While government restrictions related to COVID-19 ease up across the country a little more each day, millions of people are still out of work and struggling to overcome a myriad of economic challenges. Of those people, paying rent without an income is almost always among the biggest struggles. In fact, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 31 percent of America’s apartment renters still hadn’t paid April’s rent in week two of that month.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many private and government agencies have been hustling to come up with solutions. A significant number of new rental law/moratorium changes have taken effect in the past month or so.
These guidelines help you figure out which laws cover tenants in your region and provide resources to help you make it through this chaotic time:
Common US Regulations
Rules and regulations are different in each state, and many also vary by city and/or county. In some areas, rent freezes have been put in effect, in others, the government has cancelled rent and mortgage payments altogether, and most commonly, landlords are extending rent payment dates, waiving late fees, and trying to work out payment plans with tenants.
Arizona, California, and New York, along with many other states, have suspended evictions for up to 90 days. Los Angeles residents have arguably fared best during the crisis, as they have up to a year after the city ends the declaration of emergency to catch up on any unpaid rent with no late fees incurred.
The CARES Act
You may have heard that many rental properties are bound by ordinances that prohibit evictions through July 25th and ban late charges. That means you couldn’t be physically evicted before August 24th, 2020.
But what you may not know is that these restrictions only apply to properties that are financed under federal loan programs such as Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, or those that get federal funds for Section 8 housing. If you’re not sure if your property qualifies, use this link published by the National Low Income Housing Association. Just scroll down to find your city and state and see if your property address is listed.
Keep in mind that this tool only covers apartment complexes with five or more units, so if you rent a house or live in a small complex with four or fewer units, it will be hard to find this information any other way except by asking your landlord.
If you still need money to avoid eviction or are having problems negotiating terms with your landlord, there are various online services that may be able to help.
People who need help finding food, paying bills, and performing other tasks in their hometowns usually find 211.org helpful. This nonprofit website helps you connect with local community assistance programs and has a special link for help with problems related to the pandemic. You can also reach them by simply dialing 211 on your phone.
DoNotPay.com, an online legal service, also recently introduced a coronavirus financial relief tool. It reportedly can identify all of the states’ and cities’ laws, ordinances, and rules related to rent and evictions during the pandemic. Even better, they’ll also help you compose and send a letter to your landlord regarding late payments and related fees.
If eviction is on the horizon, contact JustShelter.org. This nonprofit specializes in helping tenants reach the best local groups that can help avoid eviction or, if worse comes to worst, at least locate emergency housing in your city or town. Just go to their website to find what’s available in your area.
For the details on exactly what’s available in all states regarding pandemic economic aid, Nolo.com remains one of the most comprehensive legal online sources. They have complete lists of the details on eviction bans in each state, as well as the full texts of each state’s ordinances.
Many states have closed their courts during COVID-19 for health and safety reasons. While this may cause problems for people trying to conduct routine legal proceedings, it could actually be helpful to those trying to avoid eviction because landlords can’t file the necessary paperwork to begin the process. You can easily access lists of closed regional courts in your area at Ballotpedia.org and Law360.com. In many states, courts can still issue restraining orders and process arrest warrants, but filing eviction papers is mostly considered non-essential and is pretty much on hold for now.
Try Negotiation First
Instead of panicking when you can’t pay your rent, always start by calmly approaching your landlord and discussing options like extensions, rent reduction, and the elimination of late fees. Many landlords are understanding and willing to work with you to help make your monthly payments. Of course, there are also some landlords out there who have no empathy and reject any attempt at negotiations — but’s it’s still always better to try to work things out before resorting to other options. However, if you do need help, the resources above are all at your disposal.