I Can’t Pay My Rent; What Are My Options?

If you’re not able to make your rent this month, you have options.

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Eviction can have a major effect on your credit. Fortunately, if you can’t make your rent payment on time, you have options. From talking to your landlord and working out a payment plan to using a rental assistance program or getting a lawyer, a number of solutions exist to help you avoid eviction.  

Step 1: Talk to Your Landlord

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,” said Howard Dvorkin, a certified public accountant and chairman of Debt.com. “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.”

Just some of the options you might consider talking to your landlord about include:

  • 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 ultimately more interest paid overtime. Make sure you’re prepared to pay off your credit card as soon as possible to avoid further financial distress.

Step 2: Know Your Rights as a Renter

For rental properties that participate in federal assistance programs or were financed with federally backed mortgages, evictions are prohibited until the last week of July 2020 as part of federal emergency relief measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The earliest someone can be physically evicted is Aug. 25, 2020, since landlords on those properties must give tenants at least 30 days notice before requiring them to leave their home.

What's more, many states and municipalities put their own eviction moratoriums in place, protecting eligible renters in their area. In some places, 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.

Finally, 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. 

Step 3: Find Local Help and Assistance

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 to help those suffering financially due to coronavirus, as part of the third wave of the CARES Act, a massive emergency relief bill passed at the start of the pandemic.

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
HUD Rental Assistance programs Rental assistance, help finding more affordable housing, housing vouchers, and more
Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery program 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
CARES Act Eviction moratorium details
National Legal Aid & Defender Association Legal representation

If your landlord does move to evict you, Dvorkin says to seek legal counsel immediately. “You don’t have to have a lawyer in court for an eviction,” he says. “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, Legal Aid programs offer free representation to certain individuals. You can check with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association to learn more about your options.

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 seek legal representation. There are many options to help you keep your home and avoid further distress.

Article Sources

  1. Congressional Research Service. "CARES Act Eviction Moratorium." Accessed June 30, 2020.