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Mayor Discourages Evictions, Conversations Circle Around Business Rents

By Nevin Jones
Journalism Student

Oxford business owners and landlords are starting to have conversations about ways to afford rent while their income sources have dwindled due to COVID-19.

As coronavirus takes a toll on businesses across the nation, Oxford has closed all “non-essential” businesses, but has allowed restaurants and some stores to offer curbside pick-up. Drugstores, pharmacies, laundry facilities, groceries and gas stations are among the businesses considered essential  — the full list can be found on the city’s website here.

In a Twitter post on March 23, Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill implored landlords to develop plans to allow tenants to remain in their rental units.

“During this emergency, recognizing the need for safe living accommodations, the City of Oxford STRONGLY encourages landlords and residents to develop plans to allow tenants to remain in their rental units,” Tannehill tweeted.

Her message immediately prompted pushback from some local landlords.

“Mayor, until mortgage companies forgive the owner of the property for not paying their mortgage what you have publicized will open a floodgate causing enormous economic downfall, a huge domino effect,” wrote Pamela Roberson of Rebel Realty. “Property owners have a mortgage. Are you forgiving property taxes??”

Tannehill posted a second response emphasizing that she was speaking unofficially in her initial plea.

“Let me clarify—this is just the Mayor—not the City—encouraging landlords and tenants to reach agreements that are equally beneficial,” Tannehill’s tweet read. “A report from a business whose landlord is allowing payment to equal the note each month instead of profit motivated me to share this.”

Griffin Tanner, part-owner of the re-branded bar Levee — now Tango’s — says his plan for now is to wait and see what the best outcome between tenant and landlord will be.

“Everyone is waiting on the information to come from the top down,” Tanner said.

Tanner says so far, all the local banks have been working with their clients to help where they can, including helping to navigate the small business disaster loans that are part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which Congress passed on March 27.

“The landlords have commitments to the local banks as well as the business owners, so it is a matter now of waiting to see what they can all do to help during this time,” Tanner said. “We appreciate our local support and look forward to getting back open and serving the community.”

Amanda Lewis Hyneman is a property owner on the Square and is thankful they have not been as adversely affected as some others. She says she is very fortunate that her family, which owns Nielsen’s, is able to own the building because many businesses around the Square do not.

Hyneman said she also hopes landlords and tenants can come together and negotiate rent prices.

“I would hope building owners would adjust to the times,” Hyneman said.

Local attorney Steve McDavid subleases space on the Square. However, his space leases to businesses without walk-in traffic such as lawyers, writers and construction contractors, so they have not been affected like other retail and service industry small businesses.

“There has been no adjustment [for us],” McDavid said. “But if I owned a building with a retail establishment that was closed, I would hope to have the deep pockets to cut rent or do something to help.”

Mayor Tannehill said on Twitter the Landlord and Tenant Act has not been amended to make evictions illegal, noting that the city is unable to take official action unless that happened.

“Until that has occurred, the City of Oxford does not believe it has the power to order any moratorium on evictions, or to alter or amend the rights that exist by contract between landlords and tenants,” Tannehill wrote.

While there are many issues surrounding businesses amid the pandemic, Hyneman is staying optimistic and is looking forward to the community coming together to show their support when things lighten up.

“I think when this has passed, people will need to get out and shop, eat, and celebrate!” Hyneman said.

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