For the millions of American renters impacted by COVID-19, paying rent has suddenly become an unexpected hurdle. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 31% of renters nationwide didn’t make their rent payment on time in April. With U.S. consumers spending an average of about $1,000 on their monthly rent payment, a stimulus check of $1,200 may barely cover one month’s living expenses.
If you’ve lost your job — or you’re waiting in limbo to see what will happen with your employer in the coming weeks — and you can’t pay rent, you’re not alone. While there is no national rent relief act to delay tenant payments, you can still get help with rent.
What to Do If You Can’t Pay Rent: Dealing With Evictions
For now, there is some good news if you can’t pay rent: by law, you may be able to avoid eviction. The CARES Act prohibits eviction proceedings in federally-backed housing nationwide until July 25. Several state governments have also prohibited evictions. For example, eviction proceedings in Texas have been halted until April 19. In Los Angeles, landlords cannot evict tenants for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis. Tenants will also have six months to repay back due rent.
Many local governments are still enacting protective measures. If you think you may be at risk of eviction, contact your local housing authority as soon as possible to learn what options are available in your area.
However, keep in mind that any past due rent may become due immediately as soon as the crisis passes, depending on current rulings in your area. If you are able to pay, you should keep making payments for as long as you can to avoid a potentially huge bill in the coming months.
Finding Help With Rent: Start With Your Landlord
Many renters are facing a similar situation: they’re furloughed, temporarily laid-off or unable to work as many hours during shelter-in-place orders. If you’re struggling to pay rent on time, or can’t pay rent at all, contact your landlord.
Your landlord may be willing to work out an arrangement with you, collecting partial payments or even letting you delay a payment while you get back on your feet. If you do make any agreement, be sure to ask your landlord for a written arrangement so you have proof of the conversation.
If you think you’ll need help, reach out as soon as possible. The more notice your landlord has, the better they’ll be able to work something out.
Look for Local Programs
Some city governments and even property management associations are offering — or have proposed — rental assistance programs to help during COVID-19. For example, The City of New Orleans launched a rental assistance program for 90 days, or until funding runs out. The San Antonio Apartment Association has proposed a reduced rent rate and assistance efforts for renters. Orange County, Florida also has a COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program.
Funding for these programs are limited and often run on a “first come, first serve” basis with priority given to families with young children. However, as more funding becomes available, applications may reopen. Visit your city’s municipal website or reach out to your local housing authority for application assistance.
Charities That Help With Rent
In an emergency, you may be able to get short term assistance with rent through a local or national charity. Typically, to get approved, you’ll need to show a loss of income and proof of housing, such as a current lease agreement.
While you can reach out to charities directly, the United Way is offering assistance to renters and helping to connect those in need with local charities. Call 211 or visit the United Way’s COVID-19 response site to get help.
Government Rental Assistance Program
If you’ve lost your job or are (understandably) worried your financial situation will stretch past the current crisis, you may be able to get long-term help through federally backed programs.
The housing choice voucher program, backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, offers monthly vouchers helping tenants cover rent costs. Tenants can choose to live in any approved rental and many landlords participate. To be eligible, your family’s total income cannot exceed 50% of the median income in your area.
In some areas, there are long wait times to get approved for assistance. Urban areas often face a large volume of applications and may only offer vouchers through a lottery (or random selection) process a few times a year. The sooner you can apply, the better. Reach out to your housing authority office as soon as possible.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more charities, associations and local governments are approving plans and funding to help renters. If you can’t find help immediately, keep checking with your local offices for new options. And if you need financial help beyond rent, check out our list of ways to get financial help right now.