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Some St. Louis Area Landlords Are Struggling to Collect Rent During Federal Eviction Ban

Kim Poor holds a stack of citations from the City of St. Louis for uncut grass at her rental properties. She said she cannot pay them because she wants, at least, to keep her tenants' utilities on, even if they cannot pay her rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Y. Henderson
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Kim Poor holds a stack of citations from the City of St. Louis for uncut grass at her rental properties. She said she cannot pay them because she wants, at least, to keep her tenants' utilities on, even if they cannot pay her rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kim Poor has dozens of tenants who are behind on their rent payments. But she does not want to evict them because she does not want families to become homeless during a public health crisis.

Poor co-owns Best Investment Enterprises and manages about 160 properties across the St. Louis region. About half of her tenants lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and could not pay any rent. Instead of filing court documents to evict those tenants, Poor took out $37,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to pay her company’s expenses and keep her staff of five employed.

Her tenants are behind about $150,000 in rent, and as a result, she couldn’t pay last year’s property taxes of nearly $30,000.

“My husband said to me, ‘We don't have very much money in our bank account; I'm starting to get nervous,’” Poor said.

Some landlords across the region are struggling to collect rent from tenants during the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused them financial hardships.

With a federal ban on evictions in place until Oct. 3, Poor and other landlords worry about how they can remain in business if they continue to let people live rent free.

“We knew that no matter what happened, we couldn't let the company fail because there were too many people depending on us,” Poor said.

Poor has rental properties in Jefferson, St. Louis, Washington, Madison and St. Genevieve counties, but most of her tenants live in south St. Louis. Over the past few months, she processed about 70 rental aid applications through state and local programs. All she can do, she said, is wait for state and local rental aid programs to pay her company the back rent her tenants owe.

So far, she has received about $14,000 from local charities for seven tenants. Poor applied for assistance on behalf of her tenants through the City of St. Louis' rental aid program last year and did not hear about the status of those applications until this spring.

She said the application process is tedious, but if the tenant and property owner cooperate, landlords will receive the back rent.

Poor does not plan on evicting any of her tenants because she wants to explore every payment option.

“We've tried to think outside the box on how to do business,” Poor said. “There are great programs out there, and this isn't within our control."

Pamela Harris, executive director for the North Newstead Association, also is helping tenants apply for rental aid and working out payment plans through mediation.

Harris manages 75 rental properties in north St. Louis, O’Fallon neighborhood and Greater Ville area. She said the federal eviction moratorium is costing the company money.

"It’s like a two-edged sword, in one way it has helped us to keep the units occupied, and another way it has decreased our revenue,” Harris said.

Harris received $20,000 in aid last fall from Red Dough Money Center, a financial company in north St. Louis, to help the housing association cover the rent of its tenants. She also applied for and received assistance through other organizations across the region.

A combination of rental assistance and operational grants from the Deaconess Foundation and other charities kept the company afloat, Harris said.

Without that money, Harris would have had to close its doors.

Harris spends a lot of time filling out tenant rental assistance applications, which she said takes her away from her business.

“It has been overwhelming,” Harris said. “It really has, because not only am I trying to find resources to keep our doors open, to meet our obligations and to meet our expenses, it's also going after all this rental assistance is making me fall further and further behind on other things.”

Harris said she will continue requesting rental aid assistance for her tenants, but if the city or state has not processed rental aid applications for her tenants by the time the federal moratorium on evictions expires, she may have to start the eviction process against some tenants.

However, she is cautious about that process because she does not want to have vacant homes or hire extra security to watch over those that no longer house tenants.

“Just because you evict people doesn't mean you're going to get any quick money,” Harris said. “It's not as easy as it sounds when you're managing your own properties and you have outstanding debt.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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