This week, national outlets ran different versions of the same story: Nearly one-third of American renters didn't pay April rent.
That percentage, put out by the National Multifamily Housing Council, an apartment industry trade group, comes with a few big caveats. In early March, before the pandemic devastated the nation's economy, a fifth of tenants hadn't paid their rent. The analysis looks at apartment units that use property management software, so homes owned by mom-and-pop landlords likely aren't captured. And the analysis only includes rent payments made in the first five days of the month. Lots of landlords gave tenants leeway this month to make payments after the standard April 5 due date.
Still, that one-third fraction, derived from looking at more than 13 million units nationwide, gave a preliminary answer to the question many in the rental industry have been asking: With the unemployment rate soaring, how many people are able to pay their rent?
In Oregon, experts are asking the same question. Multifamily NW, which represents landlords and property managers in the region, has sent out a survey to its members, who, combined, manage some 200,000 units. The group expects results early next week. The Portland Housing Bureau also expects to have numbers by then.
In the meantime, the national data hold a partial answer:
Property management software company Entrata, one of the five companies to contribute data, saw 83% of Oregon households make a rent payment in the first week of April. RealPage, another major contributing software company, saw 82% of Oregon units pay rent.
According to Greg Willett, chief economist for RealPage, that’s a drop of seven percentage points compared with April last year. No other state in America had a smaller decline.
“So renters in Oregon came closest to paying at the regular pace,” said Willett.
Arizona, Texas and North Carolina saw just a slightly larger drop. Willett said he believes the relatively high number of people who paid rent in these states is correlated to the relatively low number of people employed in the hard-hit hospitality and retail sectors.
"Those are not giant components of the economies in those four states that seem to be doing the best,” he said.
Neither RealPage nor Entrata would say how many apartment units they have data for in Oregon. Nationally, Entrata says they serve 20,000 apartment complexes. RealPage says they serve 18 million units worldwide.
Rentec Direct, a property management software company that did not contribute data to the national housing council, was more forthcoming with its Oregon market share. Based in Grants Pass, Oregon, they have data for roughly 18,600 households in their home state, according to the company’s president Nathan Miller.
Miller said 74% of these Oregon households had paid April’s rent by the due date. That’s a drop of nine percentage points from last month. Portland’s payment rate went down by five percentage points.
While the numbers vary from company to company, no dataset shows the situation landlords feared most: one where renters, facing unemployment and protected by local and statewide eviction moratoriums, put little to nothing toward rent. Rather, all three companies saw the majority of Oregon renters pay at least something.
“I was nervous, especially with all the stuff going around like a rent freeze,” said Nancy Colantoni, who owns four small buildings in Portland. “I didn't know how that [would] work … if some people would just say, ‘Oh, OK, well we don't have to pay just because.’”
Colantoni said she expected half of her 10 units would pay April’s rent. In the end, everyone paid, though one tenant, who had been laid off from a downtown Portland hotel, made a partial payment.
Kenneth Schriver, the president of Rental Housing Alliance Oregon, an association composed mainly of small landlords, sent out a survey this week to a portion of the group’s members, giving him a glimpse into the finances of a little over 1,600 units.
Schriver said he was pleased to see a high rate of payment for landlords like Colantoni who own more than four units. Most of these landlords saw 10% to 15% of tenants pay no rent, according to the survey results. Landlords with just one unit took a bigger hit, with 30% receiving no payment.
These smaller-time landlords are the ones least-prepared to deal with non-payments, said Schriver. Many are retirees and couples with limited income, whose livelihood depends on the money generated by renting out half their house or an additional dwelling unit.
Nicole, who leases a unit on her southeast Portland property, said she uses the $1,000 rent money to supplement her social security income. This month, to help out the couple she rents to, she reduced the rate by $300.
Nicole, who asked OPB to go only by her first name so as not to reveal her renter’s financial troubles, said she doesn’t know what she or her renters will do next month. She is not in the same position to weather nonpayments as Portland’s larger landlords.
“I imagine they have very deep pockets,” she said. “I barely have a pocket.”
Kenneth Schriver said he expects May's rent numbers to be worse for both small and large property owners. Oregon’s unemployment claims continue to reach record highs. Many workers were able to cover this month’s rent with wages they had received through March or money they knew would be repaid to them through the federal government’s $1,200 stimulus check. For these renters, the source of May’s rent money is less clear.
“The April hit was not as bad as I thought it would be,” said Schriver. “But I see it kind of like the first swell of a tsunami.”