Renters cannot apply for help without landlord participation: BakerRipley

Thursday, September 10, 2020
Changes mean more people can sign up for rent help
Some landlords aren't signing up for the Houston-Harris County rental relief program; doing so would mean they couldn't evict non-paying tenants.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Despite what Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press conference Wednesday, BakerRipley indicates tenants will not be able to apply for the rental relief program without participation from their landlords.

Last week, Turner told renters they could sign up on their own. That came as good news to many whose landlords and property managers chose not to participate in the program.

"I was so excited because my community is not participating at all," renter Beverly Bennett said.

But Bennett hit a roadblock trying to apply on the BakerRipley website, which is administering the program. There was no option for renters whose landlords weren't signed up.

"That was frustrating, very frustrating," she said.

In the press conference, Turner said change was on the way. He said he spoke to BakerRipley leaders and renters would be able to apply soon.

"They are working on it. I just got off the phone today with Claudia Aguirre, the CEO of Baker Ripley, probably just before coming out here for the press conference. They're working where if your landlord did not apply, that there will be another category where you can register because we are continuing to work to get these additional dollars for those individuals were their landlord may not have applied," Turner said.

BakerRipley, however, disagreed, saying late Wednesday that's not possible, and the framework of the program requires landlord involvement.

"This is critical, as we want the public- especially those individuals and families who are hoping for this relief- to know, the current system design does not support tenant applications without landlord enrollment," BakerRipley director of communication Ebony Fleming said.

Instead, the website will change next week to "capture tenant data," according to the company.

It's unclear where the confusion is coming from, and Eyewitness News is seeking further clarification from the mayor's office.

For renters whose landlords do sign up, there's no longer a deadline. The program will be available as long as funds remain.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said about $51 million of the $60 million fund has been spoken for in more than 36,000 applications received so far. And the money could come soon.

"Assuming you get all your paperwork in as quickly as possible, we will be able to get checks out as quickly as September 18," he said.

Garcia is hoping a new federal stimulus plan will pass, and he said the State of Texas could do more to help renters as well.

"The state could be an enormous partner. They have not yet participate to the level that I would like to see," Garcia said.

In the meantime, the CDC issued a federal eviction moratorium for some renters making less than $99,000 a year. But it's not free rent. They'll still owe all the past due money. It's patchwork of help. Many like Bennett hope will be enough.

"I know I'm going to get help. I know it's just a matter of time," she said.

Baker Ripley issued the following statement:

"BakerRipley entered into a $30m contract ($15m round 1 and $15m round 2) with the City of Houston for CARES funding and developed a program and system design based on landlord participation and payments made directly to landlords.

At this time, given the technical framework of the program design, we are unable to accept tenant applications whose landlords have not accepted the terms of the landlord agreement

However, by next week, we will add a Tenant Registry to the website to capture tenant data for those who are currently unable to submit their applications. The Tenant Registry will allow for quick tenant notification and processing for additional funding that is currently being raised by the City of Houston."

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