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Huntsville property manager talks rent relief, what to learn from eviction moratorium

Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Checks from the Huntsville Rental Assistance program are now being cashed, providing some much-needed relief for struggling landlords and tenants.

James Antoine has had a tough job during the pandemic, he is a local property manager working with Renters Reality.

He manages more than 200 properties in North Alabama and works as a middle man between owners and renters.

“It’s been tough, working with the owners,” Antoine said. “Bringing them to an understanding of, ‘Hey, I know you have a mortgage and I know your property is going to have problems because people are home, they’re using the home much more frequently, things are breaking, you have to fix it, money is not coming in and the property is still being used and there’s no telling when money will come in.’ But on the other hand, the tenant doesn’t know when they’re going to find work, so it’s just a meeting of the minds.”

Antoine said he’s worked to try and find a middle ground for the owner and the tenant.

Recently, a tenant and owner Antoine works with got a rent relief check from the Huntsville Rental Assitance program.

“It’s a huge relief on both sides,” Antoine said. “It’s very stressful.”

In this case, the tenant had moved into town, gotten a job, and been paying rent just fine. But, the pandemic hit, and this person was laid off and unable to find another job. Now, the tenant is getting back on their feet and has their rental debt wiped away.

But, Antoine said this is not the end of the concerns he has for tenants who have gone through similar situations.

“How is this going to affect everyone’s credit?” Antoine asked. “Because most property managers are reporting credit every month. Is there going to be a freeze on credit reporting for people that are going through this situation that they did not cause?”

Antoine said he hasn’t seen anyone talking about this.

“In the end, their rent was paid, the homeowners and investors were made whole, but the tenant now has 13 months of default on their credit report,” he said. “It’s kind of like having a repossession on your credit report so how’s that going to affect them for the next seven to 10 years.”

For the owners, Antoine said he thinks there we will see a lot of investors leave the single-family housing market because of how hard this year has been.

“The biggest problem is, and I don’t recommend this, we have a lot of people that want to come into the real estate investment industry and they own one or two horses,” Antoine said. “I completely condemn that, if you can’t have a huge portfolio that can hold you over during hard times, I don’t think you should be investing in real estate.”

Here’s his advice if you’re in that situation but still want to get into real estate investment.

“The best thing to do is find an investment company, an investment firm, a group of investors,” Antoine said. “Invest with them, the portfolio will be large enough where things like this happen and you can survive it, you can come back swinging home runs but one or two houses that is a means for bankruptcies, pretty much.”

He said the biggest key to getting through this pandemic has been communication and compromise between the owner and tenant. He said eviction is rarely something anyone wants to do.

“We’re not in the business of evictions, we want to put people in homes, we want them to pay their rent in a timely manner,” he said. “Investors are not making millions of dollars off of a single-family home, if they’re lucky they’ll break even, most of them are in the red.”

So far, both the Huntsville Rental Assistance Program and the state program, Emergency Rental Assitance Alabama, have doled out thousands to renters and landlords in need.

The Madison County rental assistance program has yet to get off the ground.

During the April 14 Madison County Commission meeting, commissioners agreed on a resolution to move a rental assistance plan forward. There is hope a plan could be brought forward for approval at the next Madison County Commission meeting on April 28.

This would make it about four months since more than $5 million in rent relief was first deposited in the Madison County bank account.

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