New York bleeding millions in tax revenue as rent payments plunge

'Unless the federal government steps in to help renters and owners in a big way, we are going to see a housing disaster the likes of which we have never seen'

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Commercial tenants in New York City are struggling to pay their rent after the coronavirus outbreak triggered a near-paralysis of nonessential business for two months, threatening to drain the city of millions of dollars in vital tax revenue.

One of the city's biggest commercial landlords, Vornado Property Trust, said during an earnings call this month that nearly all its retail clients, except for grocery stores and other essential businesses, have sought financial relief, including a deferral on rent payments.

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About 80 percent of its retail tenants did not pay rent in April and May, its CEO Steven Roth, said during the call.

Empire State Realty Trust, another major real estate company that owns the Empire State Building, said that more than 50 percent of its retail tenants and a quarter of its office tenants did not pay April rent.

If building owners are unable to pay their next property tax bill at the beginning of July, a deadline the city has refused to shift, the city will lose out on its single biggest source of funding, which accounts for more than half of the city's tax revenue.

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The Community House Improvement Program, which represents about 4,000 landlords of rent-stabilized apartment buildings in the city, said that about two-thirds of ground-floor retail tenants did not pay rent in April and May. Before the crisis, the figure was about 15 percent per month.

“Unless the federal government steps in to help renters and owners in a big way, we are going to see a housing disaster the likes of which we have never seen,” Jay Martin, CHIP’s executive director, said in a statement. “Congress must provide financial aid directly to renters and the state must match that with property tax relief for owners or in weeks, not months, we will see buildings going under.”

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On top of that, in April, New York City and state collected a combined $78.5 million in tax revenue on the sale of commercial and residential properties -- well below March, when it raked in $217.5 million, according to a report published by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

That marks a 64 decrease from March, and a 48 percent loss from the year-ago period, according to the report.

“This dramatic loss in tax revenue is alarming,” REBNY President James Whelan said in a statement. “The real estate sector is the city’s economic engine. The pandemic has caused that engine to stall and we should expect such alarming trends to carry through May and June in the best-case scenario.”

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