As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, frustration and poverty continue to increase exponentially. For the last few months, tenants in many parts of the country were protected from being evicted for non-payment of rent by emergency government measures. Unfortunately, that security is quickly disappearing — and in most cases, it’s already expired.
Being behind on rent with limited or non-existent resources is stressful to say the least. Receiving an eviction notice doubles that anxiety. But before you start loading up a shopping cart with your belongings and looking for a storage unit to sleep in, you should seriously explore your defense options:
Use Government Resources
All states have unique statutes and laws regarding eviction, so your best bet is to do some research and find out what they are where you live so you can fight back accordingly. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development website has a comprehensive list of each state’s laws regarding the rights and limitations of tenants and landlords. Likewise, if your home is part of a government-subsidized housing program, there may be additional resources to help you during eviction procedures, whether they’ve been implemented for non-payment or other reasons.
Go Through the Eviction Procedure Details
State, county, and city jurisdictions typically have laws that are very specific regarding eviction procedures. Your landlord must strictly follow these procedures for the eviction to be legal and enforceable. If you are being evicted for non-payment, in most cases, the landlord first must inform you in writing how much rent is due and what date it must be received by.
In most states, there are also very concise guidelines regarding the way you’re presented with the eviction documents, and exactly how long you have to reply to them. If your landlord fails to meet any of these requirements, their eviction may be dismissed, meaning they have to start over with the whole process. In many cases, they have to wait a month to restart the procedure, which can buy you some more time to come up with a payment plan.
Keep in mind, however, that if your lease has expired, or if you only have a verbal lease agreement, the landlord can simply give you a written eviction notice. Often a landlord is only required to give a renter a notice to vacate corresponding with the rent payment schedule. For instance, if your rent is paid every two months, the request has to give you two months to move. If you disregard the request, the landlord is permitted to proceed with eviction procedures.
Get Legal Help
If you can’t pay your rent, it’s doubtful that you have the money to hire a private attorney. Luckily, most cities or counties have legal aid and tenant rights associations that provide legal advice free of charge. Take advantage of any pro bono help you can get. Just be sure to collect any information you have regarding your rental property, including voicemails, texts, emails, letters, pictures, receipts, lease agreements, notices, and cancelled checks, before reaching out to the pros.
Throw Yourself at the Mercy of The Landlord
This option sounds corny and humiliating because it is — but when you’re trying to keep a roof over your head, desperate measures are sometimes required. If you have children, point out to the landlord what the hardship of eviction would do to their lives. Point out what a good tenant you’ve been and that you paid your rent on time for months or years (if this is actually the case, of course). Show the landlord paycheck stubs proving that you and/or your partner are sincerely trying to make ends meet. Suggest a payment schedule you can handle, no matter how small the payments, to at least open up negotiations. Ask if there are any chores on the rental properties you could do to lower your past due balance.
Whatever your situation, don’t just ignore the eviction notice. Check and doublecheck the document date, including the one for the actual eviction, the court date, and, most importantly, the date by which you must notify the court that you want a hearing. Contact people who may be able to help, and be relentless about it. Whether it’s your sister who lives 2,000 miles away who might give you a loan, a legal aid contact who hasn’t returned your call, or that food delivery gig company that you haven’t heard from since you submitted your application, you can’t give up. As long as you put the work in and state your case honestly, you should be able to at least come to some kind of a tolerable agreement.