About 25% of NYC renters didn’t pay in May: survey

CHIP findings also show about a two-thirds of ground-floor retail tenants failed to pay rent this month

A new survey conducted by a landlord trade association shows that a quarter of New York City renters did not pay any rent in May. (Credit: iStock; Getty Images)
A new survey conducted by a landlord trade association shows that a quarter of New York City renters did not pay any rent in May. (Credit: iStock; Getty Images)

About 25 percent of New York City apartment tenants skipped rent altogether in May, according to a survey by landlord trade group Community Housing Improvement Program. The property owners surveyed comprise about 100,000 apartment units, a small slice of the city’s more than 3 million rental households.

The results compare to a National Multifamily Housing Council report last week that found just 12 percent of tenants at the 11.4 million market-rate properties it tracks failed to make a rent payment for the month.

CHIP’s survey also found that 64% percent of retail ground-floor tenants at those apartment buildings surveyed did not pay May rent. That comes as most New York City businesses remain closed because of the pandemic.

“Unless the federal government steps in to help renters and owners in a big way, we are going to see a housing disaster the likes of which we have never seen,” said Jay Martin, CHIP’s executive director. “Congress must provide financial aid directly to renters and the state must match that with property tax relief for owners or in weeks, not months, we will see buildings going under.”

Rent strikes also may have made a dent in rent collections. Buildings surveyed with active rent strikes saw an additional 10 percent rent decrease. In May, tenant groups publicly targeted landlords they deemed could afford to “take the hit,” and have vowed to intensify the rent strikes in June by targeting corporate landlords.

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The findings add to a patchwork of data — gathered by groups that also advocate on behalf of the real estate industry to local, state and federal governments — to track the impact of the coronavirus on rent. While the exact numbers remain unclear, it is evident that many renters are not paying.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, said its members’ May rent collections were down 15 to 20 percent. In several interviews, landlords who own over 30,000 units combined in New York City likewise reported their May rent collections were down by that much.

An exception was Jerry Waxenberg, whose Bronx-based firm owns 2,000 rent-regulated units. His rent collections improved from 74 percent in April to 85 percent in May, which Waxenberg attributed to the steady flow of federally subsidized rents for Section 8 tenants. Most landlords did not want to be identified.

The decrease in rent collections is not unique to New York. In California, a major trade association for property owners also said its members’ collections were lower than the national survey.

“Across the board, anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of residents are not able to pay the rent,” said Tom Bannon, president for the trade group, called California Apartment Association. He noted that smaller buildings saw a larger decrease, while the impact was less for corporate owners of apartments that catered to more affluent tenants.