Earning

Here's what renters need to know about paying during the coronavirus outbreak

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More than a third of American households rent their homes, and for many tenants, rent will be due on April 1. If you're one of the nearly 3.3 million people who filed for unemployment last week, or you've otherwise experienced a substantial loss of income as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, you might be asking yourself, "Do I still need to pay rent?"

Here's what you need to know.

You still owe your landlord rent

Calls to #CancelRent have been growing as the end of the month approaches, and legislators and activists around the country have been working to enact rent freezes, which would suspend rents for at least the month of April. For example, a bill currently before the New York State Senate and Assembly has proposed a 90-day rent freeze, although Governor Andrew Cuomo hasn't said he would back it.

As of Tuesday, no state or major city has enacted such a freeze.

In other words, you still have a legal obligation under the terms of your lease to pay your landlord rent. 

Your landlord may not be able to evict you for nonpayment

While you do owe rent, many jurisdictions have implemented eviction protections for tenants. So even if you can't pay rent right now, there's a good chance you can't be kicked out of your home right now.

"If you cannot pay the rent on April 1, you are not alone, and you can not pay the rent knowing that you will be free from consequences in the short term," says Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, a New York-based advocacy group.

As of Monday, March 30, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have issued eviction moratoriums, and another seven have closed courts or suspended eviction hearings. Many large cities have also opted to halt evictions, absent action at the state level, like Cleveland and Atlanta.

If you're protected under such an order, carefully consider the terms. Most of the orders halting evictions don't clearly address how back rent will be handled once those freezes expire. And none of the executive or court orders explicitly forgive rents.

On the contrary, the 60-day eviction freeze California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered last week requires tenants to provide proof of income loss to their landlords, and explicitly keeps them on the hook for back rent once the freeze expires on May 31.

Some renters may also be protected under the $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill, which prevents landlords receiving forbearance on a federally backed mortgage from evicting tenants for nonpayment, and from charging them any late fee or penalties.

Your landlord might be willing to work with you

Landlords may be willing to offer help in the form of reducing, delaying, or waiving payment if they understand that you can't pay right now.

There's no guarantee that they'll be receptive, but experts say there's no harm in asking. Some landlords of larger properties have announced measures that will allow tenants to defer part of their rent.

"From the tenant perspective, they should be talking with their landlord if possible," says Corianne Scally, principal research associate at the Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center.

From the tenant perspective, they should be talking with their landlord if possible.
Corianne Scally
principal research associate, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute

Over the past few weeks, people have taken to social media to share stories of getting a sympathetic response.

Nina Job, a hairdresser from Queens, New York, tells Grow she's been working with her landlord to defer and possibly reduce her rent payments for the time being, since New York and three neighboring states shut down all salons, tattoo, massage, and piercing parlors indefinitely due to the outbreak.

"I know my landlady would absolutely work with me," Job says. "She's probably gonna cut [rent] in half. … She knows now, at this point, we're all out of work."

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