because they don’t have to.”
The program director suggested landlords were “essential workers” during the pandemic because it’s up to them to make sure that properties are taken care of, and are up to date on taxes, no matter what’s going on in the world.
“The hammer comes down on the landlord, who hasn’t got the funds to take care of the place,” she said. “You have to have an input in order to have an outcome, right? And we’re put upon by code (officials), who are doing a job, but the landlord doesn’t have the money to pay for that hot water heater, or to make those repairs, because he’s not getting paid.”
When a reporter mentioned deferment programs some mortgage companies have offered property owners during the pandemic, Morris said, “Unless there’s a grant or something that comes in strictly to the landlord, it’s not going to change anything. Deferring is lovely, but you still owe it in the end.”
Reached for comment about SLIC’s requests of the city, Mayor Gary R. McCarthy noted the City Council and county waived interest and penalties on taxes as the pandemic unfolded. The city renewed that gesture during this year’s first quarter.
McCarthy said there’s wasn’t a mechanism to waive underlying taxes in the state.
“If the city and county adopt a budget, it’s in place,” he said.
Still, the city is sympathetic to struggling landlords, McCarthy said.
“But there’s only certain things at this point the city can do,” he said, adding officials are sorting out and trying to match different assistance programs that are available from the city, county and federal levels, to potentially mitigate challenges landlords and small businesses face.