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Laid-off workers, shuttered businesses struggle to pay rent

Businesses, individuals struggle to make rent payments amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Laid-off Hoosiers and shuttered businesses face a looming financial hurdle amid coronavirus concerns: April rent payments.

A petition calling for a statewide rent freeze had more than 56,000 signatures Thursday night.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb emailed News 8 a list of talking points summarizing housing-related state action taken in response to the pandemic.

Residential eviction and foreclosure proceedings may not be initiated during the public health emergency; however, “this does not relieve the individual of obligations to pay rent or mortgage,” the list states.

Businesses deemed “essential” by the state and permitted to remain open under the governor’s stay-at-home order are also struggling to cover rent, mortgage and overhead expenses.

Bill Pritt, the owner of a downtown Indianapolis restaurant, offered unique insight as both a commercial tenant and landlord.

He rents out two of his properties to local businesses and typically sends rent invoices at the end of the month.

This month, he called his tenants to offer reassurance and flexible payment arrangements.

“I just called my tenants and asked them, you know, ‘Are you doing okay?’” Pritt told News 8. “If they can’t pay the full thing, what am I supposed to do at this point? Charge them late fees? I mean, it just doesn’t seem right.”

As a “business person,” he had never made such a call — and almost hesitated to do so, he admitted.

The coronavirus response caused revenue at his Massachusetts Avenue restaurant, Forty-Five Degrees, to dip an estimated 85 to 90%, he said.

However, Pritt’s reduced staff continued receiving a steady stream of carryout orders; significantly more than he had initially expected.

He felt “grateful” he could afford to be a compassionate landlord, he said.

Pritt encouraged his tenants to “do the best they can” making payments but said they would regroup in a few months to “sort out the details of who owes what.”

Most commercial and residential landlords in Indiana are not offering April rent waivers or extensions, according to real estate leasing experts.

Rob Whittaker, a residential tenant in Indianapolis, started two new jobs to supplement his dwindling pay as a Qdoba catering employee.

 “Life still goes on [despite the pandemic],” he told News 8. “Still have bills to pay. Still have car insurance, phone bill [and] rent.”

A rent freeze would be “a great piece of relief,” Whittaker said, but called it an unrealistic solution for Indiana’s economy.

“Landlords still have bills to pay, too,” he noted.

Penalties will be waived for 60 days for property tax paid after May 11.

All public housing authorities are requested to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients and required documentation to show eligibility for housing programs, the governor’s office said.