By Meghan Hall
The economic impact of coronavirus has left many financially vulnerable, an issue that could greatly impact the multifamily industry as tenants struggle to pay rents. For many tenants, the willingness to pay rent is there, even if it isn’t always on time. According to those at Till, a growing flexible rent collection platform, landlords have traditionally used punitive measures in an effort to get renters to pay on time—measures that can have a debilitating impact on all involved, especially during coronavirus. The Registry spoke with Till’s Founder and CEO, David Sullivan, to talk about the concept of flexible rent and its potential within the multifamily industry moving forward.
Can you please tell The Registry a little bit about Till’s beginnings?
The idea for Flexible Rent arose out of my personal experience working with renters over the last ten years. When renters face financial challenges, it impairs their ability to pay rent. I was frustrated that the rental industry only uses late fees and evictions – sticks—to push renters to perform. Where are the tools that help renters?
The reality is that most renters get paid over the course of the month – not on the first of the month – and the majority of them have limited savings and high income volatility. Anytime an unforeseen expense arises – such as a car repair or medical bill – the renter struggles to make rent on time. Most renters who pay late are employed, have the ability to pay, and have the willingness to pay. So, these renters deserve a better solution.
We began working with renters who were constantly delinquent to see if we could get them on a better schedule. Just by engaging with them on a personal level, we very quickly saw that by rethinking the payment structure, we could get them to pay on time and also save them money on late fees. They ended up staying in the home longer and being a better partner to us as landlords, because their overall financial health was improved.
From your perspective, how has the multifamily industry evolved in such a way so as to make flexible rent a necessary option for renters and landlords?
Landlords are recognizing that evictions and late fees are highly expensive for themselves and overly punitive to the consumer, and that with tech-enabled solutions, our industry can now provide fair, objective and personalized solutions at scale that not only improve the renter’s ability to pay, but also reduce the cost of delinquency.
While those shifts were already occurring prior to COVID-19, they are being accelerated as landlords recognize the urgent need to work with renters facing income challenges due to COVID-19.
How do you define “flexible rent” to Till’s clients?
Till’s Flexible Rent is a personalized payment structure for the renter, that takes a once-a-month payment and breaks it down into smaller, manageable payments throughout the month. As part of a renter signing up, the landlord agrees to defer late fees and eviction filings as long as the renter is still enrolled and performing.
Till’s amazing CX team also supports the renter and site teams – helping the renter set up a custom schedule program and make payments, as well as following up if a payment is missed.
Can you explain a little bit about how Till works? As both a platform and a business—how does Till operate?
Till is a platform of tools that renters can use to better pay rent. We partner with landlords and property managers in both the multifamily and single-family rental markets to deploy our solutions.
What minimum qualifications must be met for renters and landlords to enroll in Till?
We primarily work with landlords that own or manage over 500 units. It’s also vital that our partners share the core values that inform our mission, and really believe on a fundamental level that improving renter outcomes should be the priority and also can be of value to them.
As far as renters, the only qualification is that they have some form of proof of income. It can be traditional W-2s, gig economy funds, government assistance, or any other cash flow, but they must have money coming in. We work with lots of payment types, so even if they do not have a traditional bank account, we are able to get them enrolled in Flexible Pay.
What are some of the benefits to using Till—for both renters and landlords?
Beyond a better payment schedule, while the renter is working with Till, we offer the assurance that they won’t incur expensive late fees and won’t be evicted.
For landlords – we offer a renter-centric revenue management solution that provides a fair and objective experience for the renter while removing a lot of the burden from their site teams. We are also transitioning a lot of renters to online payments for the first time; it is amazing how many are still using checks or money orders to pay rent.
How has Till’s mission and reach been enhanced as a result of COVID-19? Have you seen an uptick in the number of landlords and renters using Till? Why or why not?
As a result of the pandemic, there are somewhere between 10-15 million renters currently unemployed or underemployed and about $50 billion in deferred rent. Landlords do not have the time or resources to fairly work with this many renters. What’s also great is that our landlord partners are deferring late fees and evictions, and some are even forgiving rent for renters who enroll and are performing. We have been growing very quickly as a result.
How is Till different from other financial platforms in the CRE sphere looking to have an impact on the multifamily market?
We start with our core DNA – we are a team with deep experience in rental housing that has partnered with incredible technologists and data scientists. It starts with deeply understanding the challenges renters and landlords face.
It is then all about staying true to our mission – we want to be the best in the world at understanding and enabling renters to succeed, and we believe that is done on an individual basis. This is about personalizing their ability to succeed.
Looking ahead, how do you think debates around rent, affordability and the need for creative payment options will continue to evolve, particularly in competitive markets throughout the greater United States?
There are so many aspects to affordability in rental housing, and we need solutions from all angles to truly solve it. Till’s contribution is to challenge the status quo of rent structures and to push the debate around late fee and eviction policies which only exacerbate rent affordability for those that are most challenged. We can help renters save $5 billion a year by better structuring rental payments; we can save millions of families from eviction by giving them a second chance instead of 15 days to come up with the money.