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Financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has left an estimated 15 million Americans behind on their rent. For almost a year, many of these renters benefited from the federal nationwide moratorium on evictions in counties with high incidences of COVID-19 transmission. The moratorium was scheduled to last until October 3, 2021—but on August 26, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ended it, removing protections for millions of Americans.
If you're a renter facing eviction, how can you fight it? Whether you've received an eviction notice or simply fear eviction is in your future, there are steps you can take to stay in your home.
Know Your Rights
Eviction laws vary widely from state to state and even county to county, so as the national moratorium ends, it's important to know what other laws protect you. For instance, if you live in a multifamily property with a mortgage through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you cannot be evicted until at least September 30, 2021. If you're an active-duty servicemember or live in federally funded housing, you may have additional rights.
Many states, counties and cities have their own eviction moratoriums. You can find lists of state moratoriums online, but since the situation changes daily, the best place to get up-to-date information is your state, city or county government website.
Whether or not there's a moratorium in place where you live, be sure you understand your rights as a tenant. Review your lease and any other written agreements with your landlord. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a directory of tenant rights by state.
Negotiate With Your Landlord
Laws vary depending on where you live, but typically, landlords must give tenants a written notice of eviction and allow time to respond; after that time period passes, they may file a lawsuit. Until a lawsuit is filed, you can still negotiate with your landlord to come up with a more realistic payment plan for back rent and future rent.
Depending on your situation, options your landlord may agree to include adjusting rent due dates to better fit your income; splitting rent into smaller payments throughout the month; waiving late fees, interest and penalties as long as you pay some amount of rent; reducing rent temporarily; or setting up a repayment plan to repay back rent over time in the future. Be sure to get any agreement with your landlord in writing.
See if You Qualify for Rental or Financial Assistance
The U.S. Treasury Department is making it easier for state and local governments to distribute emergency rental assistance (ERA) to households whose finances have been affected by the pandemic. Search for emergency rental assistance in your area through the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 211.org, FindHelp.org, Benefits.gov or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
You can also seek other types of assistance, such as that offered by local religious groups or food banks. Contact your local utility provider to see if they're offering relief or look for assistance with utility bills. Also explore options for credit card and debt relief from your lenders. Put the money you'd normally spend on those expenses toward the rent.
Seek Free Legal Assistance
If you can't pay your rent and your landlord files an eviction lawsuit, you'll need to file a response with the court within a certain time frame, either on your own or with the help of an attorney. Contact the court to find out how to do this. You can find free legal help in your area through the American Bar Association, the Legal Service Corp. and LawHelp.org.
Increase Your Savings and Income
If you have time to gather more money to pay rent and stay in your home, consider the following actions:
- Save as much money as possible. If your landlord hasn't started eviction proceedings but you're worried about making rent in the near future, revamp your budget to cut out all the fat, looking for ways to save money you can put toward housing.
- Take in a roommate. A roommate can help share the rent burden, but read your rental agreement and get your landlord's blessing first. Some landlords will raise the rent or want an extra security deposit for adding a roommate to a lease.
- Find a side gig. Look for a part-time job to earn extra money or consider selling items on Amazon, eBay, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace or other sites. There are many jobs you can do online to bring in more money for the rent.
- Look for cheaper housing. If you think you'll have trouble paying the rent for the foreseeable future, now may be the time to find more affordable housing. For example, you could rent a room in someone's house, move in with a roommate to pay less rent, or move in with family or friends.
Pay Your Rent with a Credit Card
Many landlords won't accept rent payment by credit card. Even if yours does, the fees and interest can add up, and the charges could increase your credit utilization ratio, potentially hurting your credit score. However, if you expect funds from a new job or rental assistance to kick in soon, paying rent with a credit card could tide you over until your bank account is back in shape.
Have a Backup Plan
While you work to prevent eviction, be prepared in case the worst should happen. Once a court rules against you, you may be forced out of your rental in as little as 24 hours. Look for temporary shelter with friends or relatives, or visit JustShelter.org and HUD for resources to find housing and other assistance.
Protect Yourself and Your Credit
Even though evictions don't appear in your credit history, they can still damage your credit and finances. Landlords may sell your account to a collection agency; if the collection account is reported to the credit bureaus, it will stay on your credit report for seven years and have a negative impact on your credit score.
If a landlord sues you for unpaid rent and wins a judgment, the court could garnish your wages. Judgments don't appear on credit reports, but they do appear in the public record and may show up in other types of consumer reports. Evictions are also part of your rental history report, which landlords may review when considering your rental application.
Many Americans are still struggling financially due to the pandemic. If you're one of them, getting credit counseling can help you pay down debt and get your finances back on track. Monitoring your credit regularly can help you understand what factors may be affecting your credit score and how you can improve it going forward.