"Once you bring it out of the financial and into the human, then problems are easier to solve," Nathan Nichols tells PEOPLE

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 18, 2020
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Nathan Nichols

A 46-year-old landlord who waived rent collection for April is hoping to inspire other property owners to alleviate their tenants’ financial hardships during the coronavirus outbreak.

As the coronavirus epidemic began to unfold over recent weeks, Nathan Nichols worried about the two groups of renters living in his duplex in Portland, Maine. They worked hourly jobs, including in the service industry, and were likely going to be affected by lost wages from the store, restaurant and event closures around the country meant to stop the spread of the virus.

“I have two units and one of the units there is a young family who have a one or two-year-old child. They’re on a single income and I know that they’re really living on the edge,” Nichols tells PEOPLE. “My other tenants are millennials who work at some venues and I knew they would also be impacted.”

“My thinking was, they might not be able to pay rent,” he continues. “If they’re not making any money, they can’t pay me. It’s not like they’re going to somehow magically get money if they’re not working.”

That’s when he decided to surprise his renters with generous news — he was pausing rent collection for the month of April, saving them of hundreds of dollars they can use for food and other necessities.

Nichols publicly made the announcement in a viral Facebook post from March 13 that has since been shared more than 24,000 times.

Nathan Nichols

“COVID19 is going to cause serious financial hardship for service and hourly workers around the country,” Nichols wrote in the post. “Because I have the good fortune of being able to afford it and the privilege of being in the owner class, I just let them know I would not be collecting rent in April.”

In his post, Nichols urged other landlords to consider doing the same if they are in a financial situation to do so.

“I ask any other landlords out there to take a serious look at your own situation and consider giving your tenants some rent relief as well,” his message continued.

Hundreds of commenters have praised Nichols for his forward way of thinking, but he stresses that not all landlords may be able to do this for their tenants. Nichols also has a full-time job and an emergency fund to support him financially, and some landlords may be completely dependent on the money they receive from their renters.

Nichols also is surprised by the reaction his posting has received. For him, helping his tenants seemed like a natural choice.

“I’m really grateful to have good tenants who I can trust and are reliable,” he says. “I don’t want to lose them and I’m grateful to them.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, coronavirus has sickened more than 203,000 people around the globe, according to a New York Times database. In the United States, there have been 7,048 documented cases and 116 deaths as a result of the virus, and these numbers are rising every day.

Nichols is happy he was able to help his renters, and he says it’s their good communication with him that immediately alerted him to their hardships.

“I really think that the more you communicate with people, the more you are able to humanize other people, the more they will humanize you,” he says. “Once you bring it out of the financial and into the human, then problems are easier to solve.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.