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Editorial: Eviction moratorium punishes good-faith landlords

Last December, when COVID-19 vaccines were just beginning to be made available, we urged Congress to help both renters and landlords, because while the pandemic was preventing some renters from working and thus crippling their ability to pay the rent, the costs to maintain rental properties weren’t going away for the property owners.

Eight months later, the federal eviction moratorium remains in place in areas with high COVID transmission rates. But the maintenance costs for the property owners aren’t going anywhere.

We have sympathy for renters still reeling from the pandemic’s effects on their ability to make rent. Almost without exception, if you’re paying rent to somebody, you don’t have a place you own; paying rent is your only means of having shelter. Your ability to make rent is tied directly to your ability to work.

But there’s no shortage of assistance for renters at the moment, especially not in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers announced a $25 million rental assistance program in May 2020, and that program remains active. There’s also the eviction moratorium, which Congress allowed to lapse but President Joe Biden’s administration extended earlier this month.

As for property owners? There’s not nearly as much help for them.

We’re reserving some of our sympathy for property owners such as Noel Wilson, whose story we reprinted in our December editorial. A former teacher, she began renting out her San Bernardino, Calif., home two years ago to help pay for a career change, the Washington Post reported at the end of last year. The tenant paid faithfully at first, but Wilson said that changed and she began trying to evict him in February 2020. A month later, Congress put the federal moratorium in place. The tenant, who was initially cooperative and owed $14,350 in back rent at the end of 2020, stopped returning her calls, Wilson said. “All of my savings are pretty much gone because of this,” she said. “I am just exhausted. I feel helpless.”

We thought it unfair that the eviction moratorium protected renters who weren’t making rent before the pandemic hit just the same as it did those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. We don’t find it any more fair eight months later.

“Mom and Pop” landlords such as Noel Wilson bear the costs of maintaining rental properties. If a renter isn’t paying rent, then some or all of the expected source of income for that maintenance is a dry well.

Today, we ask you this: Would you want to trade places with them?

— From the Kenosha News

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