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Coronavirus Tips: What to Do If You Can’t Pay Rent

By: Susan Finch
March 27, 2020

Sheltering in place and the close of non-essential businesses during the coronavirus outbreak sent an immediate rippling effect into the economy. Despite years of a rock-bottom unemployment rate, it has likely risen to at least 5.5%, according to Washingon Post.

If you're experiencing job loss or employment vulnerability, you're not alone. There are resources available if you find you can't afford your monthly rent.

1. Take a Look at Your Lease Terms

Sit down with your lease and scan for sections on missed rent payments. Study what it means to miss a rent payment. Then, determine what your options are. 

Keep an eye out for information about late fees and grace periods. You can typically find this information near the top of your lease. 

2. Talk With Your Landlord About Options

It's imperative to let your property manager or landlord know as quickly as possible about the situation. Reaching out early will allow all sides to figure out a plan of action. 

They also shouldn't be surprised by the news. Landlords across the country are likely to have many of these conversations right now.

Schedule a call with your landlord or property management via phone or video chat to discuss the lease terms. Avoid in-person meetings. Keep following social distancing rules during the process. 

Repayment Options

Tenants in good standing may be able to negotiate a repayment plan with their landlord. With the changing economy and challenging conditions, landlords should be open to working with you. 

Let your landlord know about anything in your immediate future that could guarantee the rent. For example, if you know your job is waiting for you after the economy reopens or have another position in the pipeline, you could ask about paying twice the monthly rent the following month. 

Temporary Rent Reductions

Landlords would usually rather get paid than grapple with a long-term collection battle. If you've had your hours temporarily cut back but are expecting them to ramp back up when the dust settles, a temporary rent reduction might make sense for everyone involved.

If you can make it work financially, paying back the difference would be a good thing to offer. 

Be Aware of Your State Laws

Some states and cities are pausing evictions during a shelter-in-place order. Some areas are waiving late fees for up to 60 days. 

Many proposed ordinances would still require tenants to pay rent. However, they would allow landlords to recover rental fees at a later time. 

You should also research mortgage relief programs for homeowners and landlords. You may discover your landlord is not required to pay the mortgage or will have penalty-free deferments.

Each state and city varies. Research your state and city laws in advance to find out what's offered.

3. Know Where to Turn for Help

If you're struggling financially and not sure where to turn for rent help, there are options.

Rental Assistance Programs and Charities

Rental assistance programs can help with immediate or long-term relief. Some are government-funded. Others are charities that are skilled in finding solutions for those in need. 

Here are a few programs to look into:

  • HUD Rental Assistance: Connect with privately-owned subsidized housing, Section 8 vouchers, and temporary rental relief. 
  • Salvation Army emergency assistance: The Salvation Army's Project SHARE looks to address the most urgent needs, including rent payments, utility bills, and more. 
  • Community Action Partnership: An emergency services program that provides financial assistance and past-due rent, deposit, and utility bills.
  • Catholic Charities: Ask about emergency assistance grants that can help you pay your rent.
  • Modest Needs: Offers small, emergency grants to low-income workers at risk of slipping into poverty.
  • 2-1-1: Although not a program, the FTC designated 2-1-1 as a free, confidential referral line and website. It can help you find the essential health and human services you need.

Bank Loans 

Many banks are providing options to assist those with financial burdens from coronavirus. Credit Unions may be more empowered to help with low or zero-interest loans to its members, like Gesa Credit Union. 

Other banks are waiving fees and allowing customers to cash in their certificates of deposit early. Here are other things to inquire about at your bank:

  • Waived late fees
  • Payment deferrals that won't be reported to credit bureaus
  • Credit line extensions
  • Skip-a-pay options
  • Hardship assistance

Contact your Utility/Service Providers

Rent isn't the only thing you need to worry about when grappling with job loss or financial vulnerability. Paying your utility bills can also be challenging. 

However, many utility and service providers are offering assistance in the form of lower interest and repayment plans. Those things can help you through your current financial hardship.

Final Thoughts

It may feel like an uphill battle figuring out how to stay afloat and pay rent during the pandemic. Keep looking ahead and remain proactive to fuel your days with hope for the future.

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