Left with no other options, they sold the house in September. And another small owner is no more.
“My parents didn’t really have a choice,” said Erika, who is 37. “They couldn’t pay the mortgage without the rent money after they retired and had no one to turn to for financial help. It’s sad – we had memories in that place.”
It’s been a grueling few years for smallholders like the Patinos, who have endured blow after blow since COVID began. Many had tenants who lost their jobs and have been unable to pay rent since the pandemic-era unemployment and rental assistance programs ended last year. Now inflation is taking a heavy toll, driving up the cost of maintenance and utilities.
In this state’s lagging housing market, the home that was supposed to be a lifeline has turned into a financial burden.
“There are homeowners in this state — especially our moms — who are finding themselves in a situation where their property is no longer paying for itself, or actually losing money,” said Doug Quattrochi, executive director of the association. commercial MassLandlords. “To me, that points to a system that doesn’t work for anybody.”
And the battles of small owners may have wider implications for the region’s increasingly stratified housing market.
they own nearly half of the rental properties in Massachusetts, often older and smaller buildings that naturally command lower rents than large new apartment complexes built by large-scale developers. In many cases, these landlords live in or near their buildings and see the tenants as their neighbors as well.
A study published last year in the journal Social Forces that looked at eviction filings in Greater Boston found that large landlords, defined as entities or individuals who own 15 or more units, file for eviction two to three times more often. often than smallholders or those who own less than four units.
“Mom and pop owners are the lifeblood of the entire real estate economy because they represent stability and affordability for their tenants,” said Melvin Vieira Jr., president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. “Your downstairs neighbor is far less likely to treat you badly than a faceless landlord you’ve never met in person.”
At the same time, smaller owners typically operate on much smaller margins than those who own more properties, with shallower reserves. And so it takes much less, just one tenant who doesn’t pay rent for a few months, to tip their financial scales in the wrong direction.
To some extent, pandemic relief, including the Wage Protection Program and a major expansion of state rental assistance efforts, helped offset losses from the eviction moratorium and the wave of pandemic layoffs. But when those programs ended, they left tenants fight.
And as Quattrochi, who owns and lives in a three-story apartment in Worcester, said, “When tenants fight, their landlords fight.”
The job market is now stronger. But this year, inflation has become a growing problem for renters and renters alike.
Take Beatriz Yañez Placencia, who owns a three-story apartment in East Boston with her husband. Her tenants – both families she is close to – lost their jobs during the pandemic and the rising cost of everyday goods means they are paying less and less of the agreed rent.
This in turn is hammering Placencia; she and her husband, who are both temporarily out of work due to medical problems, had to take out a loan from a friend to keep up with their mortgage payments.
“We are really struggling,” she said in Spanish through a translator. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
One thing she won’t do, Placencia said, is file for deportation, not for people she considers friends.
Monique Aziza, a staff attorney at the Volunteer Lawyers Project who represents low-income landlords in eviction proceedings, said she almost never encounters property owners who are evicting tenants for less than an egregious violation.
“Deportation is expensive, it’s complicated and it’s painful for everyone involved, especially when you know the person on the other side of the proceedings,” Aziza said. “It’s not something the people we represent take lightly.”
Housing advocates are increasingly concerned about the struggles of these small owners, worried that the mounting pressure could eventually cause them to sell to new owners who are likely to pay more. They point to Sun Belt cities like Tampa and Phoenix, which saw a wave of corporate investment in residential properties when their housing markets caught fire earlier this year.
In Massachusetts, that doesn’t appear to be the case, but data on corporate residential property ownership is sparse and the state doesn’t track it publicly.
Thomas Shihadeh, Boston regional manager of commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap, said there has been an increase in small owners selling their properties this year, although buyers run the gamut.
Advocates say they are seeing the trend on a smaller scale. In East Boston, for example, Steve Meacham, organizing director of the tenant advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, said the mom-and-pop landlords he talks to say they’re inundated with flyers and notices from companies looking to buy the buildings. Theirs.
“[Small landlords] are against it because of the loss of income during the pandemic and the increase in prices, but also because of what they earn when they sell,” Meacham said. “It’s a symptom of a dysfunctional market that [selling] it has become much more attractive.”
His group is part of a growing movement to buy properties occupied by private sellers and rent the units as deed-restricted affordable housing, an effort they hope will prevent some properties from falling into the hands of large companies. Under Mayor Martin J. Walsh and now Mayor Michelle Wu, city housing officials have pumped millions into a city program to help finance those deals.
The choice for smallholders, between staying or selling, is complex. Placencia said she wouldn’t consider selling her home because it’s a more stable living situation than renting, which she fears would eventually force her out of Boston.
But for the Patinos, their property became too difficult to maintain. They were planning to sell at some point in the future anyway. When the sale went through in September — for $760,000, according to Suffolk County property records — they used the proceeds to move back to Columbia, where they immigrated in the 1980s and where the cost of living is much lower. The house went to an individual buyer, their daughter said, and county real estate records show the new owners live there.
“I always tell my dad: ‘You lived the American dream. You started from scratch, bought a house, educated your children and now you will return to your country,” said Erika. “I wish it had happened under different circumstances – maybe we could have kept the house somehow – but at least they’re out of that situation.”
Andrew Brinker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.