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How Can I Get Help Paying My Rent?

By
Ashley Altus
Ashley Altus covers personal finance topics that relate to the average American household, ranging from loans and mortgages to credit cards and personal relationships with money.
Updated on September 14, 2021
Woman sitting cross-legged on a couch with her chin in her hand
If you are in need of rental assistance or are at risk for eviction, the following resources and steps may help you stay in your home.

After the federal eviction moratorium expired on July 31, 2021, renters who have been economically impacted by COVID-19 may be looking for other options to help pay their bills.

Nearly a quarter of renters had no confidence or only slight confidence that they’d be able to pay next month’s rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey: August 4-August 16.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the United States already had an affordable housing crisis. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates there is a shortage of 7 million units for extremely low-income families.

“People were already rent-burdened before the pandemic, but the problem has skyrocketed,” says Mariel Block, a staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project.

Coronavirus has created a financial and housing emergency for those who have lost their jobs or faced pay cuts. Renters have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic, as they’re more likely to work in industries impacted by COVID-19-related job loss, according to the New York University Furman Center.  

Those in need of emergency rental assistance do have some limited options. If you’re worried about making next month’s rent, here’s what you need to know.

Where to get help

Federal and state assistance for renters 

State and local programs are set to give out funds from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to those who are having difficulty paying their rent, utilities, and other housing costs. Rental assistance may also cover late fees, internet, and other rent-related fees, such as security deposits.  

A renter may receive up to 18 months of help on back rent that has been overdue since March 2020 when the pandemic started, as long as funds are available. You don’t need to be behind on rent in order to receive assistance.

Check your eligibility for emergency rent assistance

In order to qualify for emergency rental assistance, a renter’s financial and housing situation are taken into account. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau states that all three of the following statements be correct to determine a renter’s eligibility:

  1. At least one member of your household has: qualified for unemployment or should qualify, lost income, owed large expenses, or had other financial hardships.
  2. Your household income is below a certain level, depending on your location.
  3. At least one person in your household is facing housing instability, meaning they are in danger of homelessness or would be unable to find stable housing.

You can apply for emergency rental assistance through your local community. Search for rental assistance programs in your community here.

8 Nonprofits organizations to help you cover rent

211.org

United Way Worldwide can help connect those in need to local organizations through 211.org. The service is free, confidential, and available 24/7. Those interested can text, call, or chat to speak with a specialist to find resources specific to your location for essentials such as housing, food, and health care.

Catholic Charities

To find housing assistance and more, search for your local chapter. 

Community Action Agencies

This directory of private or public nonprofit organizations can help provide emergency assistance and supply you with funds to cover rent, utilities, and food. 

Justshelter.org

This list of organizations near you can provide legal aid and work to prevent homelessness and eviction.

National Low Income Housing Coalition

Find state and local rental assistance through this regularly updated emergency rental assistance program directory. The NLIHC also provides updated information about programs through this spreadsheet.

Resident Relief Foundation

If you’re facing an impending eviction, the Resident Relief Foundation can provide a grant for rental assistance because of a financial emergency.

Rent Assistance

Search through an index of government and housing authorities, nonprofit and private agencies, and faith-based organizations for options to help you pay for rent.

The Salvation Army

One-time assistance is available to help workers who have lost their jobs or wages due to COVID-19 and can’t pay their rent. The organization can provide financial assistance for workers who have lost their jobs for rent, mortgages, utility bills, and more.

What should I do if I’m behind on rent?

Step No. 1: Review your lease

Your lease should provide you with information about your rights if you’re unable to pay your rent. It should give you details about your landlord’s options for collecting rent, the terms for serving you an eviction notice, and if there’s a grace period for collecting rent. 

Step No. 2: Explain the situation to your landlord

If you find yourself unable to make your rent payments because of financial hardship, reach out to your landlord or leasing agency. Communicating with your landlord can help both parties come up with a plan moving forward to help you catch up on rent payments.

Some property owners may be willing to give you an extension on your rent, reduce the money you owe, or put your rent on pause for a period of time until you’re back on your feet. You can also ask to spread out your payments or pay part of what you owe for the time being. 

“Landlords know people are experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic,” Block says. “Some people will find success with that informal negotiation and others won’t, unfortunately.”

Landlords are not required to modify the terms of your lease if you’re unable to pay your rent. If your landlord is willing to accept less rent or show other leniencies, make sure the agreement is put in writing.

Step No. 3: Seek legal help and know your rights as a renter

The legal process for eviction for nonpayment of rent differs from state to state (and city to city). Generally, a landlord is required to provide notice or a court judgment in order to evict a tenant for not paying rent. Even if you can’t pay your rent, your landlord cannot lock you out, shut off utilities, or force you out. It’s considered tenant harassment for a landlord to use intimidation or threaten to call immigration enforcement or incite violence. Evictions need to be filed in court.

“Without going through the legal eviction process and obtaining a court order for eviction, a landlord can’t lock you out of your housing or force you to leave,” Block says. “Tenants have due process rights.”

If your landlord is unwilling to show leniency for past due rent and has plans to evict you, reach out to a local legal aid or appropriate social services organization that can help you understand your rights as a tenant in addition to your options. Certain organizations will have direct lines of referral with other agencies, and depending on where you live, they can help you fill out the applications for assistance, provide advice, and also provide representation if you’re being evicted, Block says.

Low-income Americans that qualify can find a legal aid organization in their area using The Legal Service Corporation. You can also find local legal resources for rental assistance through LegalFAQ.org.

“Being proactive and getting advice early is a good idea so they can take every possible step to preserve their tenancy,” Block says. 

When researching your rights, note that tenants’ rights and laws vary by state and local governments. If you find yourself facing eviction and want to understand the emergency protections you have as a renter, the Eviction Lab gives users a state-by-state report. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a state-by-state list of your rights and how to find legal assistance if you believe your rights have been violated. 

Landlord-tenant law is usually local. 

Where else can I get help paying my rent?

Many states, cities, and counties have enacted their own policies to prevent a housing crisis. Some local governments have placed moratoriums on evictions, halted court eviction hearings, and suspended late rent fees. Check with your local housing authorities to find out about additional protections and if these moratoriums have expired. 

You may qualify for reduced rent if you live in a federally subsidized housing unit and have also taken a cut in your income. Reach out to your housing authority to find out more about income recertification and to see if you qualify for a financial hardship exemption.

The long-term impact of eviction

In eviction court, tenants can lose their homes and potentially have it marked on their credit report for seven years if their delinquent account goes to collections. An eviction on your record can also make it harder to rent a new home. Landlords don’t like renting to people with evictions on their records, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says.  

“Evictions are a catastrophic event for any household in or out of a pandemic,” Block says. “It puts tenants at an increased risk of being homeless, and can have longer-term adverse impacts on tenants’ health, economic security, and housing stability.”

Hopefully, the resources in this article can help to provide some guidance and prevent this type of scenario for those who are struggling to make rent due to a loss of household income.

Article contributors
Mariel Block is a Staff Attorney with the National Housing Law Project in San Francisco, where she advocates for subsidized housing preservation and the housing rights of low-income tenants. Prior to joining NHLP, Block was a legal services attorney.

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