With the recent mandate to shut down businesses as a result of COVID-19, Sauli Danpour’s first order of business was to provide support for his tenants and employees. In addition to several residential properties, Danpour owns two commercial buildings in Downtown Los Angeles. His tenants include a variety of small businesses that range from a sandwich shop to a charter school.
“My immediate concern was to try and help the small-business tenants,” Danpour said. “Being a small-business owner myself, I’m somewhat sensitive to some of the issues that they are facing when the economy turned sour.”
Danpour told his tenants about government subsidies and other resources for small businesses, as well as offering rent relief by discounting their rents through the end of the year and deferring their payments for two months.
Veronica Perez owns a public affairs firm and has been Danpour’s tenant for two years. “As a small-business owner, I am definitely losing sleep over the toll this pandemic might take on my business,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that our landlord proactively reached out to offer rent relief. In these uncertain times, it is a much-needed reminder that we are all in this together.”
Another tenant, Sung Park, owns a sandwich shop that has rented space in one of Danpour’s buildings for several years. “At this very moment when everyone is struggling to fight COVID-19, both financially and emotionally, it’s had a huge impact on small businesses like ours,” she said. “Sauli has been very forgiving and understanding about the situation and has provided rent relief along with additional material to help financially with our business.”
Danpour emailed LADWP to encourage it to defer some or all payments for small businesses and property owners, and suggested that it offer the opportunity to set up an installment plan for the deferrals. He contacted his mortgage lender to request interest reductions for both of his properties and asked his insurance company for a reduced premium to pass onto tenants.
He sent emails to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, requesting the postponement of deadlines for the mandate for the seismic retrofit of buildings and to eliminate gross receipts taxes for up to $3 million in gross revenues, as well as the county assessor to suggest deferral of some or all property tax payments for small businesses and property owners.
Danpour, who is a board member and finance committee chair for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID), also contacted the organization’s executive director to see if she would team up with other districts to encourage financial relief from city and county officials.
“I’ve also reached out to people in City Hall about some of the ordinances they’ve been proposing and asking that they exempt small businesses of 50 or fewer employees,” Danpour added. “While not enforcing evictions is totally understandable, there should also be some compensation on the other side of the equation for small property owners like myself. My mortgage lender still wants to get paid, which is making things challenging right now.”
Also concerned about his employees, who were furloughed due to the mandated closure of his business, Danpour has been writing them bi-weekly checks from his personal account to match their payroll checks, with the goal of easing financial burdens until their unemployment benefits kick in.
“Throughout the years that I’ve been in this business, we’ve had a number of economic slowdowns and crashes, including the recession several years ago,” he said. “Employees want a sense of security during these tough times, so I’ve always shown my staff that we’re going to be fine. Every downturn you go through, you learn some lessons and you become more proactive to make sure all the anticipated issues are addressed as soon as possible.”
Thirty-nine years ago, Danpour learned a big lesson when he experienced a major financial setback that left him homeless and living out of his car for a while. These days, he works with nonprofits that hire homeless individuals to perform different jobs. “It taught me to never take anything for granted and helped ground me quite a bit,” he said. “You come out stronger from things like that.”
Even before COVID-19, Danpour was committed to providing accommodations for his tenants. From helping a tenant overcome obstacles related to construction permits to paying for a portion of another tenant’s legal expenses when they were being sued, he has always gone above and beyond to lend a hand.
What advice does Danpour have for other landlords in a position similar to his?
“Communicate with your tenants,” he said. “Of course not everyone is going to be happy and some will ask for more concessions. We all have our own constraints and I’m doing all I can. Talk with them and stay in touch. If someone is having difficulty paying, set up an installment plan—do whatever you can to help them out. To me, it’s not as much about the money as it is about establishing and maintaining those relationships with small businesses. In my opinion, it’s the right thing to do.”