Apartment Guide recently began publishing a monthly rent report analysis of the rental market throughout the country. The data shows that the cost of rent continues to climb although many residents are already facing thousands in back rent due to the financial impact of the pandemic. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

By Jessica Dortch
AFRO News Editor

Almost one year into the coronavirus pandemic, and over 500,000 deaths later, many Americans find themselves plagued with more financial burdens than before. For many families, the combined $1,800 in stimulus checks last year doesn’t put a dent in several months of back rent. While citizens clutch their wallets, anxiously awaiting more economic relief from the government, many are faced with the tough decision of either putting food on the table or keeping a roof over their heads.   

In response to the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Maryland and the overall national health emergency, Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order on March 5, 2020, prohibiting the eviction of tenants financially or physically affected by the pandemic. Just over a month later, the CARES Act was passed, and Section 4024(b) specifically prohibited “landlords of certain rental “covered dwellings” from initiating eviction proceedings or “charg fees, penalties, or other charges” against a tenant for the nonpayment of rent.” 

These protections provided a fleeting comfort for renters because although they were safe from eviction, the rent was still due every month. 

Granted, the State of Maryland received federal funding that was mainly distributed by Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to various jurisdictions. Baltimore City was awarded a $2 million grant by the department to be used to cover rent, utilities and other housing costs for residents. 

This funding, however, was not guaranteed to all residents who applied for assistance. “There were certain requirements and I didn’t meet any of those requirements,” explained Jamael Jordan, an East Baltimore renter. Jordan thinks that his essential worker status as an employee at a local Amazon Fulfilment Center played a role in his ineligibility. Jordan, like other essential workers, may not have lost his job, but that does not mean his income wasn’t affected by the pandemic. 

Apartment Guide, a popular rental search guide, recently began releasing monthly rent reports, analyzing the rental market throughout the country. “Last year, everything got thrown for a loop, so we thought it would be good to look at things on a month to month basis, so we can see where the trends are going, which cities are starting to rebound and the impact of COVID on the economy in that rental market,” said Brian Carberry, managing editor at Apartment Guide.

Carberry said normally prices peak in the summer and come down in the winter. For now, many landlords and real estate companies aren’t implementing their annual rent increases, but once restrictions are lifted, prices could go up.

There are also other factors that could contribute to a rent increase. “Everybody is getting vaccines and if things start reopening, you might start to see come back up as we get into the summer,” said Carberry. He went on to say that an increase in rent price would likely be the result of supply and demand. 

One of the many things the pandemic has changed is the way we work. Many of those who can, are working from home now and since most students are learning virtually, the whole family is home. It is no surprise that the report revealed many renters are looking for larger spaces. 

“If you are living in a studio , suddenly have to work from home and can’t go out anywhere, it is not a great place to live. You’re living and working and watching tv all in one place. It can feel cramped.” Carberry explained.

Erin Chance is a products liability attorney in Van Nuys, Calif., a state that has three cities ranking in the report’s top five most expensive places to rent. Chance has worked remotely since the pandemic began and is now considering renting a larger space. “I need separation. I need a space just to work in. With being at home, I find myself working longer hours when I would normally be doing nothing. I feel obligated to work, and I imagine if I have a larger apartment then I’ll be able to have an office where I can just close the door at 5:30 p.m.,” she said.  

For Baltimoreans, the latest data revealed that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,659, which is higher than the national average. Even with moratoriums in place and the lingering financial hardship felt by families in Baltimore, rent costs continue to climb. 

If renters aren’t receiving enough income to cover their living expenses, they won’t be able to keep a roof over their heads. And with some households facing thousands in back rent, could those already strained budgets handle rent hikes? 

“Most people are still trying to catch up from the months that they weren’t paying rent. It will end up flooding the courts, too, because they’ll be evicted at a higher rate which makes for homelessness. isn’t the best situation right now. I think they should take the law for what it is and move on,” Chance said.  

The future is uncertain for everyone right now. However, there are resources available, like Apartment Guide’s monthly report that provides insight into current trends, so renters can  make informed decisions accordingly. New data is added to the report around the middle of each month. 

To view the report, visit www.apartmentguide.com/blog/apartment-guide-annual-rent-report/