With the hardships and job losses brought on by the COVID-19 virus, making a monthly rent payment has posed a serious challenge for some Mitchell residents.

In response, some local property managers and landlords are extending relief to their tenants amid the economic slowdown that the novel coronavirus has caused over the past month. From reducing the price of a month's rent to waiving late fees, the degree of relief plans in order for tenants to afford living in their dwellings varies with each landlord and property management company.

Megan Pederson said she understands the unusual circumstances her tenants have come up against with the pandemic. As a owner and property manager for Slate Creek Properties with 52 tenants living and paying rent in the three apartment buildings she owns on Mitchell’s Main Street located at 101 S. Main St., 304 N. Main St. and the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street, Pederson has been working closely with her tenants on an individual basis to avoid any evictions and additional hardships.

“I have been in close communication with my tenants since this all began impacting us, so they know the communication lines are open and ready at all times,” Pederson said. “I’ve told all my tenants that there is absolutely no intent to kick anyone out with the situation at hand, as long as they talk to me and devise a plan that works for everyone involved.”

Pederson has made information regarding public assistance and programs available on her property management website. She said she knows the federal stimulus checks — which will provide up to $1,200 for qualifying individuals or $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child — could be helpful for a tenant fulfill a month’s rent. But she said she is trying to be compassionate to the fact that some tenants may need to use the stimulus check for other expenses like food and clothing.

“The information overload is so huge with all of the things that are being offered by the federal and state government, but I’m trying to minimize any work they have to do to utilize those programs and options. I’m trying to streamline the process with our company website,” Pederson said. “I would love to think that they would pay their rent with direct deposit IRS payment if it is needed, but that is something I would never dictate because they may need it for diapers or food in tough times like this.”

Throughout the course of the virus taking its toll on local businesses and industry, Pederson said there have been nine tenants who have suffered a loss or significant reduction in income. She has been working closely with each of them on a plan that is financially feasible. But the economic hardships haven’t led to any tenants seeking to terminate their lease, Pederson said.

For example, Pederson has extended the length of a tenant’s lease agreement to delay and minimize the monthly rent price. Utilizing unemployment payments has served vital for some tenants, Pederson said, but not every tenant has that option. To accommodate for that scenario, Pederson has implemented a process for her tenants, which entails filling out a form that breaks down the hours they previously worked and how much they have been reduced due to the virus.

Mills Property Management, a company with more than 500 apartment homes in Mitchell, is offering similar relief plans to its Mitchell tenants. According to Elena McKewon, Mills Property Management chief operating officer, the company has responded by waiving fees and offering a payment plan for tenants.

"Some of those options include waiving late fees, waiving credit card payment fees, and allowing the option for payment plans if needed," McKewon said. "We have also supplied our Residents with a local resource guide to help them identify potential services and programs available.

The Daily Republic reached out to 10 other local landlords and property managers in the Mitchell community, many of whom were reluctant to respond. They were hesitant to go on record due to the uncertainty of how other landlords were potentially aiding their tenants during the pandemic.

Impact of city shutdown, business closures

While more than 90% of the states across the country have implemented a stay-at-home order or some form of a lockdown -- which typically means all “non-essential” businesses are forced to temporarily close -- South Dakota is among one of the few to avoid instituting a statewide lockdown.

But after Davison County saw its first positive case of the virus on March 10, followed by two more cases a few weeks later, the Mitchell City Council opted to take the step of reducing the potential spread of the virus by approving a city shutdown for specific types of businesses that see larger gatherings such as restaurants and bars

Although Saturday marks Day Nine of the city shutdown, Boyd Reimnitz, a local property manager with more than 250 units predicts it will begin taking a toll on every aspect of the community, including his local tenants' ability to afford rent.

“Many people live on a paycheck to paycheck basis. This shutdown will not take long to affect many aspects of our community,” Reimnitz told The Daily Republic.

Reimnitz has shied away from offering any rent price reductions amid the virus outbreak. However, he said he values the importance of working with all of his tenants on an individual basis, especially in a time of need.

“We have always worked with tenants on an individual by individual basis and will continue to do so,” Reimnitz said.

Unemployment claims are still piling up fast in South Dakota. As of Thursday, the state saw more than 16,000 unemployment claims, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation.

In addition to the tenants who live in the three downtown Mitchell apartment buildings owned by Slate Creek Properties, a handful of local businesses call the main floor of those buildings home. Crazy About Cupcakes is the lone business tenant of Pederson’s who is affected by the city shutdown. But Pederson is confident that the communication will be strong throughout the duration of the dining room closure at the local dessert shop.

As for some of the remaining businesses in the Fifth Avenue and Main Street building like Q Jewelry and Craig Ryans, the two local stores are exempt from the shutdown, alleviating more struggles for Pederson’s tenants.

“It is hard for any business to endure a shutdown, but I hope all of our local businesses can make it through this,” Pederson said. “I’m comfortable with our business tenants, I feel they will not hesitate to reach out if things get tough. Some of the good that has come out of this is stressing the importance of shopping local."

Still interest in renting

Despite the economic struggles facing many residents, of the roughly 250 rental properties Reimnitz owns in the city of Mitchell, not one tenant has asked to terminate their lease in the midst of the virus, he said. Instead, Reimnitz said he's had continued interest in properties. Over the past several weeks, the property manager has seen a spike in the number of out-of-state people who are interested in the available dwellings through his company, Mid-Dakota Properties.

“We have actually rented places because people choose to move out of cities with higher population densities,” Reimnitz said. “We are getting calls from people who have viewed our unoccupied properties on Facebook, Craigslist and Radrenter and are considering a move back to Mitchell to be close to relatives, and people who would just like to live in a city which has a lower population density.”

Although Reimnitz didn’t speculate whether the high infection numbers spreading rapidly in major cities is a factor that’s motivating the increase in out-of-state tenants who are interested in moving to Mitchell, the common theme among the inquires, Reimnitz said, are coming from residents living in densely populated areas.

Factoring in the social distancing guidelines recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for no less than 6 feet of separation to reduce the potential spreading of the virus, the process of showing available apartments or dwellings has been altered by COVID-19. For Mills, the company has turned to technology to offer virtual tours for those who are interested in the dwellings.

“As a company, we had technological capabilities already in place allowing us to smoothly transition to touch-less showings, move ins and move outs,” McKewon said. “We have used virtual tours, Microsoft Team meetings, online leasing and online compliance paperwork to meet the safety requirements. While this has been working effectively, we are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to return to our processes that allow us to have a more personal interaction with our residents.”