WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Americans across the country are faced with a loss of wages and now they’re worried about how they’re going to pay their bills.
“People don’t know what they’re going to do, if they’re going to be kicked out, and if we’re going to be living on the street,” said Rebekah Liggett, Wichita business owner, and renter. “I mean it’s pretty insane. What I’m going through is really similar to a lot of other people here who’ve lost their jobs.”
Liggett is a dance instructor. Her business has been open in Wichita for three years, but now she’s out of work due to her business being deemed as “non-essential.” She’s faced with uncertainty, worry and a letter from her landlord.
“Essentially, they’re waving late fees, all in all, that’s what they’re doing,” said Liggett. “They’re saying if for some reason May 1st comes around and you don’t have rent paid, you didn’t have April’s rent paid, then they’re still gonna move forward to evict you and then you’ll go to court. In court, you’ll have the opportunity to prove that the reason that you failed to pay was directly related to COVID-19. So they’re suggesting that you gather that information if you know you’re not going to be able to pay, so get ready to prove this is because of COVID-19.”
Ryan Farrell, Executive Director of Apartment Association of Greater Wichita, said the landlords he works are trying to do what’s best for all parties involved.
“A lot of them are kind of learning on the fly because a month ago things were changing by the hour, by the week,” said Farrell. “So a lot of this is uncharted territory. They’re trying to keep in touch with the National Apartment Association or their local Association like us, for guidance to see how they might handle things.”
Farrell said loss of employment and wages, hurts the tenant and the landlord.
“Landlords get the stigma as if they’re like Warren Buffett or Donald Trump, where they’re loaded with money and they can handle this, but most of them are small business owners and they’re struggling themselves,” said Farrell. “If they don’t get rent, how are they going to pay their mortgage, then they have staff to pay, property taxes and operation costs, so it’s kind of a trickle-down effect from there.”
He said the association has been encouraging landlords to work with their tenants to set up payment plans to help out residents.
The question remains, is it legal for landlords to charge tenants late fees during this pandemic?
“We’re not aware of anything in the in the recent actions by the governor or the Supreme Court that would prohibit a landlord from charging a tenant late fees,” said Hinkle Law Firm Member, Scott Pohl. “They can hold the tenant to the original terms of the lease, they just can’t take action to evict the tenant-right now. So, if the tenant fails to make a rent payment or fails to make it on time, nothing forgives the tenant from paying or relieves the tenant from the obligation to pay that rent or that late payment penalty.”
Experts said the best thing to do is to have an open line of communication between you and your landlord, as well as knowing your tenant rights.
“Even though times are tough, if you are able to pay your rent, please try to do so,” said Farrell. “About 40% of people in Wichita rent, so it’s a big part of the economy and if for some reason you can’t, most landlords are going to be sympathetic to your situation so just communicate, work with them and most likely they’ll work with you in return.”
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