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California Tax Revolt Faces a Retreat, 40 Years Later

OAKLAND, Calif. — In 1978, a Los Angeles businessman named Howard Jarvis led an insurgent campaign to pass Proposition 13, a ballot measure that limited California property taxes and inspired a nationwide tax revolt. The law has been considered sacrosanct ever since, something California governors and legislators challenge at their peril.

Now, as a pandemic tears through local budgets, a well-financed campaign backed by teachers’ unions has mounted a serious challenge to a major portion of the law: its application to commercial property.

If voters approve the effort next week, they would give labor and progressive groups a striking victory in raising the low tax rates that longtime property owners enjoy. If it fails, the campaign will have spent tens of millions of dollars only to affirm that Proposition 13 is untouchable.

The new initiative, Proposition 15, would amend the state’s Constitution so that properties like offices and industrial parks would no longer be protected by Proposition 13. By creating a “split roll” system, in which residential property would continue to be shielded from tax increases but commercial property would not, backers hope to capitalize on Democratic energy to raise taxes on large corporations without alarming homeowners.

“We can’t afford to continue to give large corporations a tax break they don’t need when we desperately need to invest in infrastructure, first responders, public health and public education,” said Catherine Bracy, executive director of the TechEquity Collaborative, a nonprofit group that mobilizes tech workers on issues of economic inclusion.

Proposition 15 would raise $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion a year for public schools, community colleges and city and county governments, according to a nonpartisan state agency. The Yes campaign, called Schools and Communities First, is backed by a number of public employees unions and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization founded by Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The measure’s opponents, including a number of business associations and large property owners like the Blackstone Group, argue that the tax increase would hurt small businesses. They have also tried to frame the measure as one that, if successful, will soon reach for residential properties.

“They want to do this because they believe now is an opportunity to break up Proposition 13,” said Rex Hime, chief executive of the California Business Properties Association, a trade group for owners of offices, industrial parks and shopping centers. “They’re coming after homeowner protections next.”

The two sides have raised more than $60 million each for their campaigns. Support is also evenly split: A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that Proposition 15 has split the electorate, garnering the support of 49 percent of likely voters, with 45 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided. It has won a number of prominent endorsements, including those of Gov. Gavin Newsom; Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee; and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California.

Proposition 13’s lock on California politics began with the bouts of hyperinflation that shredded household budgets through much of the 1970s. In addition to the rising cost of food, electricity and other staples, the value of housing — and by extension, property taxes — also soared. In California, residential property values rose 250 percent from 1970 to 1980, while household income remained flat.

As tax payments consumed a larger share of homeowners’ budgets, Mr. Jarvis, a retired businessman turned anti-tax gadfly, mounted a 1978 citizens’ initiative, eventually called Proposition 13, that would cut California property taxes and limit future tax increases to no more than 2 percent a year, unless the property was sold. It passed with just under two-thirds of the vote and has since endured various legal challenges. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of Proposition 13 but called it “distasteful and unwise.”

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Credit…Associated Press
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Proposition 13: Mad as Hell

In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes for millions of the state’s homeowners. Decades later, what has it meant?

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In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes for millions of the state’s homeowners. Decades later, what has it meant?

Mr. Jarvis, who died in 1986, framed his campaign as a way to make the tax system more equal, but Proposition 13’s legacy has been the opposite. Because property values are reassessed for tax purposes only after a building is sold, the law has created a wildly disparate system in which new buyers pay vastly higher taxes than longtime owners.

It is not uncommon for neighbors to pay double or triple the taxes of a similar home on the same block. A recent analysis of property taxes across the Bay Area is rife with eye-popping comparisons, like a $9 million home in an exclusive neighborhood of San Francisco that has lower property taxes than a $331,000 home near an oil refinery across the bay in Richmond.

When Proposition 13 passed, commercial property taxes were almost an afterthought. But since skyscrapers and shopping malls do not change hands as often as homes do, the law has shifted the property tax burden from corporations to homeowners. In 1975, a little under half the property taxes in Los Angeles County were paid by commercial properties. By 2017, commercial properties accounted for just over one-quarter of the property tax roll.

“It boggles the mind how ingrained this thing is in our culture, given how regressive it is,” said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm in Los Angeles.

When backers started collecting signatures to qualify Proposition 15 for the ballot last year, the measure was framed as a way to make the state’s tax collections broader and more equitable by raising rates on commercial property holders. Now, as the state, like the nation, begins a difficult recovery from the coronavirus recession, it has become as much about backstopping essential services when budgets are under stress.

In addition to keeping homeowners under the 1978 limits, the new measure would not affect apartment buildings and agricultural land. It would be phased in over several years, and it has exemptions for business owners with $3 million or less in holdings in California. Because of the exemptions, various studies have shown that Proposition 15’s tax increases would sidestep most small businesses and instead fall on corporations that control huge parcels of real estate, like Walt Disney’s studio lot in Burbank, or 555 California, a San Francisco office tower owned by a partnership that includes Vornado Realty Trust and President Trump.

But with the economy still hampered by Covid-19, and many stores and restaurants on the brink of extinction, the opposition message has resonated with people like Barbara Stelzriede. Ms. Stelzriede is the general manager of George & Walt’s, a sports bar in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, and a fourth-generation member of the family that has owned the bar’s building and surrounding property since 1945.

On a recent afternoon, in addition to neon beer lights and a 21-and-over sign, the bar’s window was emblazoned with a bright yellow sign that had “Vote NO on 15. It will put small corporations out of business!!!” in Ms. Stelzriede’s handwriting. Sitting on a bar stool, among a mess of hammers, drills and extension cords that were being used to install a plexiglass barrier around the bar and plastic curtains around the tables, she discussed her anxiety about the bar’s pending reopening, what business would be like afterward, fears that the Proposition 15 money wouldn’t go to schools as proponents have advertised, and suspicion that the measure would open the door to higher taxes on apartment buildings and houses.

“There couldn’t be a worse time in the world right now for them to be doing this,” she said.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Some of her neighbors disagree. Last week, someone taped the window with a passionate response to Ms. Stelzriede’s sign. “MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of school kids suffered for more than 40 YEARS,” the letter said. “Disneyland + other MEGA CORPORATIONS are still assessed at their same property values from decades ago. PROP 15 = FAIR + JUST! It’s TIME.”

But it’s not just businesses that own their buildings that are worried. Across the state, landlords construct commercial leases so that tenants are responsible for a portion of the property taxes (doing this increases the value of the building in the event the property is sold and the taxes are reassessed).

“Virtually no landlords give Proposition 13 protection,” said Gerald Porter, founding principal of Cresa, a commercial real estate company in Los Angeles.

Clauses like that have Laurie Thomas, the owner of two small restaurants — Rose’s Café and Terzo, both in San Francisco — worried that she and other restaurant owners will be hit by higher taxes if Proposition 15 passes. Today, as part of her lease, Ms. Thomas is responsible for about $6,000 a year in property taxes at one of her locations. She estimates that would jump to about $40,000 if the building was assessed at market value. “Our lease clearly says that I am on the hook for 50 percent of the property taxes — it’s a direct pass-through,” she said.

Mr. Thornberg, the economist, doubts that this can happen on a large scale. Much more than property taxes, he said, lease rates reflect market fundamentals like size, location and a building’s particular amenities.

In a recent study for the Silicon Valley Foundation, Mr. Thornberg’s firm tried to gauge the impact of Proposition 15 on leases by analyzing commercial rents in similar buildings with different tax bills. “The owners of these buildings who are paying well below market tax rates are not passing the savings to their tenants,” he said. “In other words, they are charging what the market will bear and are unlikely to be able to pass along additional costs.”

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Unable to Pay Rent, Small Businesses Hope for a Deal With Their Landlord

In March, when the Boston restaurateur Garrett Harker and his partners shut down their seven restaurants after Massachusetts issued lockdown orders, Mr. Harker assumed the closures would be painful but temporary.

Six months later, three of Mr. Harker’s restaurants, including the flagship Eastern Standard — once described as the “perfect restaurant” by The Boston Globe’s food critic — remain shuttered. Mr. Harker and his landlord for those three restaurants are in a standoff: He can’t afford to pay the six-figure arrears he has accrued while his restaurants remain shut, and the landlord, he said, has refused to grant a deferral or discount.

“We’re probably going to lose money for another year to a year and a half,” Mr. Harker said. “It doesn’t work financially to reopen without a new lease.”

Similar sagas are playing out nationwide, as Main Street businesses — especially music clubs, gyms, restaurants, bars and others that were forced to close by the coronavirus pandemic — try to figure out how, or if, they can dig out of debt.

Nearly 98,000 businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic took hold, according to an analysis by Yelp. And the fate of many that remain open increasingly hinges on their ability to renegotiate their leases. A recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small-business owners, found that a quarter of those polled had fallen behind on their rent since the shutdowns began. For those in the fitness and beauty industries, the number rose to nearly 40 percent.

The problem may worsen now that an initial flood of federal aid has dried up and a sharply divided Congress has been unable to agree on further relief measures. The government’s $525 billion Paycheck Protection Program gave more than 5 million businesses a one-time cash injection to pay workers and other expenses, including rent, but most recipients have now spent the money.

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Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times
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Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

“For 10 weeks, our revenue went to zero and stayed at zero,” said Rhonda Stark, the owner of three Orangetheory Fitness gyms in Ohio that were shut down from mid-March until late May. Ms. Stark’s collective rent bill, her largest fixed expense, tops $32,000 a month. She hasn’t paid it in full since March. Although she got P.P.P. loans ranging from $45,000 to $75,000 for each of her gyms, most of it went toward payroll, as the loan rules required. Ms. Stark’s gyms have reopened at a reduced capacity, cutting her sales by about 30 percent. To stay open, she needs to strike new deals with her landlords.

Retail rent collections plunged in April to just 54 percent of the total owed, according to Datex Property Solutions, a software company that tracks data on thousands of its clients’ retail properties nationwide. By August, collections had rebounded to nearly 80 percent, but some tenants, like movie theaters, clothing retailers, hair salons and gyms, were much further behind.

“When tenants can’t pay the rent, it imperils landlords’ ability to pay their own overhead and their loans, and the whole thing cascades,” Mark Sigal, chief executive of Datex, said.

For both sides, it’s a complicated dance. Property owners have their own expenses to pay, including taxes, insurance, mortgage or debt payments, and maintenance bills. Buildings owned by real estate investment trusts or Wall Street bondholders have complex management structures and governing covenants that can limit the property manager’s ability to make a deal.

Lance Osborne, the president of Osborne Capital Group, owns a retail plaza in Copley, Ohio, that houses four businesses, including one of Ms. Stark’s gyms. His company has around 150 retail tenants, and he estimates that half have sought rent relief or other concessions.

“Every one has to be handled on a case-by-case basis — no two tenant cases are the same,” Mr. Osborne said. “We’ve always dealt in good faith to try to keep the tenants open and operating. It’s always worth keeping someone, but it has to be an equitable deal.”

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Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

Eight of his tenants have declared bankruptcy or are on the brink, Mr. Osborne said. He has sued one business — which he described as open and thriving — for nonpayment. For others, he’s gradually negotiating new deals.

Many of those arrangements are informal and fragile. Ms. Stark said she hasn’t signed anything establishing new terms for any of her gyms, which means her landlords could at any time declare her in default and crack down. But so far, each has been willing to take it month by month, collecting some rent and verbally assuring her that they’ll keep working with her.

“It’s very tentative,” Ms. Stark said. “You call them up, you talk to them about what’s going on — I’ve sent screenshots of my numbers so they can see where we stand.”

Ken Giddon, a co-owner of the men’s wear store Rothmans, held off on reopening his flagship store in Manhattan until he nailed down a new lease. The shop hadn’t paid its landlord, ABS Partners Real Estate, since April, and Mr. Giddon didn’t want to bring back his staff and restock inventory if he couldn’t reduce his rent.

Last week, he finalized a new arrangement that involved lowering his base rent and giving ABS a variable payment based on his sales. Such arrangements are common in some industries, especially restaurants, but it was new for Rothmans.

“This is a very handcrafted deal,” said Mr. Giddon, who now plans to reopen next month. “We’ll probably be operating at a third of our previous volume for the next six to 12 months. This arrangement gives us flexibility.”

Gregg Schenker, the president of ABS, said both sides had an incentive to figure out a deal that would keep the business alive. Rothmans, which Mr. Giddon’s grandfather started in 1926, has been an ABS tenant for decades, and Mr. Schenker, who shops there, described it as the kind of unique, multigenerational retailer that he hopes will continue to thrive in New York City.

But not all landlords are willing, or able, to take a haircut. Oren Molovinsky closed his restaurant Farmboy, in Chandler, Ariz., in mid-July for what he intended to be a short break. He hadn’t paid his full rent for months, but he had reached out to his landlord, the Falls Investors, hoping to discuss options. Instead, he got a letter in late July telling him payment in full was due in five days. When he missed that deadline, his landlord locked him out.

“We were surprised they wouldn’t respond to us at all — my attorney didn’t even get a response,” Mr. Molovinsky said.

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Credit…Courtney Pedroza for The New York Times
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Credit…Courtney Pedroza for The New York Times

The Falls Investors sued Mr. Molovinsky last month in an Arizona state court, seeking at least $110,000 for what the complaint said was unpaid rent. Mr. Molovinsky has told his staff and customers that Farmboy, which sold sandwiches and salads using locally sourced ingredients, will not reopen. (A lawyer for the Falls Investors said the landlord has done workouts with other tenants but chose not to for Mr. Molovinsky because he was already behind on his rent before the pandemic. Mr. Molovinsky, who acknowledged his arrears, said he had a verbal agreement on a repayment plan with one of the group’s principals, who died last year.)

Mr. Harker fears that Eastern Standard — his first restaurant, and the only one of his ventures that he owns outright — will soon join that list.

The brasserie opened 15 years ago and quickly gained a reputation as one of Boston’s best spots for relaxed hospitality and cocktails. It sits in a retail space within the Hotel Commonwealth that has changed hands twice since Eastern Standard opened. The current owner, UrbanMeritage, promotes Mr. Harker’s “award winning restaurants” and the foot traffic they bring to the area in a brochure it created to to advertise a nearby vacant storefront.

But Mr. Harker said he could not afford to reopen unless UrbanMeritage renegotiated his lease, which has a bit more than two years left on it. He has $1.6 million in P.P.P. loans for Eastern Standard and the two other shuttered restaurants — the Hawthorne and the Island Creek Oyster Bar — sitting untouched in a bank account. He plans to return the loans soon if he can’t make a deal.

Michael T. Jammen, a principal of UrbanMeritage, disputed Mr. Harker’s claim that his company was unwilling to negotiate, saying via email that they have “offered multiple discount opportunities both on his existing lease and on a lease renewal” in recent years. Those discussions have continued during the pandemic, Mr. Jammen said.

Mr. Harker has worked out arrangements with his four other landlords, including Young Park, the president of Berkeley Investments. Berkeley owns the building housing the Boston location of Row 34, Mr. Harker’s seafood-and-burgers spot. Mr. Park agreed to slash Row 34’s base rent in return for a higher percentage of its sales.

“We did not want them to leave,” he said. “I think most developers are weighing the benefit of sustaining a business that is showing no revenue for an extended period of time versus the challenge of attracting another operation with the credibility, track record and management skills to run a successful business. That’s not so easy to find.”

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Manhattan’s Office Buildings Are Empty. But for How Long?

Even as the coronavirus pandemic appears to recede in New York, corporations have been reluctant to call their workers back to their skyscrapers and are showing even more reticence about committing to the city long term.

Fewer than 10 percent of New York’s office workers had returned as of last month and just a quarter of major employers expect to bring their people back by the end of the year, according to a new survey. Only 54 percent of these companies say they will return by July 2021.

Demand for office space has slumped. Lease signings in the first eight months of the year were about half of what they were a year earlier. That is putting the office market on track for a 20-year low for the full year. When companies do sign, many are opting for short-term contracts that most landlords would have rejected in February.

At stake is New York’s financial health and its status as the world’s corporate headquarters. There is more square feet of work space in the city than in London and San Francisco combined, according to Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate brokerage firm. Office work makes up the cornerstone of New York’s economy and property taxes from office buildings account for nearly 10 percent of the city’s total annual tax revenue.

What is most unnerving is that a recovery could unfold much more slowly than it did after the Sept. 11 attacks and the financial crisis of 2008. That’s largely because the pandemic has prompted companies to fundamentally rethink their real estate needs.

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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Robert Ivanhoe, a real estate lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, said he had about 20 clients that had postponed searches for new offices. “They are putting a lot of thought into coming up with a new operating model — how much of my work force is going to work from home and for how much time?” he said. “It has never been turned upside down like this before.”

Real estate data confirms that. The number of office leases signed from January through August totaled 13.7 million square feet, less than half as much as the first eight months of last year, according to Colliers International, a real estate brokerage firm. By contrast, leasing hit an 18-year high at the end of last year with nearly 43 million square feet of new leases and renewals.

“When it comes to making decisions about office leases, the words are postpone, adjourn and delay,” said Ruth Colp-Haber, the chief executive of Wharton Property Advisors, a real estate brokerage firm.

Executives at the meal delivery company Freshly were ready to sign a lease for 50,000 square feet of office space at 2 Park Avenue, a stately, 29-story Art Deco tower in Midtown, in March.

But the coronavirus abruptly shut New York down for several months, and the company “hit pause” on its expansion, said Michael Wystrach, Freshly’s founder and chief executive. The company is still considering new office space, but he isn’t sure when it would sign a lease. “We are long-term believers in New York City.”

During any weekday in Midtown, the sidewalks are as empty as they usually are on a Sunday, underscoring how few employees have returned. In August, a survey of major employers by the Partnership for New York found only 8 percent of employees had returned to the office and most expected to bring employees back by next summer, and another quarter of them had not decided when they would return.

Elected officials, real estate tycoons and even Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, have issued paeans to New York’s resilience, arguing that city has a history of bouncing back. The city will soon be brimming with people, by their telling.

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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

But pessimists — including some New York hedge fund managers — see dark days ahead. They contend that companies will tell most employees to stay away until a vaccine is widely distributed and perhaps for much longer.

Which of those two visions is closer to being right will help determine how quickly New York regains its energy, economic health and tax revenue.

Investors are not expecting a quick recovery. Shares of companies with lots of New York office space like Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the Empire State Building, and SL Green Realty, which owns the immense new One Vanderbilt tower next to Grand Central Terminal, have plunged this year.

“I think the New York office market is going to be generally challenged for the next three to five years,” said Jonathan Litt, the founder of the hedge fund Land & Buildings. His fund published a report in May on why it thinks the shares of Empire State Realty Trust are overvalued.

A big part of the problem is that many companies are holding off on new leases.

In recent years, the biggest renters of office space have been co-working companies like WeWork, New York’s largest private tenant. Such businesses signed nearly 8 percent of new leases in Manhattan last year and 12 percent in 2018, according to Cushman & Wakefield. But co-working companies are in distress and some may not survive.

Other potential renters of offices are unsure what to do or are waiting for landlords to reduce rents, factoring in incentives like rent-free months and cash for office improvements. “What’s the point of signing a lease with a 15 percent decrease in rent if you think it’s going to go lower?” said Michael Colacino, the president of the brokerage firm SquareFoot.

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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Some companies with leases that are ending this year or next appear to be kicking the can down the road, signing short-term extensions rather than committing to typical deals that last several years. In recent weeks, NBC Universal extended a lease for a secondary office at 1221 Avenue of Americas and the Stroock & Stroock & Lavan law firm did the same for its office downtown. But they both did so for just a year, according to Colliers. A spokeswoman for NBC Universal declined to comment and Stroock & Stroock did not return a call and multiple emails.

In normal times, owners of large office buildings would typically not entertain a one- or two-year lease extension for a large tenant, said Franklin Wallach, senior managing director of the New York Research Group at Colliers. “They see that new leasing activity has dropped off while the amount of sublet space coming into the market is on the rise, so the average landlord wants to keep the tenant in the building.”

One of the biggest concerns is that companies could soon start trying to sublease hundreds of thousands of square feet of space that they are not planning to use anytime soon. For companies seeking offices, sublets often provide a shorter lease at a steep discount to market prices.

Starr Insurance Companies, which is led by Maurice R. Greenberg, is seeking to sublet 190,000 square feet that it leases at 399 Park Avenue, according to Colliers. And First Republic Bank, which signed a 211,521-square-foot lease last April for 410 Tenth Avenue, put 151,000 square feet up for sublet, according to a report from the real estate broker Savills. Spokesmen for Starr and First Republic declined to comment.

Sublet space made up about a quarter of the total office space available in New York at the end of the second quarter, according to Savills, and many real estate brokers said they expected that to increase in the coming months.

In January, Ms. Colp-Haber was showing offices to a construction company that she said was in the market for a five-year lease in Manhattan. Last month, the company signed a sublet for one year at a 40 percent discount to the original lease, she said.

Still, property owners claim not to be overly worried because most tenants are paying their rent. They point out that office leases last for years and are very difficult to end early. And large financial firms, among the biggest tenants in New York, aren’t stressed as they were in the last recession.

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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

The most optimistic sign that New York’s office market will bounce back quickly is that big technology companies, which are gaining ground, are scarfing up square feet. Facebook in early August leased all of the office space — 730,000 square feet — in the Farley Post Office next to Penn Station. Amazon acquired the former Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue in March from WeWork.

Retail tenants in Hudson Yards, the sprawling development on the Far West Side of Manhattan, may be reeling, but companies are still moving in to the project’s office buildings.

“They still believe New York is the place to have their business and grow their business,” said William C. Rudin, chief executive of Rudin Management Company. “The Amazon commitment is amazing; the Facebook commitment is amazing.”

Some landlords see encouraging signs in their office buildings in the suburbs, where social distancing is easier because people tend to commute by cars. This, they argue, suggests that employers and workers want to return to the office and more of them will make their way back to New York, too.

Anthony E. Malkin, chief executive of the Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the Empire State Building, said the number of people coming into his office buildings in Connecticut in mid-August was 40 percent of what it was a year earlier, and up from next to nothing in the spring because of the strict lockdown policies in place at the time. “That is a very high number and it’s growing.”

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Trump Executive Order: The New Eviction Moratorium

The Trump administration has announced an order to suspend the possibility of eviction for millions of renters who have suffered financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the order was an emergency action, which it is entitled to take under the law.

Here are the answers to questions that renters may have about the order, which is more expansive than the now-expired moratorium that was part of the virus relief package this spring. We will add to this list as we learn more. Please email your questions to hubforhelp@nytimes.com.

Who is eligible?

You must meet a five-pronged test.

  • You need to have used your “best efforts” to obtain any and all forms of government rental assistance.

  • You can’t “expect” to earn more than $99,000 in 2020, or $198,000 if you’re married and filing a joint tax return. If you don’t qualify that way, you could still be eligible if you did not need to report any income at all to the federal government in 2019 or if you received a stimulus check earlier this year.

  • You must be experiencing a “substantial” loss of household income, a layoff or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses (which the order defines as any unreimbursed expense likely to exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income this year).

  • You have to be making your best efforts to make “timely” partial payments that are as close to the full amount due as “circumstances may permit,” taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.

  • Eviction would “likely” lead to either homelessness or your having to move to a place that is more expensive or where you could get sick from being close to others.

A lot of that is pretty subjective. If it’s a close call, who decides?

Landlords who disagree with renters’ self-assessments could try to evict nonpaying tenants and dare them to fight back legally. Then, it could be up to a housing court judge to decide if a renter is eligible for the moratorium or if the landlord can, in fact, evict.

How do I prove to my landlord that I’m eligible?

The C.D.C. order makes reference to a declaration that renters should draft and then provides an example of one near the end of the document.

Who should make a declaration?

The order says that every adult who is on the lease should draft and sign their own declaration.

I have a roommate. What happens if one of us is under the income cap but the other is not?

The rules for roommates are not clear. We are asking federal officials for more clarity and will update this article when we know more.

I’m in a pretty bad way. Can I stretch the truth some?

You shouldn’t. The order makes a point of noting that the declaration “is sworn testimony, meaning that you can be prosecuted, go to jail, or pay a fine if you lie, mislead, or omit important information.”

What do I do with the declarations once they are done?

Email, send or hand them to the landlord in a way that allows you to get proof that the landlord received them. That way, there will be no question as to whether you did what you were supposed to do. Make sure you keep a copy for yourself.

Then what?

Keep paying as much as you can. Otherwise, you risk failing the eligibility test, which says that you should be trying to make partial payments to the best of your ability.

Can the landlord still evict me for reasons other than nonpayment?

Yes. All the usual rules about criminal behavior or disruptions or destruction of property still apply. And it’s possible that a landlord will look hard for some other reason to start the eviction process, so it’s wise to follow every term of the lease, as well as any other building or property rule.

Will interest or penalties accrue?

The order does not forbid landlords from charging fees, penalties or interest. Nor does it place any restrictions on how high they can go. Check your lease to see if there are any provisions about how this may work.

Will I have to pay everything I owe all at once in January?

You might. The order specifically mentions this possibility.

Does the order apply to every landlord and every residential renter in the country?

No. Aside from the income caps, your local rules may apply instead. If you’re in a state, territory or tribal area that already has a moratorium in place that provides the same or better level of protection, then that more local action will take its place. Local jurisdictions are also still free to impose stronger restrictions than the federal order. California’s moratorium goes through the end of January, for example.

The federal moratorium doesn’t apply in American Samoa, though it will if it reports its first coronavirus cases.

I’m living in a motel right now. Does the order apply to those properties?

No. The order specifically excludes hotels and motels.

What about Airbnb rentals and other similar properties?

The order excludes any “guest house rented to a temporary guest or seasonal tenant as defined under the laws of the state, territorial, tribal, or local jurisdiction.”

What if my landlord sends me an eviction notice anyway?

Seek counsel. You can search for a low- or no-cost legal assistance office near you via the Legal Services Corporation’s map. Just Shelter, a tenant advocacy group, also offers information on local organizations that can help renters.

Does the order specify the size of the penalties that landlords may be subject to?

Yes. An individual landlord could be subject to a fine up to $100,000 if no death (say from someone getting sick after eviction) results from the violation, or one year in jail, or both. If a death occurs, the fine rises to no more than $250,000. If it’s an organization in violation, the fines are $200,000 or $500,000.

Is the order legal?

The White House and Centers for Disease Control think so. It is possible that landlord industry groups or others will sue to stop it, in which case it will be up to the courts to decide.

When does the order take effect and how long does it last?

It takes effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. The order says that will happen on Sept. 4. The order applies through Dec. 31, and it’s possible that it could be extended.

I’m dizzy from all of the various local, state and federal orders. Is this the last of them?

Maybe not. Congress could pass a new relief package that would supersede this order.

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As Evictions Loom, Lawyers Are Gearing Up to Help

Just a few weeks ago, Jessie Reed was worried about being evicted from her Omaha apartment with her three young children. Her landlord had already tried to force her out in May when she stopped paying rent after quitting her job at an Omaha Steaks warehouse. One of her children has severe asthma, and Ms. Reed was worried she would unwittingly catch the coronavirus at work and transmit it.

But in June, a legal aid lawyer convinced a local judge that Ms. Reed was protected by a federal moratorium on evictions under the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March to cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic. The ruling has bought Ms. Reed, 32, time to settle her financial affairs.

“I wanted a lawyer as a backup because the landlord was trying to intimidate me,” she said.

For tenants, especially those with limited means, having a lawyer can be the difference between being evicted or being able to stay on in a rented home. Yet legal representation for tenants is relatively rare in housing courts. Surveys from several big cities over the years have shown that in housing court, landlords are represented by lawyers at least 80 percent time, while tenants tend to have lawyers in fewer than 10 percent of cases.

This unlevel playing field is about to come into sharper focus in the months ahead, now that the four-month pause on evictions provided by the CARES Act, followed by a 30-day notice period that ends on Monday, is coming to an end. The moratorium had provided protection to about 12 million tenants living in qualifying properties. Additionally, local moratoriums in some states had protected renters in homes not covered by the federal law.

“Tenants are not equipped to represent themselves, and eviction court places them on an uneven playing field that allows landlords to run roughshod over their rights,” said Ellie Pepper of the National Housing Resource Center, which focuses on housing policy and funding issues.

In New York, which in 2017 became the first American city to guarantee the right to a lawyer in housing court, the impact is clear. Since the law went into effect, 84 percent of tenants who had a lawyer managed to remain in their homes after a housing dispute, according to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, an advocacy group.

Demand for legal assistance with housing issues is on the rise in states where local moratoriums for rentals not covered by the CARES Act have already ended. In the Atlanta area, legal aid lawyers say calls seeking help in dealing with private landlords are running 25 percent higher than they were two months ago. In particular, lawyers said, calls are coming in from Clayton County, one of the poorest areas that Atlanta Legal Aid serves.

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“Our caseloads haven’t yet exploded, because the courts just started hearing cases that were pending before the pandemic struck,” said Lindsey Siegel, a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid. “But it’s coming.” The nonprofit is bringing on additional lawyers and setting up housing clinics in local courts to advise renters, Ms. Siegel added.

Landlords have struggled, too, taking in 29 percent less in rent checks in the first 10 days of August than in the same period in March, according to a report from Rentec Direct, a property management information and tenant screening firm.

David Schwartz, chief executive officer of Waterton, a Chicago real estate firm that owns or manages 22,000 rental apartments in nearly two dozen states, said he and other large landlords didn’t favor another blanket moratorium to prevent evictions. But he does favor an extension of so-called enhanced unemployment payments for those out of work and rental assistance to help keep people in their apartments if they are willing to arrange payment plans with landlords.

“The problem with the moratorium is that there are households who just aren’t paying rent because they feel there are no repercussions,” said Mr. Schwartz, who is also chairman of the National Multifamily Housing Council, a landlord association.

Even tenants who have managed to patch together rent stand on shaky ground. For instance, Ms. Reed, who recently started offering child care for neighbors out of her home, could still be evicted if she can’t make a go of her business.

Her landlord, William Stanek, said he was waiting to see if Ms. Reed’s application to a local charity for rental assistance was approved. He said he might have to move again to evict her next month.

But for now, Mr. Stanek “has been very nice to me and my kids,” Ms. Reed said.

In Nebraska, where the local moratorium on evictions expired in May, at least 92,000 people are at risk of being forced out of their homes in the coming months, according to a report by consortium of housing advocates and public policy organizations. The report said that nationally, at least 30 million people — including those in homes not covered by the CARES Act moratorium — were in danger of being evicted without any new federal aid or a renewed pause.

In Omaha, Caitlin Cedfeldt, the lawyer who represented Ms. Reed, said she and her colleagues at Legal Aid of Nebraska were busier than ever.

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“Right now I have to be in court four days a week. That’s a pretty high number for me,” said Ms. Cedfeldt, who has been working for Legal Aid for two and a half years. “Most of the time I used to be in court twice a week.”

Part of the reason she has been so busy is that many landlords who owned properties covered by the CARES Act jumped the gun in pushing for evictions before the moratorium ended. Ms. Cedfeldt said many renters who came to her were often unaware of their rights under the legislation.

One of those clients is Danni Rhiley, who lives in Maplewood Estates, a mobile home community in Omaha, with her two children, ages 14 and 12. Ms. Rhiley, 42, said she had fallen short on the rent money because she had to stop working as a full-time aide to a paraplegic man with a compromised immune system because of concerns about the coronavirus.

After her landlord, Kingsley Management, rejected a payment plan she had proposed just a few days before her first court date on July 22, Ms. Rhiley said, she reached out to Ms. Cedfeldt and Legal Aid.

Ms. Cedfeldt said she was able to get a nonpayment eviction lawsuit against Ms. Rhiley dismissed after she argued that it was filed in violation of the CARES Act. But with the CARES Act expiring, Kingsley, a Utah company that owns dozens of trailer parks across the country, has moved again to evict Ms. Rhiley.

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Credit…Walker Pickering for The New York Times
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Credit…Walker Pickering for The New York Times

Ms. Rhiley said she was worried about losing the trailer she had been renting since November. “The kids’ dad died in December, so it is just us,” she said. “I would probably be at a homeless shelter if I got evicted or living in my car.”

James McVay, the lawyer in Omaha for Kingsley Management, said that his client was willing to discuss a payment plan with Ms. Rhiley or her counsel, but that he had yet to hear from them.

Ms. Cedfeldt said that since taking on Ms. Rhiley’s case, she had found at least a dozen other eviction proceedings filed by Kingsley at Maplewood Estates that appeared to violate the CARES Act. She said that none of those renters had lawyers, and that it was frustrating to see at least one of tenant show up in court and clearly upset by the proceedings.

“All I could do was watch tenants show up to court and see them get evicted when they shouldn’t have been,” Ms. Cedfeldt said. “I especially remember seeing one woman who burst into tears any time the court asked if she had any response. It was awful.”

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Millions of Evictions Are a Sharper Threat as Government Support Ends

For the 108 million people who live in a rental home or apartment, Aug. 1 was a grim milestone. It marked the first time rent was due after much of the nation’s economic response to the coronavirus had expired.

The lapse of expanded unemployment benefits and federal, state and local eviction moratoriums is forcing lawmakers to figure out how to extend those protections. It has also left experts resorting to natural disaster metaphors (“avalanche,” “tsunami”) to describe the scale of potential evictions.

Unlike the U.S. economy, which was enjoying the longest expansion on record, housing — specifically rental housing — was troubled before the virus hit, with problems going back decades. A little under four million evictions are filed each year, one in four tenant households spends about half its pretax income on rent, and each night some 200,000 people sleep in their cars, on streets or under bridges.

Those were the statistics in good times. Now, with unemployment above 10 percent and projected to stay there through at least next year, tens of millions of households could be at risk of eviction in the coming months. Even if only a fraction of those evictions actually take place, it would still be several times the current pace and the biggest disruption in rental housing in decades.

Whatever the final tally, it is increasingly clear that if the Great Recession was personified by empty subdivisions and foreclosed homeowners, the enduring symbol of coronavirus, with its disproportionate impact on hourly workers, is likely to be a laid-off tenant struggling to keep an overcrowded apartment.

“The United States is on the brink of an eviction crisis of unprecedented magnitude,” said Emily A. Benfer, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law.

That is, of course, a projection — and so far, government efforts to hold back a wave of displacement have been effective. About two-thirds of the workers eligible for extended unemployment protections could make more than they did when they were employed, allowing tens of millions of tenants to shelter in place while paying their monthly bills.

Renters who didn’t receive unemployment pay were largely covered by the various eviction moratoriums that, while not relieving their debts, had at least granted them a reprieve. The federal moratorium alone, passed as part of the CARES Act in March, covered between 28.1 percent and 45.6 percent of rental units.

On Friday, after talks between the Trump administration and Democrats effectively stalled, President Trump threatened to bypass Congress to extend the moratorium.

The moratoriums were supposed to be emergency measures to give tenants some relief until the virus subsided and the economy returned to health.

Except that didn’t happen. The virus continues to surge around the country, and parents are unsure when schools will reopen. Each week more than a million laid-off employees continue to file for unemployment insurance, while temporary layoffs are becoming permanent job losses.

Landlords hold that the most extreme predictions of evictions are overblown. For starters, the limited data available suggests that most tenants have stayed current on their bills. Also, property owners, facing rising vacancies and falling rents, are increasingly working out rent cuts and extended payment plans.

Still, put all the numbers together, and it becomes clear that renters were struggling before the pandemic, they’ve been hit harder by the virus and job losses, and the rental market is likely to be more challenging even after the economy recovers.

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In the wake of the pandemic, 43 states and Washington, D.C., enacted some kind of eviction moratorium, according to Ms. Benfer. On top of that were various local measures, along with the federal eviction moratorium, which covered subsidized housing and rental properties with loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

While these measures were of varying length and strength — and many, including the federal ban, had little to no enforcement mechanism — together the patchwork served to halt or slow evictions for a majority of renters. Only seven states — Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming — never issued a statewide stay on evictions, and even in those states, the federal rules should have protected at least a third of renter households.

Just as important as those protections were the federal unemployment and stimulus payments. After all, most renters do not have eviction problems if they stay current on their bills, and with help from the $1,200 stimulus payments and $600 in extended unemployment that came with the CARES Act, many of them have.

Benjamin Schenk, a San Diego landlord who operates 30 units in two buildings, is one of the many property owners who have been surprised by the high number of tenants paying their rent in the early months of the pandemic. In March he was talking with his lenders about how he might restructure his loans in anticipation of nonpayments, only to make it to August with payment rates close to 100 percent, which he attributes to the CARES Act.

But people are now falling behind. Though it will take until mid-month to get a true sense of how bad August will be, several tenants who lost their jobs stopped paying rent in the first few days. “The aid that folks are relying on has dried up and not a lot of places are hiring,” Mr. Schenk said.

While there’s no comprehensive data on rent payments, a weekly tracker from the National Multifamily Housing Council that covers about 11 million units has started slipping. In the Census Bureau’s most recent Pulse Survey, for the week of July 16 to 21, just under one in five renters said they were unable to pay July’s rent on time, while one in three were unsure they could make August payments.

The threat to small landlords is also a threat to tenants. About 40 percent of the nation’s 48.2 million rental units are owned by “mom-and-pop” operators who tend to have a limited financial cushion. Since much of the nation’s affordable housing consists of small apartment buildings and single-family homes if these smaller landlords go under many of their units could be “lost.” Some would become owner-occupied housing. Others will get acquired by larger investors who plan renovations and rent increases — compounding a longstanding affordable housing shortage.

Evictions, meted out by local courts, are difficult to tally nationwide. For now, new filings are depressed compared with historical averages, according to a survey of a dozen cities by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. But they have resumed around the country, and are likely to grow.

There is a difference between an eviction filing, which is the start of a legal process, and an actual eviction, in which a tenant is removed. According to Eviction Lab, there were 3.7 million such filings in 2016, about one million of which led to an eviction — a figure that undercounts displacement.

Many tenants leave after a threat of eviction or the first sign of a filing. Others leave after a landlord turns off utilities or changes the locks. Even for tenants who are never taken from their home by a sheriff, behind every filing is severe stress and tattered credit that makes it harder to find a new place. Beyond that is the uncountable number of families whose rent was raised beyond their means and who left before missing a payment.

So even if there are only a million formal evictions a year, the number of people who are displaced is probably several times that, and likely to grow.

While homelessness would almost certainly increase with a spike in evictions, this doesn’t necessarily mean shelters will fill up or encampments will pop up on every street. Tenants, in particular, families, often exhaust every available option — living in weekly hotels and illegal garages, staying with friends or piling in with multiple roommates — before they end up in the shelter system or the streets.

Steve Noggle, 43, was evicted from his apartment in Annville, Pa., this week. He received just five weeks of extended unemployment benefits even though he lost his restaurant job four months ago. He has been sleeping on his sister’s couch since Monday. “I don’t like having to be here, it’s a burden on everybody, especially because I can’t contribute anything financially,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can get a job as soon as possible.”

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.

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Landlords Jump the Gun as Eviction Moratorium Wanes

The four-month pause that has protected millions of Americans from eviction cases is set to expire at the end of this week. But that hasn’t stopped landlords across the country from trying to get a head start forcing renters out.

Landlords in Tucson, Ariz., filed dozens of eviction cases last month despite the federal moratorium, which was put in place because of the coronavirus crisis. Legal aid lawyers had to go to court to stop the eviction of a San Antonio renter who had lost her job during a citywide stay-at-home order. And in Omaha, a court found that a struggling renter’s attempted eviction had violated the emergency law.

As the number of Covid-19 cases has surged across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged: landlords commencing eviction proceedings even though the CARES Act relief law currently protects about 12 million tenants living in qualifying properties.

Yolanda Jackson, a special-education paraprofessional in the DeKalb County schools outside of Atlanta, lost her job in March when the schools shut down. Ms. Jackson, a mother of two, has yet to receive an unemployment check, despite confirmation that she was approved, and hasn’t been able to pay her rent. A charitable organization agreed to cover her missed payments, but so far the manager of her complex, LaVista Crossing Apartments, hasn’t sent the necessary documentation to accept it.

“I have tried everything in my power not to get to this point,” Ms. Jackson said. “I’ve been here seven years, and they will not work with me. I am just stressed out and trying to hold it together.”

She received an eviction notice in late June, and the manager said in a court filing that the property wasn’t covered by the federal moratorium. But on Tuesday, lawyers for Legal Aid in Atlanta decided to take her case after finding that the complex is in fact listed as having a federally backed mortgage — making it covered by the CARES Act moratorium.

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Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

Lawyers for LaVista Crossing did not respond to messages seeking comment.

At least two other residents of the apartment complex have been served with eviction notices for nonpayment, said Lindsey Siegel with Atlanta Legal Aid. “Many Legal Aid clients are facing evictions simply because their unemployment benefits haven’t come through,” she said.

State and local governments have also issued eviction moratoriums, but the CARES Act is the furthest reaching, covering as many as 12.3 million renters living in an apartment complex or single-family home financed with a federally backed mortgage. But like other moratoriums, it’s about to expire: After Friday, landlords can begin filing eviction notices for failure to pay rent. It will be at least 30 days after that before any tenants are kicked out.

The moratorium has been a lifeline for millions of unemployed people, allowing renters waiting on slow-to-arrive aid to stay in their homes and make up the payments later.

But the far-ranging and hastily assembled CARES Act — which, among things, had provisions for direct relief payments, a temporary expansion of unemployment insurance and hundreds of billions of dollars in small-business aid — does not penalize landlords who violate the moratorium.

Paula Cino, a vice president for policy and government affairs at the National Multifamily Housing Council, a landlord group, said there had been some legitimate confusion at the outset with the federal moratorium and local and state eviction pauses.

“That said, I wouldn’t minimize the fact that there is the potential for bad actors in this space,” she said. “Even if they weren’t initially taking advantage of the system, they have the responsibility to better understand.”

Once an eviction case enters the legal system, it can have lasting consequences: Even a wrongfully filed action can be difficult to remove from court records and keep turning up when renters go through background checks.

“An eviction judgment stays on a tenant’s credit report for seven years, is grounds for wage garnishment and makes it more difficult for a tenant to find future housing,” said Stacy Butler, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has been tracking violations of the CARES Act.

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Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times
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Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

The scope of the problem is elusive. Wrongly evicted renters might not bother trying to challenge their landlords, sometimes because of their immigration status, or because they do not know they have the right.

But wrongful evictions have been reported across the country. The Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a consumer advocacy group, found more than 100 filings in apparent violation of the CARES Act in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts.

And in a survey of 100 legal aid lawyers in 38 states, by the National Housing Law Project, all but nine said they knew of attempts at illegal evictions in their cities. The problem prompted the group to create a draft complaint to challenge a violation of the CARES Act moratorium.

Judges have been troubled, too. The Texas Supreme Court issued a statewide order on Tuesday requiring landlords to certify whether the CARES Act applies to an eviction case, and Arizona’s Supreme Court took a similar action earlier this month.

Lawmakers in Washington are debating another relief law — including possible stimulus payments, aid for governments and schools, and a decision on what to do about the extra $600 weekly unemployment benefit — and housing advocates want it to have more help for renters.

The landlord group is in favor of help for tenants, too. The National Multifamily Housing Council said it favored the creation of an emergency rental assistance program of up to $100 billion. But the organization opposes a “protracted extension of a federal eviction moratorium.”

If the moratorium is extended in another relief bill — it is part of the $3 trillion package passed by House Democrats — there are calls from housing advocates to give it enough teeth to keep landlords from trying to skirt the rules.

“There should also be clearly delineated enforcement mechanisms and steep penalties for landlords who flout the law,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which has set up a webpage to help tenants determine if their rental is covered by the CARES Act.

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Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

Nelson Mock, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said lawyers across Texas had seen “landlords trying to sidestep the issue.”

Juanita Herrera DeLeon, 57, who lost her job in March during San Antonio’s stay-at-home order, had to fend off an eviction attempt despite the CARES Act moratorium.

Soon after Ms. DeLeon lost her job, the manager of her apartment complex, the Olmos Club Apartments, tried to lock her out by installing a device on her doorknob. It was removed after she complained to the police, but she said the complex had tried other tactics to get her to leave, like posting on her front door a three-day notice to vacate the premises.

That was when she sought help from RioGrande Legal Aid. In a statement filed with her lawsuit, she said the property manager “did not leave me anything in writing about locking me out” before the first attempt.

The suit was recently settled; Mr. Mock said he was not permitted to discuss the terms.

Jason Adelstein, a lawyer for the Olmos Club Apartments, said, “The dispute was settled between the parties, my client denies any wrongdoing, and due to the terms of the settlement agreement between the parties there can be no further comment.”

The issue of CARES Act violations may be worst in Arizona.

In June alone, at least 80 eviction proceedings that were started in the local courts in Pima County appeared to violate the CARES Act, according to research by a team that included Ms. Butler, the law professor in Tucson. Many were filed by small landlords, and it’s hard to know whether the filings were intentional or a mistake, she said.

One property owner, however, was responsible for filing more than a dozen cases against residents of the Cordova Village apartment complex on Tucson’s south side.

The landlord, Equilibrium Properties, which operates several apartment buildings in Tucson and Washington, D.C., said in an emailed statement that the eviction filings had been made in error. The company, which received at least $150,000 under the Paycheck Protection Program established by the CARES Act, said it had moved to vacate the proceedings and was “rescinding all notices for nonpayment that have been given to tenants.”

“Moving forward,” the company said, “we will take every effort to comply with the CARES Act.”

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10 Steps to Take to Try to Prevent Your Own Eviction

If you have a mortgage and can’t afford to pay it because of fallout from the coronavirus, you may be able to push off your payments for several months, or even into next year. But if you’re struggling to pay your rent, your options are probably much more limited.

Local, state and federal governments have laid out a patchwork of programs to pause certain eviction proceedings, but some of those have already expired — and one eviction protection component set out in the CARES Act is scheduled to expire by July 25.

Without continued regional action or new help from Congress, a spike in evictions may soon be upon us. The Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project in Denver estimates that between 19 million and 23 million — one in five of the 110 million Americans who live in rental housing — are at risk of eviction by the end of September.

But as harrowing as eviction is, it’s a process that plays out over weeks, at a minimum. And at nearly every point along the way, it may be possible to stop it.

Most people who have never experienced eviction aren’t aware of their local rules, which can be complex and differ widely from place to place. And then there’s the tangle of stopgap federal efforts that may be extended or resurrected over the course of the crisis.

If you’re having trouble paying your rent, your situation might feel hopeless. It may not be — and experts have these suggestions for what to know and what to do.

If you’ve lost your job or part of your income, your instinct may be to avoid your landlord. But it’s probably better to make contact and explain what’s going on.

“In a couple of groups I’ve been part of where landlords have been present, they’ve complained that they’ve reached out to tenants and aren’t getting responses,” said Abigail Staudt, managing attorney of the housing practice at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Many of them — not all — are compassionate and are ready and willing to work with tenants.”

If you’re going to pay late, not pay in full or pay nothing, landlords will find that out soon enough anyway, she added. Being upfront might pay off later.

Often, tenants receive that first notice from a landlord, assume that there is no fixing the problem, and decide that they should pack up and move. “People often confuse the first step in the process with the last step,” said Zach Neumann, founder of the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project.

In fact, in most areas, you don’t have to move until there has been some sort of legal finding against you and an officer of the law arrives to carry out any order of eviction. That means there may be time for you to figure out a solution that doesn’t require you to move at all.

You probably do not have the right to a lawyer if a landlord brings an eviction action against you (although there are a few notable exceptions, like in San Francisco and for some families in Cleveland). But you can retain one anyway, and possibly for little cost.

Contacting your local Legal Aid office is a good start. An organization called Just Shelter also has a nationwide map on its website with links to other local organizations that may be able to help.

Merely retaining a lawyer may make landlords more likely to negotiate. That’s because it could signal that their own legal fees are about to go up. A number of reports have pointed to improved (or at least non-worst-case-scenario) outcomes for tenants who have counsel.

Even if you’re not able to fend off eviction, Ms. Staudt said, a lawyer may be able to negotiate more time for you to find a new place.

The company or person tacking notices to your door does not inspire much sympathy. Still, landlords have to pay utilities, taxes, maintenance and insurance, too.

And this is one of the few areas of consumer life where you alone may be the source of a significant percentage of someone else’s income.

It might help in any communication to acknowledge this. Small-scale landlords own more than half the housing stock that rents for less than $750 per month, noted Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. If they go into foreclosure or have to sell, even less sympathetic owners might replace them.

“If we lose them, we risk losing a big source of affordable housing,” she said. Perhaps if you acknowledge your own landlord’s contribution in this way (and your desire to keep landlords solvent, if your own seems to be in jeopardy), you could get a more sympathetic ear.

You do not get what you do not ask for. So talk to your landlord. There are different ways to reduce your costs: waiving rent, reducing rent or using a security deposit in lieu of your payment.

A survey by Apartment List, the real estate listing site, found a bit of decent news. As of June, 39 percent of people not paying rent in full reported that their landlord had made some kind of concession. That figure had fallen from 45 percent in April, but it’s still worth asking for new terms.

Depending where you live and the details of the mortgage for the property you occupy, you might be protected from eviction, at least for now. Some landlords who have themselves put their mortgages into forbearance cannot evict tenants while they’re also skipping payments.

A database of addresses that the National Low Income Housing Coalition created may help some renters figure out if their landlord must comply with the various federal rules. This is another area where a lawyer can help, since the rules can be complicated and some landlords don’t know them — or ignore them.

Some state and local officials have put their own eviction restrictions into place. These efforts are listed on the websites for Eviction Lab and Regional Housing Legal Services.

Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest School of Law, has also assembled a large amount of helpful information on local actions, with the help of many law and public health students. It’s collected in a publicly available Google spreadsheet.

Rental assistance programs exist, although high demand has depleted some of them.

Still, it’s worth seeking the help out if you need it. The National Low Income Housing Coalition maintains a list of programs on its website.

Also, keep checking back. Any new federal relief bill could provide additional money.

Things may not go your way. The Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, a founder of both Just Shelter and Eviction Lab, saw it happen while researching his book “Evicted.”

He suggested a couple of tactics. First, make a plan for where you might go if you lose your housing. Ask family and friends for help well ahead of time.

Then stay in your current home as long as you legally can. “You might as well wait for the sheriff to come and force you out,” he said.

Nobody knows what will happen in Washington. Many lawmakers agree that another relief package is necessary, but what it will look like and when it will arrive are anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, tenants should pay as much as they can for as long as they can — and cross their fingers that more help arrives, said Norrinda Brown Hayat, associate clinical professor of law at the Newark campus of Rutgers School of Law.

“Everything is ‘If, then, but,’” she said. “People want to have certainty, but there is none. We just don’t have it yet.”

Jaffe S. Pickett, executive director of Florida Rural Legal Services, said collecting yourself and responding quickly to the threat of eviction isn’t easy, given everything that renters may be up against right now.

“People are coming home from one job, trying to get the kids to Grandma’s,” she said. “With schools and summer programs closed, it all becomes more of a burden.”

This pandemic compounds poverty or causes it outright. If you know someone is in trouble, try to help that person head it off as quickly as possible.

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Tenants’ Troubles Put Stress on Commercial Real Estate

In the middle of March, as Covid-19 was shutting down the U.S. economy, Hughes Marino, a West Coast commercial real estate brokerage firm based in San Diego, wrote an email to clients offering to haggle with their landlords for lower rent. The firm was ready to help companies “restructure their leases as rents collapse,” it said.

After the email was sent, building owners and even rival brokers accused the firm of trying to cash in on an unforeseen pandemic that has rattled the foundations of the world economy. Jason Hughes, the company’s chief executive, makes no apologies.

Even with tenants besieged, “landlords are out there saying, ‘You’ve got to keep paying,’” he said. “We represent companies, not landlords, so when there’s an opportunity to renegotiate costs, absolutely, I’m there.”

Faced with plunging sales that have already led to tens of millions of layoffs, companies are trying to renegotiate their office and retail leases — and in some cases refusing to pay — in hopes of lowering their overhead and surviving the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This has given rise to fierce negotiations with building owners, who are trying to hold the line on rents for fear that rising vacancies and falling revenues could threaten their own survival.

Simon Property Group, the biggest mall operator in the United States, this week sued Gap, the owner of retail chains that include Old Navy and Banana Republic, for nearly $66 million in unpaid rent for April, May and June.

“We remain committed to working directly with our landlords on mutually agreeable solutions and fair rent terms, just as our industry and government partners have sat with us in good faith to shape the post-Covid business landscape,” Mark Daniel Snyder, a spokesman for Gap, said in a statement.

In many cases, the strongest tenants — those most able to pay — are driving the hardest for a discount. They include brand-name companies like LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate that owns Sephora and other outlets, and Starbucks, which had $2.6 billion of cash on hand at the end of March and would have little problem selling stock or bonds to raise more money.

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Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

“We are having ongoing conversations with our landlords in various markets regarding what may be commercially reasonable lease concessions in the current environment,” Patrick Grismer, Starbucks’s chief financial officer, said in April.

Landlords say strong companies are taking advantage of the crisis to try to get better deals. Anthony E. Malkin, the chief executive of the Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the Empire State Building, said LVMH had stopped paying rent. “That is a massively creditworthy company with tremendous resources, a huge balance sheet and absolutely opportunistically has said, ‘We’re not going to pay,’” he said.

Anish Melwani, chief executive of LVMH’s U.S. arm, said the company was in discussions with landlords to find “equitable solutions to mitigate the impact of store closures,” adding that “we are confident we will be able to reach constructive agreements.”

Beyond the immediate impact of business closings on tenants’ revenue are larger questions, including the already-dire trends for malls and shopping centers, how office and consumer behavior might change after the pandemic, and the effects of recent looting and vandalism on retail corridors. Will companies need more space so that employees can spread out, or will they need less because they need fewer offices at all?

“I’d like to say I have an opinion on all this, and it’s just as good as everybody else’s, because nobody knows,” said Michael Covarrubias, chief executive of TMG Partners, a San Francisco-based developer of office, retail and residential buildings. “We are in the dead zone. There are no leases, no sales, no purchases, no loans. So you can’t get your footing and say, ‘That’s where we are.’”

Commercial real estate — any building that isn’t a home — might be called dull but important. There are no HGTV shows dedicated to the armies of mostly male brokers who rent out office buildings and shopping malls, but these properties are the bedrock of commercial life and are of paramount importance to the financial system.

Banks, which have $2.38 trillion of commercial real estate loans on their books, could face a stampede of landlords asking to restructure the loans they took out to buy properties where tenants are falling behind on their rents. After the last financial crisis, losses on commercial real estate lending peaked in 2009, when 3.3 percent of loans were written off, according to the Federal Reserve, but weighed on many banks for years.

Bankers have started to make concessions to borrowers under stress, like deferring payments and waiving late fees. “Borrowers are asking how we can get through this together,” said Nipul Patel, chief operating officer for Wells Fargo Commercial Real Estate.

Landlords for hotels and retail space have been hit hardest by the virus, with tenants falling behind on rents as foot traffic and travel have been eviscerated. In turn, landlords have begun to fall behind on the loans used to acquire or build properties. In May, 19 percent of loans backed by hotel properties were more than 30 days past due, and the figure was 10 percent for retail properties, according to Trepp, which collected the data from the loans bundled into commercial mortgage-backed securities.

Just over 2 percent of loans to office-space landlords were past due, but that figure could grow if the economic downturn deepens — and in some New York offices, the impact is already being felt. In April, Empire State Realty collected 78 percent of its office rents, its largest source of revenue, and 46 percent of rent from retail tenants. Manus Clancy, the leader of applied data and research at Trepp, said the situation could get as bad as the aftermath of the financial crisis, but with some property types “much, much worse.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


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