Roanoke renters navigate post-pandemic landlord relations

Renting your residence can be a more precarious agreement than expected, according to one Roanoke schoolteacher who warns that tenants are insufficiently protected from the whims of property management.

An eviction notice issued to Vincent Brown in May was later dismissed in court, after which a rent relief check covered one month of back rent. Brown, a special education teacher, was behind on rent because the coronavirus pandemic had previously canceled his summer job.

His was one of more than 193,000 payments from the Virginia Rent Relief Program, which through October funded more than $1 billion from the federal government to help people whose incomes were affected by the pandemic, according to state data.

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That program helped keep Brown, his wife and three teenagers, from outright vilification, and kept them living in their rented home of five years, at least for a little while longer.

“As soon as the case was dropped, we got a letter two weeks later saying that they weren’t going to renew our lease,” Brown said during a phone call Tuesday. “We ended up having to move anyway.”

Although the rent relief money came in clutch, he said it did not end his headaches with property management.

“Just last week, I got a notification from them saying that the damage to the house exceeded my security deposit,” Brown said. “I’m not getting my deposit back, for stuff that we put in work orders for them to fix.”

He said people should make extra copies or keep their own record of any service requests made to their landlords, because the justice system favors property owners, not renters.

“Renters need better protection,” Brown said. “The company that we were renting from … before the court case, they erased everything that was on their tenant portal. They erased all my work orders and everything.”

But, despite that sketchiness, the move was an improvement for the Brown family, he said. Even though rent is pricier.

“It sucks that we had to move on, because we had so many memories in that house. Five years is a long time to be in one house,” Brown said. “But it is what it is … It’s better for us anyway. We got a better house.”

He said he was grateful for people who read about his plight in the newspaper earlier this year and then called him to offer help.

“Put a big thank you to all those who reached out to help,” Brown said.

And he extended a word of warning to fellow renters in Roanoke. Almost half of the city’s residents are renters, and more than 4,000 evictions have been filed here since March 2020, according to an online data tracker.

“Just tell people to be careful,” Brown said. “Stay ahead on your rent. Pay a few extra dollars a month, just so you can stay ahead, so there’s no question. Stay on time.

Rent prices continue to hit historic highs as inflation takes its toll on the economy. “At night, I just lay there and pray that this is eventually going to start slowing down with this inflation,” said Anthony Erringer, a Tucson, Arizona resident. It’s a nationwide nightmare. “Three times the amount of rent these days. People aren’t even making the amount of the rent,” said Shaneika Cooper, a Las Vegas resident. Some tenants are now shelling out hundreds more a month. “I was completely astonished to see my rent going up from $2,895 to $3,500,” said Rosieangela Escamilla, a San Diego resident. From San Diego, California to Newport, Kentucky rents are increasing. “It just feels like you have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn to,” said Catherine Chandler, a Newport, Kentucky resident. According to a new survey from Freddie Mac, nearly 60% of renters said they were hit with rent increases this past year. Those increase hits upwards of 10%. And a majority reported that their wages did not increase at a suitable rate. Soaring rent with historically high housing costs is a one-two punch for anyone looking for an affordable place to live, putting more Americans at risk for homelessness. “For a person like myself, or someone who makes less than $30,000 a year, affordable is out of reach,” said Lewis Bass, a Detriot, Michigan resident. The key factors are landlords passing on their rising costs to their tenants. On top of that, some are capitalizing on the strong demand for housing, especially in new market hot spots where people migrated during the pandemic for remote work. That demand hikes prices for everyone and changes the types of housing on offer. Michael Hicks is a professor of Economics at Ball State University. “The pressure for them to go up is now lower. So the landlords can no longer sell their property as easily, and they aren’t facing any growth in costs,” said Hicks. A decrease in rent prices is likely a way off. But experts say they will become more affordable by stabilizing. Meanwhile, renters are doing what they can to stay afloat and keep their home sweet home. “People like me who have been here for years and don’t necessarily want to buy, but have been part of the community. It’s like we’re feeling pushed out,” said Crystal Jones, a Carmel, Indiana resident.