Apartment operators are preparing for a month of uncertainty as business closures due to coronavirus take a growing toll on the American workforce. This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that a total of 6.6 million people filed for unemployment during the week ending March 28, the highest level in history, after the previous week’s record-breaking figure of 3.3 million.

The wave of jobless claims, driven by government-mandated economic shutdowns, is likely to have a significant impact on the multifamily sector as many renters will face financial stress and may be unable to pay rent. But it’s still too early to gauge the extent of the problem

“Since we are really just now facing the first month of rent being due since the COVID-19 outbreak, it is hard to estimate how the unemployment claims will be affecting our residents and apartments,” Dana Caudell, president of property management at The Bainbridge Cos., told Multi-Housing News.

Nevertheless, the leading luxury multifamily firm, which has a portfolio of more than 20,000 apartments owned and managed, is among the industry players that are adapting to the turmoil by offering more rent flexibility for residents. “We are working with our residents by providing them with a thoughtful rent deferment plan that will assist them during this very difficult time while also retaining some cash flow on the property to pay the on-site teams, utilities, mortgages, taxes and insurance,” Caudell said. “The main goal is to ensure we are still providing a clean and enjoyable home environment for our residents,” she added.

Bainbridge is joined by other top apartment owners and operators, including Sam Zell’s Equity Residential, that are taking steps to address coronavirus-related hardship. Equity Residential announced last week that it was halting evictions for the next 90 days for those who can document that they have been financially harmed by the COVID-19 situation.

The landlord is also offering lease renewals with no rent increases over the next three months as well as payment plans to help those of its 150,000 residents that need assistance. The policies are in line with a set of recommendations to the nation’s apartment firms by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC).

Waterton, which manages roughly 12,800 multifamily units, is also looking to help renters through a rough patch. Residents of a Waterton-managed community in Stamford, Conn., for instance, received an email on Wednesday with the subject line: “Help Paying Your Rent – COVID-19”. The message offers details on government financial relief, including state unemployment benefits and one-time cash payments that are expected to be issued by the federal government in April. “We understand there may be a delay in your ability to access these benefits,” the email adds. “If that’s the case, please talk to us. We are offering a number of rent flexibility options—payment plans, waived late fees and other options.”

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