Apartment Rent Payments Fall to More Than Two-Year Low Amid Disruptions From Natural Disasters

Large landlords said only 72% of U.S. apartment rents were paid in the first six days of September, the lowest initial rent payment figure in more than two years, as natural disasters across the country contributed to delays by cash-strapped tenants and possible disruptions in data collection.

The roughly 72% of renters who made full or partial payments toward their rent by Sept. 6 was the smallest percentage since at least April 2019 and down 8 percentage points from 80.2% in the first six days of August, according to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council apartment industry advocacy group. Any large drop in payments gains attention because the data is reported by the biggest U.S. landlords, a group that typically has higher-rent units occupied by tenants most likely to be able to make rent.

The early September payment rate is roughly 4 percentage points lower than the first six days of September 2020, when the nation was in the thick of the pandemic. And in the first six days of September 2019, well before the coronavirus wreaked economic havoc, 81.2% of renters paid their rent, according to the group.

Swaths of the country are still dealing with the catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Ida, which left at least 1 million Louisiana residents without power after it made landfall on Aug. 29. As of Sept. 7, at least 530,000 Louisianians were estimated to still be without power. The storm system later hit the Northeast, with flooding in portions of New York and New Jersey; at least 50 people are confirmed dead in the region. And federal officials say a dozen large wildfires are burning across California, prompting evacuations and other disruptions among nearby residents.

Given that some cities were completely unaffected by Hurricane Ida, while others were devastated, industry professionals said it’s difficult to paint a consistent picture of what’s happening with rent payments in the national multifamily market. Further analysis by geographic area may be needed to determine the reason such a relatively large percentage of renters delayed payments.

“I do think it’s going to be market specific,” said Andy Scott, senior managing director of capital markets at brokerage JLL, in an interview. “I think that’s going to be key.”

Of course, the natural disasters could affect the reporting as well as the payments. The apartment trade group said part of the problem stemming from the natural disasters could be disruptions and delays related to collecting rent payment information.

“Reporting issues relating to recent natural disasters may have impacted today’s data,” the NMHC report states. Given that it’s only two days past Sept. 6, the typical cutoff date to measure timely rent payments, it’s difficult to get a broader sense of any potential reporting problems until the full month’s payments have been tallied.

As for whether changes in this year’s calendar could have had an effect, while Labor Day fell on Sept. 7 last year so the holiday didn’t fall in the six-day window, the payment percentage is still well below the reporting of 2019 when the holiday was on Sept. 2. And the payment rate is also below each July for the past three years, which has a holiday on the fourth of the month.

Eclipsing Other Months

The high percentage of non-payments also eclipses other recent months that had relatively low percentages of tenants making rent. The second-lowest rent payment figures in the first six days of any recent month came in December 2020, when about 75% of renters paid.

That payment delay could have resulted from pending year-end holidays, as apartment dwellers who had already struggled to weather the pandemic effects of 2020 and the high unemployment were then faced with the traditional gift-buying season and other expenses from celebrating the holidays.

While natural disasters may have contributed to September’s low rent payments, another factor at play is the nation’s struggle to provide enough affordable housing to those who need it.

The U.S. faces a gap of 5.5 million to 6.8 million housing units of all kinds, including rental apartments, rental houses, for-sale houses and affordable rental units, according to a separate study that Rosen Consulting Group conducted for the National Association of Realtors.

One-bedroom apartment rents grew just under 4% in the first four months of this year, according to a CoStar analysis. Typically, analysts would have expected apartment rents to be up roughly 1.7% through April, making the rent growth of early this year more than double the normal seasonal trend, according to the analysis.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced plans to offer more attractive financing for investors, raise Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s caps on low-income housing tax credits, and expand the two mortgage giants’ capacity to lend on mobile home properties and two- and four-unit apartments. This is in an effort to increase affordable multifamily housing across the nation.

Aside from the payment data, multifamily property has been in demand, with investors pouring cash into the sector this year. Kennedy Wilson, an investment company based in Beverly Hills, California, recently launched a $1.5 billion multifamily investment platform. Washington Real Estate Investment Trust is selling almost all its office properties as it accelerates its plan to transform itself into a firm that focuses exclusively on multifamily real estate.

And Ivanhoé Cambridge, a Canadian investment firm, has its own partnership with Los Angeles-based Mount Auburn Multifamily to acquire ground-up multifamily developments throughout the United States.

JLL’s Scott is based in Dallas where, along with most other Sun Belt cities, he is seeing steady population and job growth bolstering the multifamily market and attracting investors to the region.

“Overall, we’re seeing rents move in a very positive direction … along with the pricing of real estate, cap rates and the amount of investors seeking to place money,” Scott said. Even with variations in rent payment rates, “I think what you’ll find is that multifamily is going to be a record year for most people.”

About Real Estate Intelligent Marketing (REIM):
REI Marketing is an innovative Real Estate Marketing Company that offers distinctive real estate services to developers and multifamily investors.  We are a vibrant, dedicated team of industry professionals with international experience in marketing and multifamily investment.