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Survey shows Onondaga County tenants owe $26 million+ on back rent

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

A survey of landlords in Onondaga County reveals an astounding number of tenants in the area are behind on their rent.

Only about 10% of landlords in the county who were sent a survey responded, 1,154 of 11,802 who were contacted, but the number was enough to reveal the staggering costs of the pandemic. The results show that rent is owed on upwards of 9,000 units. The average due is seven months worth of rent, more than $26 million in all.

Although tenants who have experienced financial setbacks over the past year are protected from eviction until May under state law, landlords can still take them to court to collect on back rent afterward. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the county plans to use stimulus funding to mitigate this crisis, which he notes will benefit both parties.

"Help these tenants get caught up so they have housing security and at the same time pay landlords who are taxpaying residents and that goes back into the community, that goes back to plow the roads, and pay for the law enforcement, and pay for the human services, so it's all cyclical here," McMahon said. "Many of these landlords - this is what they do for a living. They've bought real estate to pay their bills for their families and they've been dipping into their savings to pay their mortgages or maybe they haven't been paying their mortgages."

The trouble is that as of now, the county has only $13 million available for the program. That's likely only a fraction of what is owed given that many landlords did not respond to the survey.

"It's going to go very fast," McMahon said. "This money won't solve all of our problems, we acknowledge that." 

However, McMahon said the recently passed stimulus bill could provide more resources. And, his administration is looking into whether they can make these grants conditional so that any tenant who receives financial assistance in paying their landlord back rent is not evicted.

Details of Onondaga County's program will be released this week.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.