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Westminster-based property manager using crowdfunding to help tenants during pandemic: ‘We’re a community’

The tenants who use Westminster-based Utz Property Management’s services, Jenni Utz says, are akin to close friends and family members to her.

That’s why Utz, a real estate investment specialist who started Utz Property Management 15 years ago, wanted to help as many people as she could during the current economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Utz recently joined a group of members of the National Association of Residential Property Managers for a brainstorming session, and a GoFundMe was born.

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Utz said the online crowdfunding campaign, at www.gofundme.com/f/n7wfp-tenants-affected-by-covid19, was created April 1 to help tenants pay rent, and as of April 22 had raised $2,200 toward a $3,000 goal. A good portion of the money, if not all, will be used for paying rent, Utz said.

“We understand that no one asked for this. We all need to work together toward a solution,” Utz said. “We screen our tenants very well, so none of this has anything to do with the ability of our tenants to pay. They’re just good people facing difficult situations, so we’re all just trying to work together for a solution.”

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A recent NARPM nationwide survey showed most renters were current with making April payments despite the shutdown of businesses, furloughs, layoffs and other economic troubles resulting from the coronavirus, also known as the COVID-19 disease it causes. Close to 1,100 of the NARPM’s 6,500 members participated in the survey, according to an April 16 news release, and the data showed more than 40% of property managers had 91-100% of their tenants able to pay April’s rent in full and on time.

Utz Property Management has tenants in Carroll and elsewhere in the metro area, Utz said, including in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick and Howard counties.

“We understand that no one asked for this. We all need to work together toward a solution,” Jenni Utz of Westminster-based Utz Property Management said of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We understand that no one asked for this. We all need to work together toward a solution,” Jenni Utz of Westminster-based Utz Property Management said of the coronavirus pandemic. (Kelly Heck/Kelly Heck Photography)

Utz said her property management group is also developing payment plans to help tenants in need. Those affected need to give Utz Property Management the requested information, Utz said, to assure nobody is trying to take advantage of the situation.

There won’t be a payment freeze period coming up, Utz said, because owners still need to make mortgage payments. But she’s hoping the payment plan options, plus funds from the GoFundMe, will serve people well.

“Even if we’ve got to deal with a slight bump, this issue in this period, people are always going to need housing, which is why we need to work with them to make sure they’re taken care of,” Utz said.

She said other property management organizations across the country have used similar online fundraising methods to assist tenants, and she estimated about $90,000 had been collected through NARPM.

Utz Property Management is seeing a 1.6% payment delinquency rate this month, Utz said, and she expected that number to be higher. If tenants can come up with a portion of their rent through a stimulus check, or unemployment money, Utz said the goal is for the GoFundMe to help pay the remaining balance.

“I’ve been heavily involved at the national level, and what works for one company in another area may not work for us in this area,” she said. “So we all try and brainstorm what would work in, say, the suburban areas versus the metro areas. And then just kind of feel out our tenants.”

Payment plans and a modified system are short-term objectives, but Utz said she’s pleased with her tenants’ participation during the COVID-19 crisis. Utz said she has let her owners know Utz Property Management is looking out for their best interests and long-term investments.

“Obviously with the courts being closed, you’re going to have a few people take advantage of the system,” she said. “But the tenants that we rent to are good tenants. They’re the type of people who are upset that they can’t make their payment, and they’ve been reaching out to us.”

Communication between tenant and property manager is key, Utz said.

“We’re a community, and one thing that I love about living in this area is that everyone is willing to step up and help as they need it,” she said. “I believe in our tenants. And I think if we’re all working together, we’ll all come out of it ahead.”

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