Paying rent during coronavirus - Roost
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Paying rent during Coronavirus

How to work with your landlord 

Coronavirus is impacting every part of our lives. Our jobs. Our families. Our health. Our homes. So what happens if you can’t make rent this month, or next, or even three months from now? Can you get evicted? Here are the basics we know today along with a few resources to help keep you in your home. 

Do you need to pay rent? 

Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way. Do you still owe your landlord rent? Yes. You may live in a state with an eviction freeze, but at the end of the COVID grace period, your rent will come due. The way many COVID rent relief mandates work is that your landlord can’t evict you for not paying rent right now, but after a set period of time, they can. 

What happens if you can’t pay rent?

Many states have put in place laws to prevent eviction so you can’t get kicked out of your home, but eventually, your rent will come due. Contact your landlord to discuss options and negotiate a reduced amount if you can. It’s probably best to work out an arrangement with your landlord or leasing agency ahead of time. 

How to approach your landlord

Although we’ve heard stories that some landlords are putting more pressure on tenants as a result of the pandemic, many have risen to the occasion and are trying to work with tenants to minimize the impact. We’ve talked to landlords and property managers who have made the effort to reach out to tenants. They want to hear from you. If you ignore their messages, they don’t know if you’re struggling, or fine, or ignoring them. If you make an effort to talk to them, they’ll know that you’re invested in having a dialogue and working out a solution that’s good for everyone.

Roost Tip! Ask if your landlord is willing to reduce rent for the next few months. Explain to your landlord that you’ve lost your job but are applying for unemployment and that you’d like to set up a time to talk to find a solution. 

That said, you do have some leverage. Renters across the country are organizing rent strikes and more communities are pushing for rent freezes. And, even if your landlord did evict you, they would have to initiate the eviction process. Even if they were successful, filling an empty apartment is pretty tricky right now, so see if you two can get creative.  

Be ready to show proof of hardship, like you how you lost your job and have applied for unemployment. Landlords want to make sure they’re helping people who aren’t trying to take advantage of the situation.

Examples of what to ask:

  • Could we reduce the rent to a partial amount for 30-60-90 days?  
  • Could we waive late fees? (This may already be in place if you live in one of the states that passed pandemic eviction measures or live in a building that’s receiving federal funding.)
  • Could we spread out the rent payment (or a portion of it) over the balance of the lease?
  • Could we apply part of the security deposit to cover a gap in rent? 

If your landlord does agree to a payment plan, make sure you document everything and that you both sign something in writing. Make sure you don’t agree to something you can’t realistically afford. If it’s not realistic, you’ll end up getting evicted anyway and you might as well save your money to get into your next place. 

Roost Tip! Make sure to come to an agreement with your landlord in writing as to how you want to manage the problem before making partial rent payments. 

Why your landlord will likely work with you during COVID-19

Everyone is struggling — even your landlord/property owner. They have a mortgage to pay, taxes, insurance, and more. That said, it can cost a landlord thousands of dollars to replace a new tenant in advertising, apartment repairs, clean up, and time off-market. Not to mention, it’s not as easy right now to find tenants with full employment. The average cost to replace a tenant in a 2-bedroom apartment is $5000.00. Do the math. If your rent is $1000 a month, and the cost of acquiring a new tenant is $5000, then your landlord is better off forgiving you a few month’s rent, knowing you’ll be able to pay your rent going forward. It’s cheaper than getting someone new into your unit. “We want our residents to communicate,” said Ziad Elsahili, President of Fortify Holdings, a residential community management company based in the Pacific Northwest. “If we know they are trying, working in good faith and that their situation will improve, then we’d rather work with them than evict. We want them to call the leasing office and make an appointment. If they do, we can work out something.”

Roost Tip! Don’t be afraid to ask your property manager/landlord for partial or full rent forgiveness. Especially if you can demonstrate that you’ll be able to get a job again. In many cases, they’re motivated to work with you.

Know your rights

If your landlord is being unreasonable? Are you confused about what laws have changed? Knowing your rights is key to evaluating your options.

Eviction Mapping Project has created a frequently-updated map of places that have put emergency tenant protections in place. For example, New York, Arizona and California have halted evictions for 90 days and Los Angeles residents will have up to a year after the city’s declaration of emergency ends to catch up on any rent they were unable to pay during the pandemic. However, some states have no restrictions and others have remained silent on the issue but have closed courts. See our summary of COVID-19 renter protections by state.

Emergency evictions allow you to stay at home for the short term but you could still face eviction in the long run. Even if you declare bankruptcy, landlords will still have claims. Renters may be able to argue force majeure (which is when there’s an unforeseeable circumstance that prevents someone from fulfilling on a contract) due to COVID, but no one knows if this will legally stick. Time may be on your side, too, as it will take some time for the legal system and local law enforcement to catch up. Traditionally, landlords rely on the legal system to collect, but with this process suspended and a backlog of cases mounting, who knows when “normal” will return. 

Roost Renter Rights recaps the most frequently requested laws by state and links to additional sources. Make sure to check out your city’s tenant organization and join their Facebook group for local support and advice.   

Look up your specific state and local resources   

Check out rent assistance programs in your area for additional support. Some cities are also moving to create local programs to help tenants make rent payments and there are a number of non-profit, faith-based and state programs assisting. Support goes to worst-case scenarios and those first in line. Apply early and stay on top of new programs offered in your city or community.  

Check out Roost’s Rent Help section for additional ideas including resources like this. 

  • Nonprofit website 211.org connects those in need of help with essential community services in their area. It has also recently set up a portal for pandemic assistance. If you’re having trouble with your food budget or paying your housing bills, you can use 211.org’s online search tool or dial 211 on your phone to talk to someone who can try to help.
  • Another nonprofit, JustShelter.org, puts tenants facing eviction in touch with local organizations that can help. And Modest Needs can connect you to rent resources and grant money.
  • The online legal services startup chatbot called DoNotPay.com recently added a coronavirus service that the company claims will identify which of the laws, ordinances and measures covering rent and evictions based on your location. It’ll even mail a letter on your behalf and ask for a waiver of later fees. 

If you need help right now and are at risk of homelessness

If you’re about to become evicted or on the verge homelessness, contact a local support agency through the HUD exchange. Also consider calling the Legal Aid Society to help you get a payment extension, find a new home or have an eviction blocked altogether. The Legal Aid society can give you free professional help. It’s an independent nonprofit legal service provided by the government to help low-income families and individuals with eviction and other civil matters. 

Last Updated: October 15th, 2020