With COVID-19 impacting the financial well-being of millions the past two months, it remains to be seen how the coronavirus crisis has affected Madison County residents’ ability to pay their rent.
Evictions within the county have ground to a halt with COVID-19 shutting down government functions. But those numbers could rise in July when the county magistrate court plans to reopen.
“At this time, we don’t have an accurate number as to how it (the number of evictions) will compare with previous years,” Madison County magistrate judge David Patton said. “Our hope is that tenants have reached out to their landlords in an attempt to work things out. If not, we expect a large number of civil actions will be filed in July when we open things back up.”
One of the county’s largest property managers said he’s indeed trying to work with his renters through forgiving late charges and arranging payment plans.
“We’re going to work with them,” said Jay Pridgen of Pridgen Enterprises, which manages 500 residential properties in and around Madison County. “If they’re willing to help themselves, we’re willing to help them, too. That’s kind of where we are.”
An eviction is considered a civil matter. Before the COVID-19 outbreak shut down governments, an eviction-seeking landlord would file for a tenant’s removal through the Madison County magistrate office in person or online.
But evictions in the county — and statewide — were essentially put on hold when Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold D. Melton issued a judicial state of emergency on March 14. That action halted most civil cases, including evictions.
The state of emergency remains in effect, though Patton said “recent modifications” could allow the county magistrate court to resume business July 1.
EFFECT ON LANDLORDS
Neil Azevedo, of Azevedo Properties and Associates, has actually reported very few problems with renters making payments during the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19.
Azevedo Properties manages 162 properties, 28 of which are in Madison County. He said he's had no issues with renters in the county making payments and had just three instances overall. In those cases he allowed for late payments as those tenants awaited their stimulus checks.
"So, it's actually been very good," said Azevedo, who began working with his father, Bruce, in 2014. "Coming into this, we weren't quite knowing what to expect."
Azevedo expressed a willingness to work with renters in the event an issue arises.
"Payment plan is probably the easiest way," he said. "Because if not, you're going to tie yourself up in the courts and stuff like that. It's a lot easier just to get through this time, especially when you know there is additional income coming in for these tenants."
Pridgen, who has suspended seeking evictions for now, said he’s been successful in working out payment plans with his residential tenants during the economic crisis.
But he said commercial rentals are “a whole different story.” With businesses having been closed, there’s been no cash flow to pay rent.
“They can’t do anything,” Pridgen said. “We’re just kind of having to suck it up. We’re not going to evict them either right now. It’s kind of a catch-22.”
He said one commercial client is costing him “thousands and thousands a month” in rent.
“Some of these big clients, I mean, we’re taking a hurting,” Pridgen said.
Pridgen said his business is working things out with commercial clients, because “we don’t want to lose them.”
“But by us not being able to collect, we’ve still got to pay our bills,” Pridgen said, who added that he’s fortunately not laid off anyone.
IMPACT OF FEDERAL MONEY
Some county renters facing eviction may stay put longer than others.
Due to a recent state supreme court ruling, a landlord who received CARES act money from the federal government cannot serve a 30-day eviction notice until July 26. That essentially gives those renters until Aug. 25 before having to vacate.
In fact, a landlord who wishes to remove a tenant, must prove he or she did not receive CARES money before filing for eviction. A landlord must do this through CARES Act affidavit upon filing.
Pridgen said his company has consulted its accountants about seeking CARES money. Azevedo Properties has not sought federal assistance through the CARES Act.
The Madison County Magistrate Court will soon resume its activities, which will include eviction matters and possibly a busy July with those cases.
Patton said he has “many thoughts on the whole process by which we will do business moving forward.”
“I’m glad we’re moving forward finally, but I believe this ‘new norm’ that everyone speaks of will require all of us to stretch our level of patience as we adapt to overcome,” he said.
As a landlord, Pridgen provides a picture of what the ‘new norm’ looks like for some, pointing to an elderly renter struggling to make payments.
“I told my guys yesterday, she’s having trouble … you’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do to make it work,” he said. “This lady has been with me for 10-15 years. It’s whatever we’ve got to do ... That’s part of the business that we’re in. You’ve just got to help where you can help.”