Rent, mortgage payments are hard to meet for workers entangled in the government shutdown

Real Estate

On Christmas Eve, Cory Binsfield, a landlord in Duluth, Minnesota, received bad news from a couple of his tenants: their rent will be late.

Normally, Binsfield dings tenants who are more than five days behind with an 8 percent late fee and if he doesn’t see their payment for two weeks, the lawyers get called.

He’s making an exception this time, however.

“I just said ‘Don’t worry about it’,” Binsfield, 54, said. “It’s not the tenant’s fault.”

The two renters are currently without pay because their employer, the United States Coast Guard, is entangled in the government shutdown.

The government has been partially closed for nearly two weeks now. In the meantime, 800,000 federal workers don’t know when their next paycheck will come and many of the four million government contractors have also seen their income suspended.

For those who don’t have much savings, making rent and mortgage payments is proving a challenge.

“Any delay in a mortgage payment could harm an individual’s finances and their credit, which would affect potential purchases in the future,” said Jessica Lautz, the managing director of survey research at the National Association of Realtors.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management tweeted out sample letters that federal workers can use with their landlord or mortgage lender to explain their predicament.

Michael Galletly, an information technology technician at the Department of Agriculture, called Wells Fargo, his mortgage lender, to change his payment schedule during the shutdown.

“This is a huge hit,” Galletly, 48, said.

Before the stalemate in Washington, he had been saving up to redo his basement and fix a leak in his three-bedroom house in Tooele, Utah. “Rather than paying my bills and putting aside a couple of hundred here and there,” he said, “I’m looking at keeping the lights on.”

Some banks will offer accommodations to homeowners hit by the shutdown.

A spokeswoman for Flagstar Bank, a major mortgage lender, said it currently has a special program for such customers “that provides them with extra time to coordinate their finances without causing additional fees and/or impacting their credit reporting negatively.”

A spokesman for Citi told CNBC that the bank encourages any customers affected by the shutdown to contact them if they need assistance. “With respect to mortgages, we may be able to offer short-term forbearance and repayment plans and/or loan modifications,” he wrote in an email.

Wells Fargo and Chase also said they would work with homeowners who find themselves without an income during the shutdown.

“The possibilities include waiving late fees and not reporting an issue to the credit bureaus,” a spokesman at Chase explained to CNBC.

Some landlords are showing leniency to tenants hurt by the shutdown.

Denise rents a house to a single mother in the town over from where she lives in East Fallowfield, Pennsylvania. She asked to use her first name only to protect the identity of her one tenant, who is a contractor for the Department of Veteran Affairs.

When the government shutdown, her tenant explained that making January’s $1,300 rent will be a challenge. “She’s going to give what she can,” Denise said.

Without that full rental income, Denise is trying to reduce her own expenses. “I keep my heat much lower,” she said. “I started showering every other day.”

Still, she doesn’t blame her tenant and has told her not to worry.

“Why should hardworking Americans be punished for President Donald Trump’s temper tantrum?” she said.

Others have had to find kindness beyond their lenders and landlords.

Ernest Johnson, a geologist for the Department of Interior, knew he wasn’t going to be able to make his February rent with his paychecks on pause.

“Right now I have $33 to last me,” he said. He was arranging to move into a friend’s place and leave behind his $750 a month one-bedroom triplex in Rawlins, Wyoming. But then another friend offered to lend him some money. “It was a relief,” he said.

Now he’s spending his days watching the news and waiting for an answer. Often, he walks over to a local bar, called Hole in the Wall.

“Just to get out of the house and not go stir crazy,” he said.

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