Where to Find Rent Assistance During COVID-19

Can’t pay your rent? There are options.

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Many renters are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. And though a new eviction moratorium prevents you from being removed from your home, it doesn’t cover rent payments or help lighten the load financially.

If you’re having a hard time paying your rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s what you need to know.

Know Your Rights as a Renter 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a federal eviction moratorium in early September 2020. Under the new rule, qualified renters can’t be evicted through Dec. 31, 2020. 

To be eligible, you have to self-certify—under penalty of perjury—that you:

  • Are unable to pay rent due to substantial income loss, loss of hours, a layoff, or high medical bills
  • Have made all efforts to obtain government rent assistance
  • Expect to earn $99,000 or less for the year ($198,000 is you file your tax returns jointly), were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS, or received a stimulus check per the CARES Act
  • Are attempting to make at least partial payments on your rent when possible
  • Would likely become homeless if evicted or would need to live in very close quarters with someone

This all must be certified on the official declaration form from the CDC. You must then submit it to your landlord in order to qualify.

Unlike the moratorium enacted by the CARES Act earlier this year, this one extends to all renters—not just those on federally financed or subsidized properties. 

Understand Your Local Rights, Too 

Many states and municipalities have also put their own eviction moratoriums in place. In some areas, these moratoriums have already expired, and evictions have resumed for non-paying renters.

To see where your state or city stands, check with your local housing department. The National Low Income Housing Coalition also has a list of nationwide eviction and foreclosure moratoriums that can help.

You should also work to understand your rights as a tenant and read your lease thoroughly. Note any grace periods you may be due and what your landlord’s options for recourse are. Your city should also have tenant protections in place, so study up on renter’s rights in your area. Your local housing agency is a good place to start.

Talk to Your Landlord

In order to qualify for the eviction moratorium, you must certify that you’re making your best efforts to pay rent and meet the obligations of your lease agreement. If you’re currently unable to pay your rent, your first step is to talk to your landlord. They might be willing to work with you on payment options.

“Contact your landlord and discuss a deferred payment plan,” Howard Dvorkin, a certified public accountant (CPA) and chairman of Debt.com, told The Balance via email. “This is definitely worth a shot, as most landlords do not want to pay the fee to file a lawsuit, go to court, and find a new tenant.”

Consider talking to your landlord about these other options:

  • Deferred payments: You pay your overdue rent by a later, agreed-upon date.
  • Partial or flexible payments: You are permitted to make smaller, incremental payments across the month.
  • Security deposit payments: Your landlord uses your security deposit toward the overdue rent.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to pay your rent by credit card. Though this can ensure you’re not delinquent on your rent, it also results in additional credit card debt and potentially more interest paid over time. Make sure you’re prepared to pay off your credit card as soon as possible to avoid further financial distress.

Find Local Assistance 

If working directly with your landlord is unsuccessful, you can look to federal, state, and local resources to help cover your rent. Again, this is a recourse you must explore before qualifying for the September 2020 eviction moratorium.

If your financial hardship is due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are some resources you can tap for help. First, there are several HUD Rental Assistance programs, which received several billion dollars as part of the CARES Act.

There’s also Fannie Mae’s Disaster Recovery program, which offers housing counseling and can connect you with additional federal and state resources that can help. Fannie Mae’s recovery experts can also help you better communicate with your landlord.

In addition to these pandemic-specific resources, you can also look to various state-based programs, as well as United Way’s 211.org, which can connect you with various assistance resources in your area. The National Low Income Housing Coalition also has a list of state and local rental assistance programs, but make sure to check directly with your city and county as it may not be exhaustive.

Resource Services
Federal Register Eviction moratorium details
Centers for Disease Control Declaration form for eviction moratorium
HUD Rental Assistance Rental assistance, help finding more affordable housing, housing vouchers, and more
Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery Housing counseling, federal and state housing assistance information, support in tenant-landlord communications
State-by-state housing and rental programs Varies by state
United Way 211.org Pandemic-related assistance, essential needs assistance, disaster assistance
National Low Income Housing Coalition State and local rental assistance programs, state- and city-funded rental housing options
National Legal Aid & Defender Association Legal representation
Freddie Mac Financial counseling, budgeting help
USA.gov Financial assistance for food, housing, and bills
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Federal renter protection details

If your landlord does move to evict you, Dvorkin suggested seeking legal counsel immediately.

“You don’t have to have a lawyer in court for an eviction,” he said. “But many cities offer free legal counsel and other landlord and tenant resources to help you understand rights and how to proceed.”

If free legal help isn’t available in your area, check with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association to learn more about your options for free legal representation.

The Bottom Line

If you’re struggling to pay your rent due to the coronavirus pandemic or any financial hardship, it does not necessarily mean you’ll be evicted. Talk to your landlord, identify any local resources or assistance programs you may be eligible for, and fill out the CDC’s declaration form to ensure you’re not evicted. There are many options to help you keep your home and avoid further distress.

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