Chris Smith: Santa Rosa landlord surprises tenants, won't collect rent due to coronavirus outbreak

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For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.


Do you know of others doing good deeds during the pandemic? Share their stories with Chris Smith. Contact him at

The full spectrum of misery being inflicted by this damnable pandemic isn’t only terrible but terribly uneven.

Some, including all whose livelihoods have evaporated or are in stark danger of doing so, are hurting far more than others. Those worse off are on the minds of people like Marv Hyman and like Dennis Wilkes’ landlord and Deana Abramowitz, who devise ways to level out some of the pain.


HYMAN IS 86 and the owner of three commercial retail buildings on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa.

The retired pawn broker was feeling lousy for his tenants, among them the operators of a hair salon, a clothing boutique and a casual restaurant.

Hyman told son Alan, who manages the rentals, “They are suffering. We should be part of that suffering.” The elder Hyman asked his son to tell the tenants that for April their rent would be half of normal.

Then Marv Hyman reconsidered. Charge them no rent for April, he told Alan.

The younger Hyman carried the news to their tenants. “A couple of them cried,” he said.

Surely other landlords, too, are examining what they might do to ease the burden of business tenants who struggle.


IN SONOMA, Dennis Wilkes and his husband, Robbie, were at their rented home, doing their best to deal with the burgeoning, multipronged crisis, when the phone rang.

It was their property manager. Wilkes has trouble composing himself when recounting what she told him.

“She said, “The owner of the house you live in called.” That landlord had told the property manager, “Dennis and Robbie only have to pay half a month’s rent for April and May.”

Wilkes bursts with gratitude. A food server at a Sonoma Valley hotel, he said he and Robbie have dealt with a great deal since the Tubbs fire caused their eviction from a rental home in Santa Rosa.

“My husband had not one but two seizures during the stressful move,” Wilkes said. “We moved to Sonoma, closer to my work, so I could have less commute and more time to look after him. His blood count levels are low so he is in the high-risk group for the coronavirus.”

Wilkes said the two of them now realize that their landlady is also a saint.

Amid the pain and anxiety, Wilkes said, “There are people out there doing good things.”


THERE ARE PEOPLE, too, who ponder what they’ll do with the money if the feds move to stimulate the economy and ease financial trauma by issuing most Americans checks of up to $1,200.

The folks I’m focused on would pass the money to others.

“My husband and I are saying we don’t need it, and there are others who need it more,” said Deana Abramowitz.

A Sebastopol man, Bill Houghton, told me the same.

“Some of us who will probably receive checks have stable, adequate incomes,” he said. “The people being hit hardest by this abrupt economic downturn are the very same people who were already on the brink of disaster.”

Already, the Houghtons and the Abramowitzes are thinking about how they will pass their stimulus money to others.

If you’ve got ideas, I’d be pleased to receive and share them.

Stay well.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.


Do you know of others doing good deeds during the pandemic? Share their stories with Chris Smith. Contact him at

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