Legislation put in place to protect renters from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic has been evolving rapidly, and many renters struggling with income loss or unemployment are left confused as to what will happen to them moving forward.
As of September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has implemented a second eviction moratorium that will protect renters from losing their homes through the end of the year. Renters must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible for the moratorium.
While this is very good news (the government predicts the new moratorium will cover as many as 40 million renters) it’s anyone’s guess what will happen come 2021. If you’re a renter whose feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic, here’s how you can best prepare for the months to come.
Honesty is the best policy
Across the board, experts agree that keeping open lines of communication with your landlord is the best first step during these unprecedented times. If you’ve lost your job, are unable to work or are otherwise struggling to pay rent, be upfront with your landlord right away. Try to come up with a proactive solution together, like setting up a payment plan or negotiating on rent for the time being.
Landlords are typically more willing to work with tenants who are honest and motivated as it’s usually better for them to keep a tenant who can pay less rather than deal with a vacancy. Surprising your landlord with being short on rent likely won’t go over well.
It’s important to remember that every landlord has a different financial situation and they do have their own bills to pay. Instead of simply giving up on paying rent, let your landlord know what has happened to put you in financial jeopardy and what you plan to do about it.
If you’re behind on rent:
- Assess: Take inventory to understand just how much money you currently owe. Calculate how far behind you are on rent and refresh your memory on any fees associated with late payments. (Some current COVID-driven mandates that are in place require waiving of late fees, but double-check current regulations in your area to be sure.) Evaluate your finances to get a picture of your current account balances and spending habits. Look over all of your outstanding bills and prioritize.
- Communicate: Reach out to your landlord to inform them of the situation, explore options and seek suggestions to help you catch up on what you owe. Is your landlord willing to waive late fees, extend due dates or even reduce minimum payment due? Once you’ve assessed your financial situation, formulate a budget and present a payment plan.
- Plan: Keep your landlord informed of your plans moving forward, whether it’s searching for a job, adjusting financial obligations to put you in a better position or the like. Reach out to all of your debt creditors to see where there’s room for flexibility or help with payments.
The eviction process
Evictions are a long and costly process for all parties involved, so most landlords will do their best to avoid filing for eviction. Right now, tenants may even be left responsible for the portion of the rent they’ve been unable to pay that lead to the eviction.
When eviction moratoriums do expire, your landlord must follow specific steps outlined by law in order to successfully complete an eviction. Typically, this means you’ll receive a notice of termination stating that you have not paid rent as outlined in the lease agreement and the landlord is terminating your rental agreement as a result.
These notices usually outline the amount of money that’s owed and provide a deadline for payment. If you’re unable or choose not to do anything, your landlord can proceed with filing a legal eviction.
Once your landlord submits the required paperwork to your local court, the system will process the claim and schedule a hearing date that both you and your landlord are expected to attend. Before the trial, you’ll be asked to file a response with the court and detail any defenses you wish to make to challenge the eviction. If your landlord has secured legal assistance for the hearing, you’ll want to strongly consider doing the same.
It’s important to remember that you still have tenant rights, even during an eviction. Harassment by a landlord is illegal and almost every state has landlord-tenant law in place that prohibits behavior, such as:
- Your landlord changing the locks to prevent you from entering the property
- Your landlord harassing or threatening you
- Your landlord shutting off utilities to try to force you out of the property
- Your landlord removing your belongings from the property
If you feel like your renter rights are being violated, you should contact your local housing authority or a licensed attorney.
Resources for renters
If you can’t make rent and can’t come to an agreement with your landlord, it might be time to consider other options. Do you have the option to bring in a roommate to your living situation to help contribute towards the rent? Can you move to a smaller unit or a property with fewer amenities that will decrease your monthly rent commitment?
If you need financial assistance, there are several programs in place for you to research:
- Check with your local bank or credit union. Some have received grants and are distributing funds within their communities.
- Research community outreach organizations created to serve community members in need like United Way
- Reach out to your city, county or state as many have funds set aside to assist the community. For example, the state of Illinois is offering a relief program to help with rent and the state of Oregon just launched a one-time emergency relief program.
- Most states have local agencies in place to help renters deal with evictions. These organizations will be able to help you find the resources you need.
Federal and state programs that apply to renters’ rights are changing quickly, and it can sometimes be hard to keep up. Staying on top of the most recent news from both a national and state standpoint can help equip yourself with the right tools and knowledge to understand what changing legislation means for you.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional financial or legal advice as they may deem it necessary.