The COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, upended virtually everyone’s lives. It also disrupted people’s livelihoods, particularly those working in professions that can’t be performed remotely. If you’re a tenant who suddenly couldn’t afford to pay rent due to this pandemic-related economic turmoil, then the federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums provided some level of relief.
Since the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on January 31, and most state moratoriums have already been lifted, you may be feeling anxious about your ability to stay in your home. If you’re concerned about being evicted for nonpayment (or underpayment) of rent, there are some steps you can take that may help you avoid that ultimate fate.
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Am I eligible for local or state rent assistance programs?
Many states that enacted eviction moratoriums also instituted (or expanded existing) rent assistance programs. Since one of the eligibility requirements for tenants seeking protection under the federal moratorium is to make “best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing,” you may have already taken advantage of these programs. Still, there may be new local programs or revisions to state programs that could help you.
While Colorado’s moratorium ended on December 31, the federal moratorium still holds until January 31, and financially strained tenants may apply for housing assistance and short-term emergency rental assistance funding. These programs generally have certain requirements for applicants. The Nevada CARES Housing Assistance Program, for instance, assists tenants who meet the following criteria:
- COVID-19 impact such as loss of employment, reduction in work hours, or reduction in wages
- Income restrictions (based on the county in which you live)
- You are not receiving Federal Housing Voucher assistance
- Your household has liquid resources less than $3,000
Some state rent assistance programs that had stopped accepting new applicants have now started up again, including New York State’s COVID Rent Relief Program, which is accepting new applications through February 1. That program provides a one-time rent subsidy, payable directly to landlords of participating tenants. There are also rental assistance programs available to renters in New York City and other cities within the state.
Am I protected by a local or state eviction moratorium?
Landlords in most states may evict tenants for nonpayment of rent after January 31, unless a new federal extension is approved or state or local eviction restrictions apply. If an extension is not approved, tenant protections will vary in scope from one state to the next. For instance, some states have moratorium orders indicating an expiration date corresponding with the end of an official emergency order. Other moratoriums protect you against eviction as long as you pay a certain percentage of rent. Most of them require some form of verification that you cannot pay rent due to a pandemic-related financial hardship.
New Jersey tenants are protected from eviction (for nonpayment of rent only) for up to two months after the state’s emergency order is lifted. California tenants who are unable to pay their entire rent at any point from September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 may qualify for eviction protection by paying at least 25% of their rent. New York extended its eviction moratorium to May 1, 2021. If your state doesn’t have an eviction moratorium in place, your county or city of residence might.
Keep in mind that there is a lot of uncertainty about the future. Federal, state, and local officials may enact new eviction moratoriums or extend existing ones as this crisis unfolds.
What can I work out with my landlord to avoid eviction?
The best—and first—thing you should do if you’re concerned about paying rent or have avoided eviction thus far because of the federal moratorium is to talk with your landlord. Chances are, they would rather not evict you if given acceptable alternatives. If a substantial number of their tenants are having trouble paying rent, then they’re also financially strained. Let them know you understand this dilemma and would like to work something out.
If you’re able to pay a little more each month than you have been, or can put a Rent Payment Plan in writing (perhaps you’re expecting additional income in the future or have untapped liquid assets), your landlord may forego eviction. They know that eviction costs them time and money, and that it may be to their benefit to get whatever amount of rent they can from you. For that matter, they may even pay you a lump sum or forgive unpaid rent if you agree to move out promptly, considering the opportunity cost of income property that doesn’t generate revenue.
Need professional help negotiating a solution with your landlord? You might consider asking your landlord to mediate the dispute first, which still costs money but may help both parties reach an amicable agreement outside of the court system. Mediators are uninterested parties and are trained in finding “win-win” solutions for parties that are in dispute. If it doesn’t work out, your landlord is still free to pursue eviction.
Should I talk to a lawyer about my eviction notice?
There may be instances where you’ll want to seek out the expertise of a legal professional, such as when your landlord is suing you for unpaid rent or you’re being evicted and believe you have a good defense. Disputes over security deposits can be handled in small claims court, without an attorney. Tenant lawyers typically charge either by the hour or through a flat rate, but you may be able to retain free or heavily subsidized services from a legal aid organization that handles tenant law issues.
Evictions must follow specific procedures, such as proper notice prior to the court filing, and may not be done for retaliatory or discriminatory reasons. Because of pandemic-related anxiety over dwindling revenues from unpaid or underpaid rent, some landlords may be tempted to falsify or exaggerate their reason for evicting tenants who may otherwise be protected by one or more eviction moratoriums. If you’re not sure whether you need help, seeking out an attorney who provides free initial consultations or talking to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for fast and affordable advice may be your best option.
Take appropriate steps to avoid eviction during the pandemic
Without additional government assistance, including emergency financial aid for small businesses and individuals, landlords and tenants are being forced into difficult positions. If you’re facing eviction or concerned about dwindling finances, the smart move is to get ahead of the curve, reach out to your landlord, and do what you can to avoid losing your rental.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.