I lost 2 service jobs in 1 day to coronavirus and successfully negotiated my rent with my landlord. Here's how I did it.
- Serena Marie was one of over three million Americans who filed for unemployment the week of March 15.
- She was laid off from two jobs in the food and beverage industry in one day as part of closures mandated by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Like many people who were laid off, her prospects for employment in the near future are slim, as businesses remain shuttered for an unspecified period of time.
- Facing down potentially months of bills with no income, Marie turned to her landlord to see if she could negotiate rent.
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On March 15th, 2020, I lost both of my jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I was a bartender and server at two different restaurants in New York City and live off of a tipped minimum wage. Like thousands of others in the service industry, my jobs were eliminated as the city began to shut down amid a surging public health crisis.
When I began to hear about the virus, how quickly it spread, and the level of panic it was causing, I knew that it was going to affect business. At the beginning of that week, the business closures in Brooklyn started as a trickle, but I knew, eventually, I would most likely become jobless as well. That's when my stress started to skyrocket. Bills, rent, food, and other financial considerations were top of mind, living paycheck to paycheck, but of equal concern was my own health. I needed to keep working as long as possible if I was going to weather the financial storm that was coming, but I knew I was putting myself at risk for catching and spreading the virus every shift.
Reality hit me like a brick. I got laid off from both my jobs on the same day.
When I was laid off from my jobs, I had a mix of thoughts and emotions. On the one hand I was relieved - I was no longer presented with the Sophie's Choice of choosing to work or choosing to protect my health. On the other hand, my income was completely gone. All table-service at restaurants in the city were shut down, spiking my current jobs and dashing any hope of finding another.
So I hunkered down and checked my finances, started applying for relief funds that were popping up and tried to file for unemployment. Paying rent was the biggest bill coming up and I was desperately trying to figure out how to pay it while making sure I had money for groceries and supplies needed for the upcoming months.
With all of my roommates laid off as well, we didn't have many options.
With the city nearly entirely shut down, all of my roommates had lost their jobs. We all had enough money for one more months rent, but beyond that we didn't know what to do.
One possibility was participating in what people are calling a rent strike. New York City's workforce has been shocked by the pandemic, and thousands of people are now jobless, with no new prospects in sight. The state has put an eviction moratorium in place for the time being, but many people are concerned that once it's lifted, the accrued debt will cause them to lose their homes. The goal of this strike is to get a moratorium on rent charges for the duration of the pandemic and to put pressure our government to provide landlords with mortgage relief.
I started to see more and more posts supporting the idea and ended up sharing details with my roommates and we all agreed that this was something we needed to consider. While this route could have saved us money and potentially contribute to a long-term solution for those financially affected by the coronavirus, we determined it didn't match out situation.
Our landlord is an older person of color in the neighborhood and we live in her family's home that they've owned for generations. This type of property owner isn't the intended target of the strike because of the personal affect it would have on her.
Our other option was to negotiate.
We were all surprised by how willing our landlord was to negotiate with us.
We FaceTimed with her and she was slightly surprised but also extremely understanding.
We were honest about our situation - that we did have money for one months rent but didn't have enough money for the months after that. We told her how we all lost our jobs and were unsure as to when we will be getting income again because the timeline of COVID-19 is still so up in the air.
The topic of the rent strike was never brought up.
The face to face interaction (through FaceTime) was crucial to the outcome because it allowed us to assess her reaction. As roommates with no other real options, we had prepared ourselves for an intense confrontation, but once we saw that she was listening and had a sympathetic attitude, we were able to take a different tone.
We never brought up how we "weren't going to pay," but focused on how we were scared to let her know we don't really have any more money coming in. We also never brought up the eviction moratorium in New York state. She actually brought up how she wasn't going to throw us out which was comforting even though we already knew that in the current moment, she technically couldn't.
When she made her decision, she mentioned how when she heard the restaurants closed, she knew at least two of us were out of jobs, but noted that we were good tenants. We talked about how we were scared about not being able to pay but also how we wanted to work with her so we didn't pull the rug out from under her. I made the suggestion of paying half rent April and half rent May so that she would have money coming in each month at least. She heard us and decided that she wanted us to pay for April but would waive us May rent.
She told us that we should come back to talk about our situations in June when our understanding of the job market will be more clear.
We were all overwhelmed by her generosity.
We told her since we were going to be home so much more, we would work on spiffing up the space and the backyard and invited her to come hang out in the garden when this was all over. We hope she takes us up on it.
While our outcome was favorable, I don't think the conversation would be so easy for most other people. Getting a face-to-face, heartfelt conversation with a rental company or landlord who owns many buildings is probably much less likely than getting one with a landlord who just owns a few units.
It's still yet to be seen how devastating COVID-19 will be for finances and housing months or years down the road.
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