Residential rents declined across the nation in April 2020, as the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continued to hack away at incomes. The U.S. annual rent growth rate in April was the slowest since the end of 2017.

Nationally, the year-over-year rent change was +2.9% in April 2020, down from +3.4% in the prior month, according to the Zillow Observed Rent Index. This index includes current rental rates as well as multi-family units and single family residences (SFRs) currently listed for rent.

The trend holds here in California, where the annual rent change across the state’s major metros averaged 2.6% above a year earlier in April. This was down from the prior month when the annual rent change was 3.5% and year earlier when it was 5.0%.

Annual rent change

Apr 2020

Mar 2020

Apr 2019
Los Angeles

2.3%

3.3%

3.9%

Riverside

1.6%

2.4%

4.1%

Sacramento

4.3%

4.7%

5.3%

San Francisco

3.6%

4.2%

7.2%

San Jose 1.3% 2.7% 4.3%

Source: Zillow Observed Rent Index

Rents have slowed for one very big reason: the COVID-19-induced economic malaise that has resulted in an effective 26% unemployment rate in California as of May 2020. Most of these job losses have occurred in service industries that tend to employ lower-income workers. This means roughly one-in-four renters are unable to pay rent, let alone afford to pay a security deposit or moving fees. Thus, turnover has dramatically slowed and landlords are forced to decrease their asking rents.

Landlords, tenants struggle to make payments

On top of the difficulty in attracting new tenants, landlords also need to contend with the rents that scores of current tenants are unable to pay.

Depending on where they live in the state, California renters may not be evicted due to an inability to pay rent due to COVID-19 through July 28, 2020. This rule is an extension of an earlier rule that prohibited evictions through the end of May. However, California’s courts won’t be taking eviction cases for the foreseeable future, until 90 days after the expiration of the state’s emergency declaration.

Further, Assembly Bill (AB) 1436 seeks to allow tenants up to 15 months after the expiration of the state of emergency to repay missed rent payments accrued during the emergency. It also prohibits landlords from harassing or intimidating tenants unable to pay rent during this time.

Related article:

Housing insecurity was an issue in California long before COVID-19

Faced with the possibility of a year or longer of missed rents from their units, what’s a landlord to do?

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, property owners unable to evict tenants due to COVID-19 restrictions may qualify for a mortgage forbearance program.

Under a mortgage forbearance program, the property owner who is unable to make mortgage payments comes to an agreement with their servicer to temporarily forego exercise of the servicer’s rights on a default to foreclose, while the owner takes steps to bring their mortgage payments current.

To be eligible for the mortgage forbearance program, the mortgage modification needs to be:

  • for a mortgage owned or backed by a federal entity, including:
    • Fannie Mae;
    • Freddie Mac;
    • the Federal Housing Administration (FHA);
    • the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and
    • the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA);
  • related to COVID-19;
  • executed on a mortgage no more than 30 days past due as of December 31, 2019; and
  • executed between March 1, 2020 and the earlier of:
    • 60 days after the end of the declared national emergency; or
    • December 31, 2020.

There are also various relief programs across the state that offer assistance to landlords who have seen their incomes suddenly decimated in 2020. Find a full list of local and statewide resources for landlords at the California Apartment Association’s website.