Did a Property Management Company Tell Tenants to Pay Rent First During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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A South Carolina property management company urged tenants to "go ahead and get your rental payments in NOW" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A South Carolina property management company became a symbol for the anger and concern that tenants around the United States felt in the wake of the changes to their lives and livelihoods brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The criticism of the company, Cognata Properties, was touched off by a photograph of a letter purportedly sent to their tenants, which has since gone viral on Twitter:

The letter, dated March 16 2020, reads:

NOTICE TO ALL TENANTS!! GET YOUR RENTAL PAYMENTS IN NOW!

We, as your landlord, understand that tough times are about to encroach on all of us. This is a letter highly recommending that you go ahead and get your rental payments in NOW for April. We want to ensure all of our tenants are kept in their homes during this time, but we can only ensure that if your rent is paid. Housing should be your number one priority, so get your payments in now before you’re out of work, sick, or if there are any other side effects from this virus. It is very important your rent is paid FIRST. Our processes will not be stopping, we will be following all fair housing laws.

Thank you for your understanding,
Cognata Properties LC

Besides being reprinted and shared by other users on the platform, the letter led to the company being hit with a flood of negative comments and reviews on both Facebook (where it appears as Cognata Property Listings) and Manta, a site devoted to rating small businesses.

“Pathetic and greedy,” one Manta review read. “In a time of crisis to threaten homelessness to their people is just indescribable. The lack of consideration for human life is repugnant.”

The letter was sent three days after Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency for South Carolina. According to newspaper The State, an emergency spending package passed by Congress will provide $8.9 million to be used in local response to the epidemic, which has already been diagnosed in 47 residents.

State Chief Justice Don Beatty issued an order on March 17 2020 to halt any evictions across South Carolina except in cases involving “essential services and/or harm to person or property.” The Columbia City Council was also scheduled to consider a separate measure asking magistrate judges to suspend evictions during the pandemic crisis.

We contacted Cognata Properties seeking comment by phone, email, and social media, but we have not yet received a response. We were contacted by a person identifying themselves as a former employee of the company, however, saying that their phone number is mistakenly still listed on Cognata’s Facebook page.