San Diego Business Journal

So far, the overwhelming majority of San Diego County apartment renters are making their monthly payments despite hardships imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of the end of April, the Southern California Rental Housing Association found that the delinquency rate in San Diego County was about 8%, said Association President Kendra Bork.

May Is Looking Strong

Early numbers for May are equally strong, Bork said.

Prior to the pandemic, the delinquency rate at this time of year would typically be about 2%, she said.

“It’s kind of surprising, actually,” Bork said. “I’m thinking that a lot of people started getting things together, getting their unemployment checks regularly or maybe they found another job.”

Bork is the owner and CFO of Cambridge Management Group in San Diego, which has about 1,000 apartments in San Diego County.

She said that most renters in her company’s projects who come up short on rent money are at least making partial payments.

“People are paying as much as they are able to,” Bork said, adding that she’s hearing similar accounts from other San Diego County property owners.

National Picture

“Far and wide, most residents are trying to do what they can,” Bork said.

Renters and homeowners in San Diego County are doing far better than elsewhere in the country when it comes to making monthly payments judging by a national survey by Apartment List — a rental listing agency.

The survey found that nationally, renters and home owners are having a harder time keeping up in May than in April.

The survey polled 4,000 people and found that 31% failed to make their full May housing payments on time, up from 24% in April.

Of those who couldn’t make a full payment in April, 16% had yet to pay anything in May as of mid-month.

More than half of the people who couldn’t make their full payment in April caught up by the end of the month.

By the end of April, about 9% of those surveyed still hadn’t paid their full rent or mortgage.

More Help Available

Not surprisingly, Apartment List found that people able to work from home were better able to pay their rent or mortgage, presumably since they were still employed.

Remote workers had the lowest delinquency rate in May — 20%, the survey found.

Bork of the Rental Housing Association speculated that San Diego County renters may be doing better than the national norm because California has a number of financial benefits that may not be available elsewhere, such as paid parental leave.

“There was a lot of assistance that was being put out there fairly quickly,” Bork aid.

Despite the trouble some people had making April or May rent and mortgage payments, Apartment List reported that more people were feeling optimistic about being able to make June payments as lock-down restrictions are eased.

Holding Steady

An apparent side effect of the pandemic that helps renters is that the pace of rent increases has slowed to a crawl.

Apartment list said rents in San Diego were virtually unchanged in from March to April and were only 1.1% higher in April 2020 than they were in April 2019.

Another national listing firm, Zumper, reported that San Diego County rents in April were on an ever-so-slight downward trajectory with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment dropping 0.4%

“The only city with a significant rise in rent was Imperial Beach,” said Crystal Chen, Zumper marketing manager.

Zumper showed a 4.2% increase from March to April in monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment in Imperial Beach, but a 0.6% drop in the monthly rent for a two bedroom apartment in Imperial Beach.

Apartment List pegged the median one-bedroom apartment went for $1,581 a month in April and the median two-bedroom apartment went for $2,051, according to Apartment List.

Rob Warnock, a researcher at Apartment List, said that the “flat month-over-month is slower than we would have otherwise expected.”

“This is something we’ve been observing in many cities, not just San Diego, and we think that the subdued rent changes are attributable to some softness in the market created by the pandemic,” Warnock said. “COVID has essentially put a temporary freeze on moving activity due to the combination of shelter-in-place, eviction moratoriums, and general uncertainty about the future.”

Typically, this is the time of year when rents would start to pick up, Warnock said.

“It looks like landlords are holding out on significant price changes until things start to return to normal.”