Reno commercial landlord: Suspending rents ‘common sense’ amid crisis
RENO, Nev. — Vince Griffith knew what he had to do — rather, not make his tenants do.
This was shortly after Gov. Steve Sisolak first ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Owner of RLC First, which owns the North Arlington Towers’ commercial floors in downtown Reno, Griffith decided to soften the blow on his current tenants by suspending rent payments.
In other words, even before Sisolak announced a statewide moratorium on evictions for residents and commercial tenants for the duration of the state shutdown, Griffith told his tenants — Arlington Saloon, Hookava Bar and Lounge, Dress for Success Northern Nevada, and Reno Hive — not to worry about making rent.
“I would just call it common sense,” Griffith, who is also the president of Reno Engineering, said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “Since I’m a small business owner, when all of this hit, it was like, holy smokes, what does that mean for everybody? I guess I wanted to be preemptive about it instead of them asking, ‘what are you guys expecting?’”
According to previous reports, the state encourages tenants and landlords to develop plans within the next month on how to repay the missed rent to avoid insurmountable debt. The executive order, Sisolak said, “does not constitute free rent or mortgage.”
Griffith said even if there hadn’t been a mandatory shutdown of non-essential businesses, he would have given his tenants “the same break” on their rent.
As early March crawled along, he noticed the foot traffic of consumers in Arlington Towers — and everywhere, for that matter — screech to halt.
“Even if their business was cut by 90%, I’d say, I understand no one’s coming out because they’re afraid to get sick,” he continued. “I just thought, it must be frightening for a small business owner. It’s frightening for everybody in our town right now, but it must be double when they have to lay off employees and must be thinking, ‘what’s my landlord thinking?’ …
“They can’t come up with money if they don’t operate the business. They’re going to buy food, house payments, car payments, but (paying) a landlord is going to be last on that list.”
Simply put, the business closures put small businesses on shaky ground as they scrambled to prioritize their budget while zero people — and money — come through their doors.
“Our three main costs in order or priority are labor cost, cost of goods, and rent,” Batuhan Zadeh, owner of Hookava Bar & Lounge, said in a press release provided by marketing company Design on Edge. “Our landlords waiving that burden will significantly provide us a sigh of relief. Great landlords are your partners in business, and RLC First is the best partners to have.”
First interviewed prior to Sisolak’s statewide freeze on evictions, Griffith told the NNBW he hoped fellow landlords would follow suit, adding: “we’re in this together.”
Reached again after Sisolak’s new order forced that action, Griffith said he “expected” the governor to make such a decision.
“You could see it coming,” he added. “I don’t think they had a choice.”
Once the shutdown is lifted, be it May or later, Griffith said he hopes the state doesn’t pick and choose what types of businesses are allowed to reopen.
“It makes me nervous if we’re playing God with what businesses can stay open and what can’t,” he explained. “The right to shutdown businesses is not designed for social engineering … I’m not positive about what the future holds, but I think common sense will prevail.”
After Gov. Steve Sisolak issued his statewide eviction moratorium on March 29, several regional groups and organizations issued statements, including the Nevada State Apartment Association.
The nonprofit is considered the largest voice for Nevada’s multifamily housing industry, representing 894 community, property management and business partner members.
“Many of our rental housing professionals already have individual plans in place to work with their residents to help them through this unprecedented crisis,” NVSAA Executive Director Susy Vasquez said in a March 30 statement. “There is no ‘one approach fits all’ here. The best strategy and recommendation is for owners, managers and residents to partner together to find the optimal solution. Providing a secure home for all of our residents is our primary goal.”
Nevada Bankers Association CEO Phyllis Gurgevich also issued a statement on March 30.
“The Nevada Bankers Association is working cooperatively with all local, state and federal agencies, abiding by all mandates to best help its members and their customers manage the effects of the coronavirus outbreak,” she said. “… NBA’s message continues to be: Don’t ignore a mortgage problem. Even as banks are proactively reaching out to borrowers, the first step that all borrowers should take if they can’t make their payments is to talk to their lender as soon as possible.”
Go here to learn more about how banks in Nevada and across the country are “taking steps to respond to the needs of individual and business customers directly affected” by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of business closures, foreclosure moratoriums and more.
NNBW Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.