Western Kentucky Landlords Say Coronavirus Isn't Negatively Impacting Business
Some western Kentucky landlords are finding the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus is having a smaller impact on rental properties than expected.
Governor Andy Beshear prepared for a potential drop in the ability of tenants to pay rent by ordering a moratorium on evictions earlier this year for non-payment in the commonwealth. WKMS spoke to three rental property owners in western Kentucky, all of whom agreed Beshear’s eviction suspension was never fully utilized by their renters.
Crystal Jeter is the principal broker and owner of the Jeter Group, a real estate and property management business based in Calvert City. The group owns or manages 59 rental properties in Marshall County and the surrounding area. Jeter said her tenants have acted responsibly to fulfill their obligations on time.
“No one has been affected out of our office,” Jeter said. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re a management company and renters aren’t taking advantage like they would of a typical owner, possibly. I think they would know that we are up to snuff on the law.”
Jeter said no tenants have reported a job loss or interruption in income.
“No one has come and said ‘Hey, I’m on unemployment, I’m not going to be able to pay my rent,’ that’s not happened,” Jeter explained.
Jeter said the pandemic has posed mostly logistical concerns instead of financial. She said some tenants were uncomfortable with Jeter entering their living space to complete a quarterly inspection. However, one tenant reversed course when their air conditioning went out.
“I had one renter who said, ‘I don’t want you to come in during the pandemic.’ And I said ‘Okay, no problem.’ They called and said their air conditioner needed servicing and I said, ‘So it’s okay now for someone to come in? Okay, then I will do my inspection then,’” Jeter said.
Jeter said in addition to the financial strength of her current tenants, she is receiving unprecedented interest from prospective renters.
“We have had more applications for rentals than we have ever had in the past. There is very limited rental inventory, it seems like, maybe because people have been able to make their payments and they’re not moving,” Jeter said.
In neighboring Calloway County, Poplar Place Properties Owner Andy Gupton felt the same way about the exploding rental market.
“If I had another 50 units, I could’ve rented them out easy,” Gupton said.
In addition to the already bloated demand for rental units, Gupton places a heavy focus on a demographic unique to his area: college students. He said the number of Murray State University students seeking off-campus housing is much higher than a typical year.
“I think they’re not staying in the dorms,” Gupton explained. “They probably want to get out of that high traffic.”
Gupton also identified increasing enrollment at MSU as a reason for the housing demand.
“A couple of years ago, our [Murray State’s enrollment] numbers went down and then they went back up. It takes a couple of years for those students to get to where they can move out of the dorms.”
Gupton serves as landlord to 60 units, including apartments and single-family homes. He said none of the properties are vacant.
Although the pandemic is not dampening the demand for his units, Gupton said he is partially modifying the way he conducts business to be more conducive to social distancing guidelines.
“I’ve gone to pretty much everything digital,” Gupton said. “If somebody’s going to come by and take a look at the apartment, I can leave them unlocked, let them go view, and go back and lock them later.”
He said leases and payments are also digitized, allowing for mostly contactless transactions.
Alison Keith is the owner of C&C Property Management, which operates 28 rental units in Hopkinsville. Many of Keith’s tenants receive “section eight” assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even with the large number of low-income renters, Keith said she isn’t experiencing any problems with rent collection.
“I haven’t because my tenants are paying so far,” Keith said. “Plus, they got stimulus checks so they’re all happy. They’re all drinking a lot of beer and smoking cigarettes and got new furniture.”
Keith said the government assistance offered to many of her tenants made them largely immune from the adverse effects of coronavirus shutdowns.
“The tenants just have to pay their portion which is usually small. They’re doing that because they get their check. The government was taking care of them to start with,” Keith said.
She said government benefits may even make the current economic situation beneficial to some of her tenants.
“They [tenants receiving government assistance] probably hope COVID lasts for a long time because it’s been a good thing for them financially,” Keith said. “They’re living it up. Waiting on that next check.”
Despite western Kentucky landlords agreeing in the relative immunity of their businesses from COVID-19, tenants in other parts of the commonwealth are not enjoying the same relief. According to the research firm Stout, 42% of Kentucky's renting households may be at risk of eviction by the end of the year due to nonpayment of rent. The firm estimates Kentucky’s rent shortfall to total $226 million.