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Table of Contents

 

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2020

OR

 

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the transition period from              to             

Commission File Number: 1-12252 (Equity Residential)

Commission File Number: 0-24920 (ERP Operating Limited Partnership)

 

EQUITY RESIDENTIAL

ERP OPERATING LIMITED PARTNERSHIP

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

Maryland (Equity Residential)

13-3675988 (Equity Residential)

Illinois (ERP Operating Limited Partnership)

36-3894853 (ERP Operating Limited Partnership)

(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)

(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)

 

 

Two North Riverside Plaza, Chicago, Illinois 60606

(312) 474-1300

(Address of principal executive offices) (Zip Code)

(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of each class

 

Trading Symbol(s)

 

Name of each exchange on which registered

Common Shares of Beneficial Interest,
$0.01 Par Value (Equity Residential)

 

EQR

 

New York Stock Exchange

7.57% Notes due August 15, 2026
(ERP Operating Limited Partnership)

 

N/A

 

New York Stock Exchange

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:

 

None (Equity Residential)

Units of Limited Partnership Interest (ERP Operating Limited Partnership)

(Title of each class)

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.

 

Equity Residential  Yes   No

ERP Operating Limited Partnership  Yes   No

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.

 

Equity Residential  Yes   No

ERP Operating Limited Partnership  Yes   No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.

 

Equity Residential  Yes   No

ERP Operating Limited Partnership  Yes   No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).

 

Equity Residential  Yes   No

ERP Operating Limited Partnership  Yes   No

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company.  See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Equity Residential:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Large accelerated filer

 

 

Accelerated filer

 

 

 

 

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

 

Smaller reporting company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging growth company

 

 

 

 

 

 

ERP Operating Limited Partnership:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Large accelerated filer

 

 

Accelerated filer

 

 

 

 

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

 

Smaller reporting company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging growth company

 

 

 

 

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

 

Equity Residential

 

 

ERP Operating Limited Partnership

 

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

 

Equity Residential

 

 

ERP Operating Limited Partnership

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).

 

Equity Residential  Yes   No

ERP Operating Limited Partnership  Yes   No

The aggregate market value of Common Shares held by non-affiliates of the Registrant was approximately $21.7 billion based upon the closing price on June 30, 2020 of $58.82 using beneficial ownership of shares rules adopted pursuant to Section 13 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to exclude voting shares owned by Trustees and Executive Officers, some of whom may not be held to be affiliates upon judicial determination.

The number of Common Shares of Beneficial Interest, $0.01 par value, outstanding on February 12, 2021 was 372,663,215.

 

 


Table of Contents

 

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Part III incorporates by reference certain information that will be contained in Equity Residential’s Proxy Statement relating to its 2021 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, which Equity Residential intends to file no later than 120 days after the end of its fiscal year ended December 31, 2020, and thus these items have been omitted in accordance with General Instruction G(3) to Form 10-K.  Equity Residential is the general partner and 96.4% owner of ERP Operating Limited Partnership.

 

 

 

2


Table of Contents

 

EXPLANATORY NOTE

This report combines the annual reports on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2020 of Equity Residential and ERP Operating Limited Partnership.  Unless stated otherwise or the context otherwise requires, references to “EQR” mean Equity Residential, a Maryland real estate investment trust (“REIT”), and references to “ERPOP” mean ERP Operating Limited Partnership, an Illinois limited partnership.  References to the “Company,” “we,” “us” or “our” mean collectively EQR, ERPOP and those entities/subsidiaries owned or controlled by EQR and/or ERPOP.  References to the “Operating Partnership” mean collectively ERPOP and those entities/subsidiaries owned or controlled by ERPOP.  The following chart illustrates the Company’s and the Operating Partnership’s corporate structure:

 

EQR is the general partner of, and as of December 31, 2020 owned an approximate 96.4% ownership interest in, ERPOP.  The remaining 3.6% interest is owned by limited partners.  As the sole general partner of ERPOP, EQR has exclusive control of ERPOP’s day-to-day management.  Management operates the Company and the Operating Partnership as one business.  The management of EQR consists of the same members as the management of ERPOP.

The Company is structured as an umbrella partnership REIT (“UPREIT”) and EQR contributes all net proceeds from its various equity offerings to ERPOP.  In return for those contributions, EQR receives a number of OP Units (see definition below) in ERPOP equal to the number of Common Shares it has issued in the equity offering.  The Company may acquire properties in transactions that include the issuance of OP Units as consideration for the acquired properties.  Such transactions may, in certain circumstances, enable the sellers to defer in whole or in part, the recognition of taxable income or gain that might otherwise result from the sales.  This is one of the reasons why the Company is structured in the manner shown above.  Based on the terms of ERPOP’s partnership agreement, OP Units can be exchanged with Common Shares on a one-for-one basis because the Company maintains a one-for-one relationship between the OP Units of ERPOP issued to EQR and the outstanding Common Shares.

The Company believes that combining the reports on Form 10-K of EQR and ERPOP into this single report provides the following benefits:

 

enhances investors’ understanding of the Company and the Operating Partnership by enabling investors to view the business as a whole in the same manner as management views and operates the business;

 

eliminates duplicative disclosure and provides a more streamlined and readable presentation since a substantial portion of the disclosure applies to both the Company and the Operating Partnership; and

 

creates time and cost efficiencies through the preparation of one combined report instead of two separate reports.

3


Table of Contents

 

The Company believes it is important to understand the few differences between EQR and ERPOP in the context of how EQR and ERPOP operate as a consolidated company.  All of the Company’s property ownership, development and related business operations are conducted through the Operating Partnership and EQR has no material assets or liabilities other than its investment in ERPOP.  EQR’s primary function is acting as the general partner of ERPOP.  EQR also issues equity from time to time, the net proceeds of which it is obligated to contribute to ERPOP.  EQR does not have any indebtedness as all debt is incurred by the Operating Partnership.  The Operating Partnership holds substantially all of the assets of the Company, including the Company’s ownership interests in its joint ventures.  The Operating Partnership conducts the operations of the business and is structured as a partnership with no publicly traded equity.  Except for the net proceeds from equity offerings by EQR (which are contributed to the capital of ERPOP in exchange for additional partnership interests in ERPOP (“OP Units”) (on a one-for-one Common Share per OP Unit basis) or additional preference units in ERPOP (on a one-for-one preferred share per preference unit basis)), the Operating Partnership generates all remaining capital required by the Company’s business.  These sources include the Operating Partnership’s working capital, net cash provided by operating activities, borrowings under its revolving credit facility and/or commercial paper program, the issuance of secured and unsecured debt and partnership interests, and proceeds received from disposition of certain properties and joint venture interests.

Shareholders’ equity, partners’ capital and noncontrolling interests are the main areas of difference between the consolidated financial statements of the Company and those of the Operating Partnership.  The limited partners of the Operating Partnership are accounted for as partners’ capital in the Operating Partnership’s financial statements and as noncontrolling interests in the Company’s financial statements.  The noncontrolling interests in the Operating Partnership’s financial statements include the interests of unaffiliated partners in various consolidated partnerships.  The noncontrolling interests in the Company’s financial statements include the same noncontrolling interests at the Operating Partnership level and limited partner OP Unit holders of the Operating Partnership.  The differences between shareholders’ equity and partners’ capital result from differences in the equity issued at the Company and Operating Partnership levels.

To help investors understand the differences between the Company and the Operating Partnership, this report provides separate consolidated financial statements for the Company and the Operating Partnership; a single set of consolidated notes to such financial statements that includes separate discussions of each entity’s debt, noncontrolling interests and shareholders’ equity or partners’ capital, as applicable; and a combined Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations section that includes discrete information related to each entity.

This report also includes separate Part II, Item 9A, Controls and Procedures, sections and separate Exhibits 31 and 32 certifications for each of the Company and the Operating Partnership in order to establish that the requisite certifications have been made and that the Company and the Operating Partnership are compliant with Rule 13a-15 or Rule 15d-15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), and 18 U.S.C. §1350.

 

In order to highlight the differences between the Company and the Operating Partnership, the separate sections in this report for the Company and the Operating Partnership specifically refer to the Company and the Operating Partnership.  In the sections that combine disclosure of the Company and the Operating Partnership, this report refers to actions or holdings as being actions or holdings of the Company.  Although the Operating Partnership is generally the entity that directly or indirectly enters into contracts and joint ventures and holds assets and debt, reference to the Company is appropriate because the Company is one business and the Company operates that business through the Operating Partnership.

 

As general partner with control of ERPOP, EQR consolidates ERPOP for financial reporting purposes, and EQR essentially has no assets or liabilities other than its investment in ERPOP.  Therefore, the assets and liabilities of the Company and the Operating Partnership are the same on their respective financial statements.  The separate discussions of the Company and the Operating Partnership in this report should be read in conjunction with each other to understand the results of the Company on a consolidated basis and how management operates the Company.

 

 

 

4


Table of Contents

 

EQUITY RESIDENTIAL

ERP OPERATING LIMITED PARTNERSHIP

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

 

PAGE

PART I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

 

Business

 

6

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1A.

 

Risk Factors

 

11

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1B.

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

Item 2.

 

Properties

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

Item 3.

 

Legal Proceedings

 

23

 

 

 

 

 

Item 4.

 

Mine Safety Disclosures

 

23

 

 

 

 

 

PART II.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

 

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

24

 

 

 

 

 

Item 6.

 

Reserved

 

24

 

 

 

 

 

Item 7.

 

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

 

25

 

 

 

 

 

Item 7A.

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

 

45

 

 

 

 

 

Item 8.

 

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

46

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9.

 

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

 

46

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9A.

 

Controls and Procedures

 

46

 

 

 

 

 

Item 9B.

 

Other Information

 

47

 

 

 

 

 

PART III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

 

Trustees, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

Item 11.

 

Executive Compensation

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

Item 12.

 

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

Item 13.

 

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Trustee Independence

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

Item 14.

 

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

PART IV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

 

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

 

49

 

 

 

 

 

Item 16.

 

Form 10-K Summary

 

49

 

 

 

 

 

EX-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-23.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-23.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-31.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-31.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-31.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX 31.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-32.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-32.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-32.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-32.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 INSTANCE DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 SCHEMA DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 CALCULATION LINKBASE DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 LABELS LINKBASE DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 PRESENTATION LINKBASE DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EX-101 DEFINITION LINKBASE DOCUMENT

 

 

 

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

PART I

Item 1. Business

General

Equity Residential (“EQR”) is committed to creating communities where people thrive.  The Company, a member of the S&P 500, is focused on the acquisition, development and management of residential properties located in and around dynamic cities that attract high quality long-term renters.  ERP Operating Limited Partnership (“ERPOP”) is focused on conducting the multifamily property business of EQR.  EQR is a Maryland real estate investment trust (“REIT”) formed in March 1993 and ERPOP is an Illinois limited partnership formed in May 1993.  References to the “Company,” “we,” “us” or “our” mean collectively EQR, ERPOP and those entities/subsidiaries owned or controlled by EQR and/or ERPOP.  References to the “Operating Partnership” mean collectively ERPOP and those entities/subsidiaries owned or controlled by ERPOP.

EQR is the general partner of, and as of December 31, 2020 owned an approximate 96.4% ownership interest in, ERPOP.  All of the Company’s property ownership, development and related business operations are conducted through the Operating Partnership and EQR has no material assets or liabilities other than its investment in ERPOP.  EQR issues equity from time to time, the net proceeds of which it is obligated to contribute to ERPOP, but does not have any indebtedness as all debt is incurred by the Operating Partnership.  The Operating Partnership holds substantially all of the assets of the Company, including the Company’s ownership interests in its joint ventures.  The Operating Partnership conducts the operations of the business and is structured as a partnership with no publicly traded equity.

The Company’s corporate headquarters is located in Chicago, Illinois and the Company also operates regional property management offices in each of its markets.

Certain capitalized terms used herein are defined in the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.  See also Note 17 in the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional discussion regarding the Company’s segment disclosures.

Available Information

You may access our Annual Report on Form 10-K, our Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, our Current Reports on Form 8-K, our proxy statements and any amendments to any of those reports/statements we file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) free of charge on our website, www.equityapartments.com.  These reports are made available on our website as soon as reasonably practicable after we file them with the SEC.  The information contained on our website, including any information referred to in this report as being available on our website, is not a part of or incorporated into this report.

Business Objectives and Operating and Investing Strategies

Overview

The Company is one of the largest U.S. publicly-traded owners and operators of high-quality rental apartment properties with a portfolio primarily located in urban and dense suburban communities in and around Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Southern California (including Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego), San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.  Our markets continue to be the primary knowledge centers of the U.S. economy drawing the talented workers and employers that drive economic growth in the United States.  Our properties are located in places that are attractive to knowledge workers whom we hope to convert into satisfied long-term residents.

We believe we have created a best-in-class operating platform to run our properties.  Our employees are focused on delivering remarkable customer service to our residents so they will stay with us longer, be willing to pay higher rent for a great experience and will tell others about how much they love living in an Equity Residential property.  We utilize technology and other innovative methods of engagement to foster relationships and community, improve the resident experience and operate our business more efficiently. Our disciplined balance sheet management enhances returns and value creation while maintaining flexibility to take advantage of future opportunities.  We believe that our stakeholders value stability, liquidity, predictability and accountability and that is the mission to which we remain unwaveringly committed.

6


Table of Contents

 

Equity Residential is committed to creating communities where people thrive.  We carry this, our corporate purpose, through our relationships with our customers, our employees, our shareholders and the communities in which we operate.  It drives our commitment to sustainability, diversity and inclusion, total well-being of our employees and being a responsible corporate citizen in the communities in which we operate, which is especially relevant when we face unprecedented challenges like the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic.  

Despite the challenges we have faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that the long-term prospects for our business remain strong.  Our well-located communities are in and around dynamic cities that we believe will continue to attract high quality long-term renters. When the pandemic subsides, we believe urban centers will re-energize and once again provide significant networking and other benefits for current and prospective residents who may have temporarily deferred, but not abandoned, their desire to live in vibrant major U.S. metropolitan areas.

Investment Strategy

The Company’s long-term strategy is to invest in apartment communities located in strategically targeted markets with the goal of maximizing our risk-adjusted total returns by balancing current cash flow generation with long-term capital appreciation.  We seek to meet this goal by investing in markets that are characterized by conditions favorable to multifamily property operations over the long-term.  We also consider governmental fiscal health, political/regulatory risk and resiliency of our targeted markets.  The markets we focus on generally feature one or more of the following characteristics that allow us to drive performance:

 

High single-family housing prices relative to rental housing costs leading to less competition from owned or rented single-family housing;

 

Strong generators of economic growth often characterized as centers of the knowledge-based economy, leading to high wage job growth and household formation, which in turn leads to high demand for our apartments;

 

Favorable demographics contributing to a larger pool of target residents with a high propensity or greater preference to rent apartments;

 

Higher barriers to entry where, because of land scarcity or government regulation, it is typically more difficult or costly to build new apartment properties, creating limits on new supply; and

 

Strong other demand drivers.

We believe our strategy capitalizes on the preference of renters of all ages to live in the locations where we operate that typically are near to transportation (both public transit and convenient highway access), entertainment and cultural amenities.  Demand for rental housing is driven primarily by household formations from the Millennial segment and increasingly from the Generation Z segment of our population.  Millennials, born between 1981 and 2000, total approximately 78 million people and are disproportionately renters.  They also tend to remain renters longer due to societal trends favoring delays in marriage and having children.  We believe we will continue to see demand from this group, as the largest sub-segment of this cohort is now turning 30 years old while the median age of our resident is 33 years old.  After the Millennials comes Generation Z, which comprises the more than 70 million people born between 2001 and 2014.  Reports also show a growing trend among aging Baby Boomers, a demographic of more than 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, toward apartment rentals.

Overall, our high-quality resident tends to work in the highest earning sectors of the economy and is not rent burdened, creating the ability to raise rents more readily in good economic times and reducing risk during downturns.  Many of these workers are employed in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM jobs.  They have experienced significantly lower job loss during COVID-19. Once it subsides, we believe we are extremely well positioned to benefit for many years to come as a result of the significant impact the various generations discussed above will have on rental housing.  

Over the last decade, the Company has done an extensive repositioning of its portfolio into urban and highly walkable, close-in suburban assets.  While we continue to look for opportunities to expand our portfolio in these locations, it is our intention over time to further diversify our portfolio into select new markets that share the same characteristics as our current markets and to optimize the mix of our properties located in urban vs. dense suburban submarkets within our existing markets.

Operations and Innovation

We attempt to balance occupancy and rental rates to maximize our revenue while exercising tight cost control to generate the highest possible return to our shareholders.  Revenue is maximized through our customized pricing system that uses market data on current and projected demand and availability to create both current and forward pricing daily for each apartment unit we manage.  We believe our success prior to the pandemic in renewing our residents is due to our focus on the resident experience.  This focus has driven the strong occupancy and renewal rate growth that we have achieved over the last several years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which we would expect to return once the pandemic subsides.

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Technology continues to drive innovation in the rental industry and to evolve at a rapid pace. We have been and continue to be a leader in deploying and investing in property technology to serve our customers better and operate more efficiently.  Having been a first mover in such important areas as revenue management and online leasing, we are focused on technology that improves our operating margins and customer experience while also meeting the current needs of our customers, including addressing the challenges of the pandemic.  We use a standardized purchasing system to control our operating expenses and a business intelligence platform that allows all our team members to quickly identify and address issues and opportunities.  Our operations benefitted from having many of these initiatives in place during the pandemic, allowing us to interact with our customers in a safe and responsible manner, including self-guided tours, automated responses to customer inquiries and enhanced service and maintenance management. While we believe areas such as “smart home” technology and others will provide the foundation for current and future improvements to how we do business, we will continue to consider the cost and longevity of technology capital investments versus the benefits.

Our Commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”)

At Equity Residential, we believe a focus on ESG is a key way to programmatically address stakeholder concerns as part of our corporate purpose.  This needs to be a sustainable endeavor, in which we provide properties that will stand the test of time and remain attractive to our customers and the community without negatively impacting the environment.  We have a dedicated in-house team that initiates and applies sustainable practices in all aspects of our business, including investment activities, development, property operations and property management activities. Multifamily housing is one of the most environmentally-friendly uses of real estate, as each property provides homes for hundreds of families in a denser shared environment.  We consider building locations based on walkability, accessibility, neighborhoods and parks.  We also design our communities to support amenities such as fitness centers and we select locations near shops, healthy restaurants and health and wellness programs, enabling a low carbon footprint lifestyle for our residents to live, work and play.

Our sustainability goals help us focus efforts and drive outcomes to create a more sustainable future for all.  We are especially focused on energy consumption, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  We invest in developing and renovating our properties, with a focus on reducing waste, energy and water use by investing in energy-saving technology, such as those for irrigation, lighting, HVAC and renewable energy, while positively impacting the experience of our residents and the value of our assets.

We are also intensely focused on the “Social” and “Governance” aspects of ESG.  As detailed below, we have a commitment to our employees’ engagement, diversity and wellness that is the foundation of our corporate purpose.  We also recognize that a successful company must incorporate the best corporate governance practices in order to better serve its stakeholders.  

In 2018, the Company became the first multifamily REIT ever to issue a “green bond”.  As a result, the net proceeds of approximately $396.7 million from the offering were allocated to eligible green/sustainable certified projects.  For additional information regarding our ESG efforts, see our November 2020 Environmental, Social and Governance Report at our website, www.equityapartments.com.  This report, which includes Sustainability Accounting Standards Board disclosures and incorporates recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, was reviewed and approved by the Corporate Governance Committee of our Board of Trustees, which monitors the Company’s ongoing ESG efforts.  We continue to enhance our ESG disclosure efforts, including auditing the results outlined in the above report.  Furthermore, our annual proxy statements contain additional information on our corporate governance practices. Such annual proxy statements and the information contained therein are not part of or incorporated into this report.

Human Capital

At Equity Residential, our team of approximately 2,600 employees is the driving force behind our success. We believe that our richly diverse work environment captures top talent, cultivates the best ideas and creates the widest possible platform for this success in line with our corporate purpose of “Creating communities where people thrive.” Our core principles, affectionately named “Ten Ways to Be a Winner,” guide our behavior as individuals and collectively as a team, helping us in our goal to deliver market-leading performance.  As part of our Ten Ways to Be a Winner, we encourage our team members to raise questions, take educated risks, offer new ideas and help us make the right decisions.  One way we live the “Ten Ways” is by enriching our culture through our core “Equity Values”—Diversity and Inclusion, Social Responsibility, Sustainability and Total Well-Being.  We have assembled an employee-led Equity Values Council to lead our efforts on these values by acting as change agents to drive initiatives, create goals and awareness, and encourage colleagues to participate in community service activities and wellness initiatives.  In addition, executive compensation is based, in part, on meeting important Equity Values goals, and our Board of Trustees takes an active role in overseeing our efforts in this regard.

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Diversity and Inclusion

 

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion starts at the top with a highly skilled and diverse Board of Trustees.

 

We are committed to hiring a diverse workforce and also fostering a safe, inclusive and productive workplace for all employees.  We believe providing a work environment based on respect, trust and collaboration creates an exceptional employee experience where employees can bring their whole selves to work and thrive in their careers.  In recent years, we have created a Director of Diversity and Inclusion position to oversee this crucial work.

 

To further prioritize the importance of our diversity and inclusion efforts, our executives’ annual compensation goals include an evaluation of objective metrics measuring our Company’s progress in this regard.

 

We have the benefit of a diverse workforce, of which 60.0% currently identify as ethnically diverse.  We also continue to focus on improving our female representation, which is now 37.0% of our workforce.

 

Going forward, we plan to continue to strategically identify opportunities to increase the diversity of our talent pipeline at all levels, including by actively sourcing diverse candidates for mid-management and above positions.

Pay Equity

 

In order to attract and retain the best employees, we are committed to providing a total compensation package which is market-based, performance driven, fair and internally equitable.

 

Our goal is to be competitive both within the general employment market as well as with our competitors in the real estate industry, with our strongest performers being paid more.

 

Base pay is reviewed annually, as is Equity Residential’s compensation framework, by partnering with managers to create and update job descriptions that reflect the duties, skills, experience and education required to perform the role, and then benchmarking our jobs against third-party compensation surveys to determine the market value of the job.

 

During the year-end evaluation process, managers review and calibrate compensation for all employees on their team, in an effort to ensure equitableness around our pay practices and allow us to retain and reward our top talent.

Employee Engagement

 

Employee engagement and experience are extremely important at Equity Residential. In 2020, we decided to collect employee engagement feedback through frequent pulse surveys (instead of an annual survey like we have historically done), allowing us to check in more often and respond more immediately on employee feedback gathered, especially in light of hardships experienced by many on a personal level as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest.

 

Senior leaders are assessed annually on their leadership results, which for 2020 was measured by the more frequent pulse survey scores, employee retention and diversity and inclusion efforts.  

 

The pulse survey ratings from employees in 2020 demonstrated a favorable attitude toward leadership and highlighted our leaders’ ability to effectively lead through adversity.  Furthermore, the survey results reflected strong scores on our diversity and inclusion efforts.

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Training and Development

 

We believe a successful workplace is one where employees constantly learn and grow.  Our internal Organization and Talent Development (“OTD”) team is interspersed throughout our markets and works regularly with employees to expand their knowledge and skills.  OTD develops and delivers a wide range of training and development opportunities, from tactical to strategic, face-to-face to virtual, social learning to self-directed learning, and more.  In 2020, each employee completed an average of 13 hours of dedicated learning at a Company expenditure of over $1,350 per employee.

Health, Safety and Wellness

 

Equity Residential is committed to providing the tools and resources to help our employees achieve total well-being.  Whether physical, financial, career, social or community well-being, Equity Residential offers benefits to help meet our employee needs.

 

Physical - Equity Residential is focused on providing benefits that help our employees achieve balance and address good health proactively, with coverage for emergencies and ongoing needs that can arise as well.  Long before healthcare reform, Equity Residential made a commitment to cover 100% of employee preventive care.  This commitment—and our robust and highly popular Vitality Wellness Program—has made proactive personal healthcare more accessible and manageable for employees, while encouraging ongoing healthy behaviors and rewarding employees for taking a proactive approach to their health.

 

Financial - These benefits and resources help our employees manage their money better today, while preparing for financial milestones and retirement in the future.  Financial peace of mind is at the core of these offerings, whether it’s our generous 401(k) match, basic and supplemental insurance to ensure our loved ones and possessions are cared for, rent discounts at our properties or additional savings and investment options like our employee share purchase plan.

 

Career - When employees move up in skill and experience, so does Equity Residential.  We encourage our employees to “test their limits,” push the boundaries of their comfort zones and seek new challenges through several learning resources and courses, in addition to tuition reimbursement.  We actively promote from within, and many senior corporate and property leaders have risen from entry level or junior positions.

 

Social and Community - We offer a number of benefits that foster social and community well-being, including paid time off to volunteer in our communities.

 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have communicated regularly with employees and also released a comprehensive guide designed as a single place for employees to access information on critical benefits and resources.  A key focus included mental well-being to help employees better cope with the challenges to our work routines, our home routines and how we interact with our family, friends and community.

 

For nearly two years, we have partnered with Employees1st to provide financial relief via a crisis fund for employees struck by personal hardships or unforeseen disasters.  The Company contributed additional funds to the Employees1st crisis fund to further support employees who experienced hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are proud that this program allows yet another avenue for us to tangibly demonstrate our One Team culture by ensuring that employees are safe and secure, especially during extreme or catastrophic circumstances.

 

For further discussion, please refer to Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, for the Company’s responses related to health and safety issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Competition

All of the Company’s properties are located in developed areas with multiple housing choices, including other multifamily properties.  The number of competitive housing choices or multifamily properties in a particular area could have a material effect on the Company’s ability to lease apartment units at its properties and on the rents charged.  The Company may be competing with other housing providers that have greater resources than the Company and whose managers have more experience than the Company’s managers.  In addition, other forms of rental properties and single-family housing provide housing alternatives to potential residents of multifamily properties.  See Item 1A, Risk Factors, for additional information with respect to competition.

Regulatory Considerations

See Item 1A, Risk Factors, for information concerning the potential effects of governmental regulations, including environmental regulations, on our operations.

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Item 1A. Risk Factors

General

This Item 1A includes forward-looking statements.  You should refer to our discussion of the qualifications and limitations on forward-looking statements included in Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

The occurrence of the events discussed in the following risk factors could adversely affect, possibly in a material manner, our business, financial condition or results of operations, which could affect the value of our common shares of beneficial interest or preferred shares of beneficial interest (which we refer to collectively as “Shares”), Preference Units, OP Units, restricted units and our public unsecured debt.  In this section, we refer to the Shares, Preference Units, OP Units, restricted units and public unsecured debt together as our “securities” and the investors who own such securities as our “security holders.”

Risks Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and measures intended to prevent its spread could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

 

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  The outbreak has led governments and other authorities around the world, including federal, state and local authorities in the United States, to impose measures intended to control its spread, including restrictions on movement and business operations such as travel bans, border closings, business closures, quarantines, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.  The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused, and may likely continue to cause, severe economic, market and other disruptions worldwide.  There can be no assurance that conditions will not continue to deteriorate as a result of the pandemic.

 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to prevent its spread could materially negatively impact our business, results of operations, financial condition and liquidity in a number of ways, including:

 

A decrease in our rental revenues or increase in related reserves and write-offs as a potential result of:

 

The deterioration of global economic conditions as a result of the pandemic may ultimately decrease occupancy levels and pricing across our portfolio as residents reduce or defer their spending;

 

Our residents’ and tenants’ ability to pay their rent on time or at all;

 

Changes in the demand for multifamily properties within our markets;

 

Our geographic concentrations, especially in our dense urban communities which often makes social distancing more difficult, may experience longer periods of economic disruption due to delays in business re-openings and/or required re-closures, as a result of which we may be more susceptible to the impact of COVID-19;

 

Changes in resident preferences, including changes due to increased employer flexibility to work from home, making current or prospective residents less likely to want to live in dense urban centers where we own many of our properties or to want to live in denser forms of multifamily housing like the high-rise or mid-rise housing the Company owns;

 

The concessions made, and those that continue to be made, to residents’ rent obligations, which may not be on terms as favorable to us as those currently in place;

 

The costs we may incur in protecting our investments and releasing our properties as a result of resident or tenant nonpayment, default or bankruptcy;

 

The risk that local and national authorities may expand or extend certain measures imposing restrictions on our ability to enforce residents’ or tenants’ contractual rental obligations (such as eviction moratoriums or rental forgiveness) and limit our ability to raise rents or charge certain fees;

 

The risk that local and national authorities may not pass, extend or may reduce government stimulus and relief programs which may be providing or would provide benefits to our residents (or employers of our residents) and tenants;

 

Restrictions inhibiting our employees’ ability to meet with existing and potential residents has disrupted and could in the future further disrupt our ability to lease apartments which could adversely impact our rental rate and occupancy levels; and

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Non-residential operations in our apartment buildings are particularly vulnerable to the effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, which we expect may adversely impact their operations and, in turn, could result in an increase in tenant/garage operator defaults, rent deferrals/abatements and rent reductions.

 

Our properties may also incur significant operating expenses related to shelter-in-place orders, quarantines and social distancing requirements, such as higher cleaning or other related costs;

 

The risk that our access to capital at attractive terms may be diminished due to, among other factors: (i) potential disruptions in the long-term debt and commercial paper markets; (ii) the risk that a prolonged economic slowdown or recession could negatively impact our lending counterparties; and (iii) reductions in the Company’s credit ratings as a result of a protracted and more severe deterioration in our operations due to the pandemic;

 

The risk of a prolonged outbreak and/or multiple waves of an outbreak of the pandemic:

 

a)

could cause long-term damage to economic conditions, which in turn could cause material declines in the fair value of our assets, leading to asset impairment charges; and,

 

b)

could cause an adverse impact on our future financial results, cash flows and financial condition and therefore our ability to pay dividends;

 

A general decline in the real estate market or demand for real estate transactions could hinder our ability to acquire or dispose of properties, including through our joint ventures;

 

The risk of delays in our development and renovation projects due to construction moratoriums, governmental movement restrictions, social distancing requirements, the closure of many permitting and inspection agencies and disruptions in the supply of construction materials or other products due to problems in the supply chain or otherwise;

 

A possible further decline in the price of our common shares due to a prolonged economic recession or other impacts described herein;

 

Increased risks of potential cyber attacks due to an increased reliance on remote working and other electronic interactions with our current and prospective residents; and

 

Potential inability to maintain adequate staffing at our properties and corporate/regional offices due to shelter-in-place orders, an outbreak at one or more of our properties or corporate/regional offices and/or the continued duration or expansion of the pandemic.

The extent of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on our operational and financial performance will depend on future developments including the duration, spread and intensity of the outbreak and the rollout and effectiveness of vaccines, all of which are uncertain and difficult to predict.  To the extent the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affects our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition, it may also have the effect of heightening many of the other risks described below.  Due to the speed with which the situation is continuing to develop, we are not able at this time to estimate the effect of these factors on our business, but the adverse impact on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition could be material.

Risks Related to our Business Strategy

Investing in real estate is inherently subject to risks that could negatively impact our business.

Investing in real estate is subject to varying degrees and types of risk. While we seek to mitigate these risks through various strategies, including geographic diversification, market research and proactive asset management, among other techniques, these risks cannot be eliminated. Factors that may impact cash flows and real estate values include, but are not limited to:

 

Local economic conditions, particularly oversupply or reductions in demand;

 

National, regional and local political climates, governmental fiscal health and governmental policies;

 

The inability or unwillingness of residents to pay rent increases;

 

Increases in our operating expenses;

 

Cost and availability of labor and materials required to maintain our properties at acceptable standards;

 

Availability of attractive financing opportunities;

 

Changes in social preferences; and

 

Additional risks that are discussed below.

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The geographic concentration of our properties could have an adverse effect on our operations.

The Company’s properties are concentrated in our primarily coastal markets and located in and around dynamic cities that we believe attract high quality long-term renters.

If one or more of our markets is unfavorably impacted by specific economic conditions, local real estate conditions, increases in social unrest, increases in real estate and other taxes, reduced quality of life, deterioration of local or state government health, rent control or stabilization laws, localized environmental issues or natural/man-made disasters, the impact of such conditions may have a more negative impact on our results of operations than if our properties were more geographically diverse.

Within its primarily coastal markets, the Company is also concentrated in certain dense urban and suburban submarkets.  To the extent that these markets or submarkets within these markets become less desirable to operate in, including changes in multifamily housing supply and demand, our results of operations could be more negatively impacted than if we were more diversified within our markets or invested in a greater number of markets.  

For example, the urban core submarkets of New York City, San Francisco, CA and Boston, MA, have been more adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in comparison to our other markets. Due to our concentrations in these submarkets, we have experienced larger decreases in rental income from elevated rent concessions and lower occupancy than we might have otherwise.

Failure to generate sufficient revenue could limit our ability to make financing payments or distributions to security holders.

A decrease in cash flows due to declines in rental revenue could negatively affect our ability to make financing payments and distributions to our security holders. Significant expenditures associated with each property, such as real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance costs and employee wages and benefits, may also negatively impact cash flows, and these expenditures may not decline as quickly or at the same rate as revenues when circumstances might cause a reduction of those revenues at our properties.

Competition in multifamily housing may negatively affect operations and demand for the Company’s properties or residents.

Our properties face competition for residents from other existing or new multifamily properties, condominiums, single family homes and other living arrangements, whether owned or rental, that may attract residents from our properties or prospective residents that would otherwise choose to live with us.  As a result, we may not be able to renew existing resident leases or enter into new resident leases, or if we are able to renew or enter into new leases, they may be at rates or terms that are less favorable than our current rates or terms, resulting in a material impact on our results of operations.

Additionally, our properties face competition for residents as a result of technology innovation. Therefore, we may not be able to retain residents or attract new residents if we are unable to identify and cost effectively implement new, relevant technologies and to keep up with constantly changing resident demand for the latest innovations.  

The short-term nature of apartment leases exposes us more quickly to the effects of declining market rents, potentially making our revenue more volatile. 

Generally, our residential apartment leases are for twelve months or less.  If the terms of the renewal or reletting are less favorable than current terms, then the Company’s results of operations and financial condition could be negatively affected. Given our generally shorter-term lease structure, our rental revenues are impacted by declines in market rents more quickly than if our leases were for longer terms.

Competition for acquisitions may prevent us from acquiring properties on favorable terms.

We may not be successful in pursuing acquisition and development opportunities.  We expect that other real estate investors will compete with us for attractive investment opportunities or may also develop properties in markets where we focus our development and acquisition efforts.  We may not be in a position or have the opportunity in the future to make suitable property acquisitions on favorable terms.  

Operations from new acquisitions, development projects and renovations may fail to perform as expected.

We intend to actively acquire, develop and renovate multifamily operating properties as part of our business strategy.  Newly acquired, developed or renovated properties may not perform as we expect.  We may also overestimate the revenue (or underestimate the expenses) that a new or repositioned project may generate.  The occupancy rates and rents at these properties may fail to meet the expectations underlying our investment.  Development and renovations are subject to greater uncertainties and risks due to complexities and lead time in estimating costs.  We may underestimate the costs necessary to operate an acquired property to the

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standards established for its intended market position.  We may also underestimate the costs to complete a development property or to complete a renovation.  

Construction risks on our development projects could affect our profitability.

We intend to continue to develop multifamily properties as part of our business strategy.  Development often includes long planning and entitlement timelines, subjecting the project to changes in market conditions.  It can involve complex and costly activities, including significant environmental remediation or construction work in our markets.  We may also experience an increase in costs due to general disruptions that affect the cost of labor and/or materials, such as trade disputes, tariffs, labor unrest and/or geopolitical conflicts.  We may abandon opportunities that we have already begun to explore for a number of reasons, and as a result, we may fail to recover expenses or option payments already incurred in exploring those opportunities.  We may also be unable to obtain, or experience delays in obtaining, necessary zoning, occupancy, or other required governmental or third-party permits and authorizations.  These and other risks inherent in development projects could result in increased costs or the delay or abandonment of opportunities.  

Because real estate investments are illiquid, we may not be able to sell properties when appropriate.

Real estate investments generally cannot be sold quickly.  We may not be able to reconfigure our portfolio promptly in response to changing economic or other conditions.  We may be unable to consummate such dispositions in a timely manner, on attractive terms, or at all.  In some cases, we may also determine that we will not recover the carrying amount of the property upon disposition.  This inability to reallocate our capital promptly could negatively affect our financial condition, including our ability to make distributions to our security holders.

The Company’s real estate assets may be subject to impairment charges.

A decline in the fair value of our assets may require us to recognize an impairment against our assets under accounting principles generally accepted in the United States (“GAAP”) if we were to determine that, with respect to any assets in unrealized loss positions, we do not have the ability and intent to hold such assets for a period of time sufficient to allow for recovery of the depreciated cost of such assets. If such a determination were to be made, we would recognize unrealized losses through earnings and write-down the depreciated cost of such assets to a new cost basis, based on the fair value of such assets on the date they are considered to be impaired. Such impairment charges reflect non-cash losses at the time of recognition; subsequent disposition or sale of such assets could further affect our future losses or gains, as they are based on the difference between the sale price received and adjusted amortized cost of such assets at the time of sale. If we are required to recognize material asset impairment charges in the future, these charges could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

We are subject to risks involved in real estate activity through joint ventures.

We currently, and may continue to in the future, develop and acquire properties in joint ventures with other persons or entities.  Joint ventures create risks including the following:

 

The possibility that our partners might refuse or be financially unable to make capital contributions when due and therefore we may be forced to make contributions to protect our investments;

 

We may be responsible to our partners for indemnifiable losses;

 

Our partners might at any time have business or economic goals that are inconsistent with ours; and

 

Our partners may be in a position to take action or withhold consent contrary to our recommendations, instructions or requests.

At times we have entered into agreements providing for joint and several liability with our partners.  We also have in the past and could choose in the future to guarantee part of or all of certain joint venture debt.  We and our respective joint venture partners may each have the right to trigger a buy-sell arrangement that could cause us to sell our interest, or acquire our partner's interest, at a time or price that is unfavorable to us.  In some instances, joint venture partners may also have competing interests or objectives that could create conflicts of interest similar to those noted above. These objectives may be contrary to our compliance with the REIT requirements, and our REIT status could be jeopardized if any of our joint ventures do not operate in compliance with those requirements. To the extent our partners do not meet their obligations to us or our joint ventures, or they take actions inconsistent with the interests of the joint venture, it could have a negative effect on our results of operations and financial condition, including distributions to our security holders.

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Corporate social responsibility, specifically related to ESG, may impose additional costs and expose us to new risks.

Sustainability, social and governance evaluations remain highly important to investors and other stakeholders. Certain organizations that provide corporate governance and other corporate risk advisory services to investors have developed scores and ratings to evaluate companies and investment funds based upon ESG metrics. Many investors focus on positive ESG-related business practices and scores when choosing to allocate their capital and may consider a company's score as a reputational or other factor in making an investment decision. Investors' increased focus and activism related to ESG and similar matters may constrain our business operations or increase expenses. In addition, investors may decide to refrain from investing in us as a result of their assessment of our approach to and consideration of ESG factors. We may face reputational damage in the event our corporate responsibility procedures or standards do not meet the standards set by various constituencies. Although we have generally scored highly in these metrics to date, there can be no assurance that we will continue to score highly in the future. In addition, the criteria by which companies are rated for ESG efforts may change, which could cause us to receive lower scores than in previous years. A low ESG score could result in a negative perception of the Company, exclusion of our securities from consideration by certain investors who may elect to invest with our competition instead and/or cause investors to reallocate their capital away from the Company, all of which could have an adverse impact on the price of our securities.

Risks Related to our Financing Strategy and Capital Structure

Disruptions in the financial markets could hinder our ability to obtain debt and equity financing and impact our acquisitions and dispositions.

Dislocations and disruptions in capital markets could result in increased costs or lack of availability of debt financing (including under our commercial paper program) and equity financing.  Such events may affect our ability to refinance existing debt, require us to utilize higher cost alternatives and/or impair our ability to adjust to changing economic and business conditions.  Capital market disruptions could negatively impact our ability to make acquisitions or make it more difficult or not possible for us to sell properties or may unfavorably affect the price we receive for properties that we do sell.  Such disruptions could cause the price of our securities to decline.

Changes in market conditions and volatility of share prices could decrease the market price of our Common Shares.

The stock markets, including the New York Stock Exchange on which we list our Common Shares, have experienced significant price and volume fluctuations over time.  As a result, the market price of our Common Shares could be similarly volatile.  Investors in our Common Shares consequently may experience a decrease in the value of their shares, including decreases due to this volatility and not necessarily related to our operating performance or prospects.  Additionally, the market price of our Common Shares may decline or fluctuate significantly in response to the sale of substantial amounts of our Common Shares, or the anticipation of the sale of such shares, by large holders of our securities.  The issuance of additional Common Shares by the Company, or the perception that such issuances might occur, could also cause significant volatility and decreases in the value of our shares.

Our financial counterparties may not perform their obligations.

Although we have not experienced any material counterparty non-performance, disruptions in financial and credit markets or other events could impair the ability of our counterparties to perform under their contractual obligations to us.  There are multiple financial institutions that are individually committed to provide borrowings under our revolving credit facility.  Should any of these institutions fail to perform their obligations when contractually required, our financial condition could be adversely affected.

Rising interest rates can increase costs.

The Company is exposed to market risk from financial instruments primarily from changes in market interest rates.  Such risks derive from the refinancing of debt, exposure to interest rate fluctuations in floating rate debt and from derivative instruments utilized to swap fixed rate debt to floating rates or to hedge rates in anticipation of future debt issuances.  Increases in interest rates would increase our interest expense and the costs of refinancing existing debt.

Insufficient cash flow could affect our ability to service existing debt and create refinancing risk.

We are subject to risks normally associated with debt financing, including the risk that our cash flow will be insufficient to meet required payments.  We may not be able to refinance existing debt and if we can, the terms of such refinancing may be less favorable than the terms of existing indebtedness.  Our inability to refinance, extend or repay debt with proceeds from other capital market transactions would negatively impact our financial condition.  If the debt is secured, the mortgage holder may also foreclose on the property.  

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A significant downgrade in our credit ratings could adversely affect our performance.

A significant downgrade in our credit ratings, while not affecting our ability to draw proceeds under the Company’s revolving credit facility, would cause the corresponding borrowing costs to increase, impact our ability to borrow secured and unsecured debt, and potentially impair our ability to access the commercial paper market or otherwise limit our access to capital.  In addition, a downgrade below investment grade would likely cause us to lose access to the commercial paper markets and would require us to post cash collateral and/or letters of credit in favor of some of our secured lenders to cover our self-insured property and liability insurance deductibles or to obtain lower deductible insurance compliant with the lenders’ requirements at the lower ratings level.

Financial covenants could limit operational flexibility and affect our overall financial position.

The terms of our credit agreements, including our revolving credit facility and the indentures under which a substantial portion of our unsecured debt was issued, require us to comply with a number of financial covenants. These covenants may limit our flexibility to run our business and breaches of these covenants could result in defaults under the instruments governing the applicable indebtedness and trigger a cross default of other debt.

Some of our properties are financed with tax-exempt bonds or otherwise contain restrictive covenants or deed restrictions, including affordability requirements, which limit income from certain properties.  The Company monitors compliance with the restrictive covenants and deed restrictions that affect these properties.  While we generally believe that the interest rate benefit from financing properties with tax-exempt bonds more than outweighs any loss of income due to restrictive covenants or deed restrictions, this may not always be the case.  Some of these requirements are complex, and our failure to comply with them may subject us to material fines or liabilities.

We may change the dividend policy for our securities in the future. 

The decision to declare and pay dividends on our securities, as well as the timing, amount and composition of any such future dividends, is at the discretion of the Board of Trustees and will depend on actual and projected financial conditions, the Company’s actual and projected liquidity and operating results, the Company’s projected cash needs for capital expenditures and other investment activities and such other factors as the Company’s Board of Trustees deems relevant.  The Board of Trustees may modify our dividend policy from time to time and any change in our dividend policy could negatively impact the market price of our securities.

Issuances or sales of our Common Shares or Units may be dilutive.

Any potential additional issuance of Common Shares or OP Units would reduce the percentage of our Common Shares and OP Units owned by investors. In most circumstances, shareholders and unitholders will not be entitled to vote on whether or not we issue additional Common Shares or Units. In addition, depending on the terms and pricing of additional offerings of our Common Shares or Units along with the value of our properties, our shareholders and unitholders could experience dilution in both book value and fair value of their Common Shares or Units, as well as dilution in our actual and expected earnings per share, funds from operations (“FFO”) per share and Normalized FFO per share.

Regulatory and Tax Risks

The adoption of, or changes, in rent control or rent stabilization regulations and eviction regulations in our markets could have an adverse effect on our operations and property values.

A growing number of state and local governments have enacted and may continue to consider enacting and/or expanding rent control or rent stabilization regulations, which have limited and could continue to limit in broadening ways our ability to raise rents or charge certain fees, either of which could have a retroactive effect. We continue to see increases in governments considering or being urged by advocacy groups to consider rent forgiveness, rent control or rent stabilization regulations or expand coverage of existing regulations in our markets.  These regulations may also make changes to and/or expand eviction and other tenants’ rights regulations that may limit our ability to enforce residents’ or tenants’ contractual rental obligations (such as eviction moratoriums), pursue collections or charge certain fees, which could have an adverse impact on our operations and property values.    

Compliance or failure to comply with regulatory requirements could result in substantial costs. 

Our properties are subject to various federal, state and local regulatory requirements, such as state and local fire and life safety requirements, building and zoning codes and federal, state and local accessibility requirements, including and in addition to those imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Noncompliance could result in fines, subject us to lawsuits and require us to remediate or repair the noncompliance. Existing requirements could change and compliance with future requirements may require significant unanticipated expenditures that could adversely affect our financial condition or results of operations.

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Environmental problems are possible and can be costly.

Federal, state and local laws and regulations relating to the protection of the environment may require current or previous owners or operators of real estate to investigate and clean up hazardous or toxic substances at such properties.  The owner or operator may have to pay a governmental entity or third parties for property damage and for investigation and clean-up costs incurred by such parties in connection with the contamination.  These laws typically impose clean-up responsibility and liability without regard to whether the owner or operator knew of or caused the presence of the contaminants.  Even if more than one person may have been responsible for the contamination, each person covered by the environmental laws may be held responsible for all of the clean-up costs incurred.  Third parties may also sue the owner or operator of a site for damages and costs resulting from environmental contamination emanating from that site.  We cannot be assured that existing environmental assessments of our properties reveal all environmental liabilities, that any prior owner of any of our properties did not create a material environmental condition not known to us, or that a material environmental condition does not otherwise exist as to any of our properties.

Changes in U.S. accounting standards may materially and adversely affect the reporting of our operations.

The Company follows GAAP, which is established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”), an independent body whose standards are recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) as authoritative for publicly held companies.  The FASB and the SEC create and interpret accounting standards and may issue new accounting pronouncements or change the interpretation and application of these standards that govern the preparation of our financial statements.  These changes could have a material impact on our reported consolidated results of operations and financial position.

Any weaknesses identified in our internal control over financial reporting could result in a decrease of our share price.

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires us to evaluate and report on our internal control over financial reporting.  If we identify one or more material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting, we could lose investor confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our financial reports, which in turn could have a negative impact on our share price.

Our failure to qualify as a REIT would have serious adverse consequences to our security holders.

We plan to continue to meet the requirements for taxation as a REIT.  Many of these requirements, for which there is limited judicial and administrative interpretation, however, are highly technical and complex.  Therefore, we cannot guarantee that we have qualified or will qualify as a REIT in the future.  The determination that we are a REIT requires an analysis of various factual matters that may not be totally within our control.  To qualify as a REIT, our assets must be substantially comprised of real estate assets as defined in the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”), and related guidance and our gross income must generally come from rental and other real estate or passive related sources that are itemized in the REIT tax laws.  We are also required to distribute to security holders at least 90% of our REIT taxable income excluding net capital gains.

If we fail to qualify as a REIT, we would be subject to U.S. federal income tax at regular corporate rates (including, for years prior to 2018, any alternative minimum tax) and would have to pay significant income taxes unless the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) granted us relief under certain statutory provisions.  In addition, we would remain disqualified from taxation as a REIT for four years following the year in which we failed to qualify as a REIT.  We would therefore have less money available for investments or for distributions to security holders and would no longer be required to make distributions to security holders.  This would likely have a significant negative impact on the value of our securities.  

In addition, certain of our subsidiary entities have elected to be taxed as REITs.  As such, each must separately satisfy all of the requirements to qualify for REIT status.  If a subsidiary REIT did not satisfy such requirements, and certain relief provisions did not apply, it would be taxed as a regular corporation and its income would be subject to U.S. federal income taxation.   Failure to comply with these complex REIT rules at the subsidiary REIT level can have a material and detrimental impact to EQR’s REIT status.

 

Gain on disposition of assets held for sale in the ordinary course of business is subject to 100% tax.

Any gain resulting from transfers of properties we hold as inventory or primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business is treated as income from a prohibited transaction subject to a 100% penalty tax unless certain safe harbor exceptions set forth in the Code apply.  We do not believe that our transfers or disposals of property are prohibited transactions.  However, whether property is held for investment purposes is a question that depends on all the facts and circumstances surrounding the particular transaction.  The IRS may contend that certain transfers or dispositions of properties by us or contributions of properties are prohibited transactions.  While we believe the IRS would not prevail in any such dispute, if the IRS were to argue successfully that a transfer or disposition of property constituted a prohibited transaction, we would be required to pay a 100% penalty tax on any gain allocable to us from the prohibited transaction.  In addition, income from a prohibited transaction might adversely affect our ability to satisfy the income tests for qualification as a REIT.

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We may be subject to legislative or regulatory tax changes that could negatively impact our financial condition.

At any time, U.S. federal income tax laws governing REITs or impacting real estate or the administrative interpretations of those laws may be enacted or amended. We cannot predict if or when any new U.S. federal income tax law, regulation or administrative interpretation, or any amendment to any existing U.S. federal income tax law, IRS and U.S. Department of Treasury regulations or other administrative guidance, will be adopted or become effective and any such law, regulation or interpretation may take effect retroactively.  The Company and our shareholders could be negatively impacted by any such change in, or any new, U.S. federal income tax law, regulations or administrative guidance.

Distribution requirements may limit our flexibility to manage our portfolio.

In order to maintain qualification as a REIT under the Code, a REIT must annually distribute to its shareholders at least 90% of its REIT taxable income, excluding the dividends paid deduction and net capital gains.  To the extent the REIT does not distribute all its net capital gain, or distributes at least 90%, but less than 100% of its REIT taxable income, it will be required to pay regular U.S. federal income tax on the undistributed amount at corporate rates.  In addition, we will be subject to a 4% nondeductible excise tax on amounts, if any, by which distributions we pay in any calendar year are less than the sum of 85% of our ordinary income, 95% of our net capital gains and 100% of our undistributed income from prior years.  We may not have sufficient cash or other liquid assets to meet the 90% distribution requirement. We may be required from time to time, under certain circumstances, to accrue as income for tax purposes interest and rent earned but not yet received.  We may incur a reduction in tax depreciation without a reduction in capital expenditures.  Difficulties in meeting the 90% distribution requirement might arise due to competing demands for our funds or due to timing differences between tax reporting and cash distributions, because deductions may be disallowed, income may be reported before cash is received, expenses may have to be paid before a deduction is allowed or because the IRS may make a determination that adjusts reported income.  In addition, gain from the sale of property may exceed the amount of cash received on a leverage-neutral basis.  A substantial increase to our taxable income may reduce the flexibility of the Company to manage its portfolio through dispositions of properties other than through tax deferred transactions or cause the Company to borrow funds or liquidate investments on unfavorable terms in order to meet these distribution requirements. If we fail to satisfy the 90% distribution requirement and are unable to cure the deficiency, we would cease to be taxed as a REIT, resulting in substantial tax-related liabilities.

We have a share ownership limit for REIT tax purposes.

To remain qualified as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes, not more than 50% in value of our outstanding Shares may be owned, directly or indirectly, by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of any year.  To facilitate maintenance of our REIT qualification, our Declaration of Trust, subject to certain exceptions, prohibits ownership by any single shareholder of more than five percent of the lesser of the number or value of any outstanding class of common or preferred shares (the “Ownership Limit”).  Absent an exemption or waiver granted by our Board of Trustees, securities acquired or held in violation of the Ownership Limit will be transferred to a trust for the exclusive benefit of a designated charitable beneficiary, and the security holder’s rights to distributions and to vote would terminate.  A transfer of Shares may automatically be deemed void if it causes a person to violate the Ownership Limit.  The Ownership Limit could delay or prevent a change in control and, therefore, could affect our security holders’ ability to realize a premium over the then-prevailing market price for their Shares.  To reduce the ability of the Board to use the Ownership Limit as an anti-takeover device, the Company’s Ownership Limit requires, rather than permits, the Board to grant a waiver of the Ownership Limit if the individual seeking a waiver demonstrates that such ownership would not jeopardize the Company’s status as a REIT.  

Tax elections regarding distributions may impact future liquidity of the Company or our shareholders.

Under certain circumstances we have made and/or may consider making in the future, a tax election to treat certain distributions to shareholders made after the close of a taxable year as having been distributed during such closed taxable year.  This election, which is provided for in the Code, may allow us to avoid increasing our dividends or paying additional income taxes in the current year.  However, this could result in a constraint on our ability to decrease our dividends in future years without creating risk of either violating the REIT distribution requirements or generating additional income tax liability. In addition, the Company may be required to pay interest to the IRS based on such a distribution.

In order to retain liquidity and continue to satisfy the REIT distribution requirements, the Company could issue shares rather than pay a dividend entirely in cash to shareholders. The IRS has published several rulings which have allowed REITs to offer shareholders the choice between shares or cash as a form of payment of a dividend (an “elective stock dividend”).  However, REITs are generally required to structure the cash component to be no less than 20% of the total dividend paid.  Therefore, it is possible that the total tax burden to shareholders resulting from an elective stock dividend may exceed the amount of cash received by the shareholder.

Inapplicability of Maryland law limiting certain changes in control.

Certain provisions of Maryland law applicable to REITs prohibit “business combinations” (including certain issuances of equity securities) with any person who beneficially owns ten percent or more of the voting power of outstanding securities, or with an affiliate who, at any time within the two-year period prior to the date in question, was the beneficial owner of ten percent or more of the voting power of the Company’s outstanding voting securities (an “Interested Shareholder”), or with an affiliate of an Interested

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Shareholder.  These prohibitions last for five years after the most recent date on which the Interested Shareholder became an Interested Shareholder.  After the five-year period, a business combination with an Interested Shareholder must be approved by two super-majority shareholder votes unless, among other conditions, holders of common shares receive a minimum price for their shares and the consideration is received in cash or in the same form as previously paid by the Interested Shareholder for its common shares.  As permitted by Maryland law, however, the Board of Trustees of the Company has opted out of these restrictions with respect to any business combination involving Sam Zell and certain of his affiliates and persons acting in concert with them.  Consequently, the five-year prohibition and the super-majority vote requirements will not apply to a business combination involving us and/or any of them.  Such business combinations may not be in the best interest of our security holders.

General Risk Factors

Risk of Pandemics or Other Health Crisis.

A pandemic, epidemic or other health crisis, similar to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, affecting areas where our properties, corporate/regional offices or major service providers are located could have an adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

The occurrence of cyber incidents, or a deficiency in our cybersecurity, could negatively impact our business by causing a disruption to our operations, a compromise or corruption of our confidential information, and/or damage to our reputation and business relationships, all of which could negatively impact our financial results.

A cyber incident is an intentional attack or an unintentional event that can include gaining unauthorized access to systems to disrupt payment collections and operations, corrupt data or steal confidential information, including information regarding our residents, prospective residents, employees and employees’ dependents.  

Despite system redundancy, the implementation of security measures, required employee awareness training and the existence of a disaster recovery plan for our internal information technology systems, our systems and systems maintained by third-party vendors with which we do business are vulnerable to damage from any number of sources.  We face risks associated with security breaches, whether through cyber attacks or cyber intrusions over the Internet, malware, computer viruses, attachments to emails, phishing attempts, ransomware or other scams, persons inside our organization or persons/vendors with access to our systems and other significant disruptions of our information technology networks and related systems, including property infrastructure.  Our information technology networks and related systems are essential to the operation of our business and our ability to perform day-to-day operations.  Even the most well-protected information, networks, systems and facilities remain potentially vulnerable because the techniques used in such attempted security breaches evolve and generally are not recognized until launched against a target, and in some cases are designed not to be detected and, in fact, may not be detected.  Accordingly, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate security barriers or other preventative measures, and thus it is impossible for us to entirely mitigate this risk.  

We collect and hold personally identifiable information of our residents and prospective residents in connection with our leasing activities, and we collect and hold personally identifiable information of our employees and their dependents.  In addition, we engage third-party service providers that may have access to such personally identifiable information in connection with providing necessary information technology, security and other business services to us.  The systems of our third-party service providers may contain defects in design or other problems that could unexpectedly compromise personally identifiable information.  Although we make efforts to maintain the security and integrity of our information technology networks and those of our third-party providers and we have implemented various measures to manage the risk of a security breach or disruption, there can be no assurance that our security efforts and measures will be effective or that attempted security breaches or disruptions would not be successful or damaging.

We address potential breaches or disclosure of this confidential personally identifiable information by implementing a variety of security measures intended to protect the confidentiality and security of this information including (among others):  (a) engaging reputable, recognized firms to help us design and maintain our information technology and data security systems; (b) conducting periodic testing and verification of information and data security systems, including performing ethical hacks of our systems to discover where any vulnerabilities may exist; and (c) providing periodic employee awareness training around phishing and other scams, malware and other cyber risks.  The Company also has a cyber liability insurance policy to provide some coverage for certain risks arising out of data and network breaches and data privacy regulations which provides a policy aggregate limit and a per occurrence deductible.  Cyber liability insurance generally covers, among other things, costs associated with the wrongful release, through inadvertent breach or network attack, of personally identifiable information.  However, there can be no assurance that these measures will prevent a cyber incident or that our cyber liability insurance coverage will be sufficient in the event of a cyber incident.

A breach or significant and extended disruption in the function of our systems, including our primary website, could damage our reputation and cause us to lose residents and revenues, result in a violation of applicable privacy and other laws, generate third-party

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claims, result in the unintended and/or unauthorized public disclosure or the misappropriation of proprietary, personally identifiable and confidential information and require us to incur significant expenses to address and remediate or otherwise resolve these kinds of issues.  We may not be able to recover these expenses in whole or in any part from our service providers, our insurers or any other responsible parties.  As a result, there can be no assurance that our financial results would not be negatively impacted.

We are also subject to laws, rules, and regulations in the United States, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”), relating to the collection, use, and security of resident, customer, employee and other data. Evolving compliance and operational requirements under the CCPA and the privacy laws of other jurisdictions in which we operate may impose significant costs that are likely to increase over time. Our failure to comply with laws, rules, and regulations related to privacy and data protection could harm our business or reputation or subject us to fines and penalties.

The Audit Committee is primarily responsible for oversight of the risk management process related to cybersecurity and typically meets no less often than annually with Company information technology personnel to discuss recent trends in cyber risks and the Company’s strategy to defend its business systems and information against cyber attacks as well as the Company’s efforts to comply with data privacy laws such as the CCPA.

Our business and operations rely on specialized information technology systems, the failure of or inadequacy of which could impact our business.

Our ability to identify, implement and maintain appropriate information technology systems differentiates and creates competitive advantages for us in the operations of our business.  These systems often are developed and hosted by third party vendors whom we rely upon for ongoing maintenance, upgrades and enhancements.  While we maintain a rigorous process around selecting appropriate information technology systems and partnering with vendors, our failure to adequately do so could negatively impact our operations and competitive position.

We depend on our key personnel.

We depend on the efforts of our trustees and executive officers.  If one or more of them resign or otherwise cease to be employed by us, our business and results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected.  

Litigation risk could affect our business.

We may become involved in legal proceedings, claims, actions, inquiries and investigations in the ordinary course of business. These legal proceedings may include, but are not limited to, proceedings related to consumer, shareholder, securities, employment, environmental, development, condominium conversion, tort, eviction and commercial legal issues.  Litigation can be lengthy and expensive, and it can divert management's attention and resources. Results cannot be predicted with certainty, and an unfavorable outcome in litigation could result in liability material to our financial condition or results of operations.

Insurance policies can be costly and may not cover all losses, which may adversely affect our financial condition or results of operations.

The Company’s property, general liability and workers compensation insurance policies provide coverage with substantial per occurrence deductibles and/or self-insured retentions.  These self-insurance retentions can be a material portion of insurance losses in excess of the base deductibles.  While the Company has previously purchased incremental insurance coverage in the event of multiple non-catastrophic occurrences within the same policy year, these substantial deductible and self-insured retention amounts do expose the Company to greater potential for uninsured losses and this additional multiple occurrences coverage may not be available at all or on commercially reasonable terms in the future.  We believe the policy specifications and insured limits of these policies are adequate and appropriate; however, there are certain types of extraordinary losses which may not be adequately covered under our insurance program.  As a result, our financial results could be adversely affected and may vary significantly from period to period.

The Company relies on third-party insurance providers for its property, general liability, workers compensation and other insurance, and should any of them experience liquidity issues or other financial distress, it could negatively impact their ability to pay claims under the Company’s policies.  

Earthquake risk:  Our policies insuring against earthquake losses have substantial deductibles which are applied to the values of the buildings involved in the loss.  With the geographic concentration of our properties, a single earthquake affecting a market may have a significant negative effect on our financial condition and results of operations.  We cannot assure that an earthquake would not cause damage or losses greater than insured levels.  In the event of a loss in excess of insured limits, we could lose our capital invested in the affected property or market, as well as anticipated future revenue.

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Terrorism risk:  The Company has terrorism insurance coverage which excludes losses from nuclear, biological and chemical attacks.  In the event of a terrorist attack impacting one or more of our properties, we could lose the revenues from the property, our capital investment in the property and possibly face liability claims from residents or others suffering injuries or losses.

Catastrophic weather and natural disaster risk:  Our properties may be located in areas that could experience catastrophic weather and other natural disasters from time to time, including wildfires, snow or ice storms, windstorms or hurricanes, flooding or other severe disasters.  These severe weather and natural disasters could cause substantial damages or losses to our properties which may not be covered or could exceed our insurance coverage.  Exposure to this risk could also result in a decrease in demand for properties located in these areas or affected by these conditions.  

Climate change risk: To the extent that significant changes in the climate occur in areas where our properties are located, we may experience severe weather, which may result in physical damage to or decrease the demand for properties located in these areas or affected by these conditions. Should the impact of climate change be material in nature, significant property damage or destruction of our properties could result.  In addition, climate change could cause a significant increase in insurance premiums and deductibles or a decrease in the availability of coverage, either of which could expose the Company to even greater uninsured losses. Our financial condition or results of operations may be adversely affected. In addition, changes in federal, state and local legislation and regulation based on concerns about climate change could result in increased capital expenditures on our existing properties and our new development properties.

Provisions of our Declaration of Trust and Bylaws could inhibit changes in control.

Certain provisions of our Declaration of Trust and Bylaws may delay or prevent a change in control of the Company or other transactions that could provide the security holders with a premium over the then-prevailing market price of their securities or which might otherwise be in the best interest of our security holders.  This includes the Ownership Limit described above.  While our existing preferred shares/preference units do not have all of these provisions, any future series of preferred shares/preference units may have certain voting provisions that could delay or prevent a change in control or other transactions that might otherwise be in the interest of our security holders.  Our Bylaws require certain information to be provided by any security holder, or persons acting in concert with such security holder, who proposes business or a nominee at an annual meeting of shareholders, including disclosure of information related to hedging activities and investment strategies with respect to our securities.  These requirements could delay or prevent a change in control or other transactions that might otherwise be in the interest of our security holders.  The Board of Trustees may use its powers to issue preferred shares and to set the terms of such securities to delay or prevent a change in control of the Company even if a change in control were in the interest of the security holders.

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments

None.

Item 2. Properties

As of December 31, 2020, the Company, directly or indirectly through investments in title holding entities, owned all or a portion of 304 properties located in 9 states and the District of Columbia consisting of 77,889 apartment units.  See Item 1, Business, for additional information regarding the Company’s properties and the markets/metro areas upon which we are focused.  The Company’s properties are summarized by building type in the following table:

 

Type

 

Properties

 

 

Apartment Units

 

 

Average

Apartment Units

 

Garden

 

 

102

 

 

 

25,791

 

 

 

253

 

Mid/High-Rise

 

 

202