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Half of surveyed renters feel 'likely' to be evicted by September: What to do if you're behind on rent

"Being honest and upfront about what is going on and presenting solutions to the problem may be best."

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A shocking number of Americans are at risk of being evicted, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggests. In a poll of roughly 7.4 million adult renters conducted between June 23 and July 5, more than 1.4 million say it's "very likely" they will lose their housing in the next two months, and another 2.2 million believe it's "somewhat likely" that they'll be evicted.

In all, 49% of respondents feel it's in some way "likely" they will lose their housing soon, versus 29% who said that's "not very likely" and 20% who said it isn't "likely at all." Another segment of the poll, which asked 50 million renters how poised they are to make next month's rent payment, found that 9% of respondents — about 4.8 million people — said they had "no confidence" whatsoever.

To Jorge Padilla, a certified financial planner and senior client advisor at The Lubitz Financial Group in Miami, the phenomenon "is not very surprising." As of June, almost 3 million Americans have been out of work for a year or more, leading to "a 'K' shaped economic recovery, where a minority of people's work was not impacted at all, or recovered nicely, while a significant segment of the population have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic's impact," Padilla says.

If you're still dealing with fallout from the crisis and wondering how to keep up on rent while juggling other important financial obligations, here are some things to know that may help.

You can get help from the government, nonprofits

First, some good news: If you're struggling to make rent payments, you're protected from eviction until at least the end of July, thanks to a recent extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national eviction moratorium. First enacted in September 2020, and originally set to end on June 30 of this year, it prohibits almost all expulsions for past-due rent.

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To take advantage of these protections, you must meet a few prerequisites, such as earning an income of $99,000 or less in 2020 or 2021, and attest to such on an official declaration form. You'll also need to prove you've experienced hardship, like the loss of a job or slashed pay, and that an eviction could lead to deeper adversity, like becoming homeless.  

However, you could still be on the hook for past-due rent when the eviction moratorium expires. If you're worried about making up the deficit, try applying for rental assistance, suggests Ann Martin, director of operations at personal finance site CreditDonkey. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has posted a list of 458 programs offering help, many of which are providing up to 18 months of payments for past and future rent.

"The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities provide emergency rent assistance, as do many local nonprofits, charities, and faith organizations," she says. "Seeking out organizations and groups is a good step to take if you're not sure you can afford to pay off your back rent."

Your state government may offer help. For example, New York pushed its eviction ban to September, while Minnesota is allowing residents with past-due rent to apply for aid.

A minority of people's work was not impacted at all, or recovered nicely, and a significant segment of the population have not yet fully recovered.
Jorge Padilla
The Lubitz Financial Group

You can talk to your landlord about options

Some landlords and property management companies previously launched initiatives allowing tenants to defer part of their rent. If you've exhausted your other options, reach out to your landlord. Be open about your situation, experts say, and see what they can do to help.

You can try to negotiate partial payments or agree to pay some of the rent now and some later. There's no guarantee this approach will succeed, but it can't hurt to ask for a reprieve.  

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"Being honest and upfront about what is going on and presenting solutions to the problem may be best," says Padilla. One option could be "choosing to agree on a lower rent payment for a short period of time, until a new job or other sources of income appear."

"Many landlords would rather avoid the hassle of eviction," adds Martin.

Going forward, you can try to build a better budget

Once you are able to settle into a more comfortable payment routine, look for ways to bolster your budget and save. That could mean picking up a side hustle if you need more cash, stashing away money consistently in an emergency fund, and considering moving to a cheaper town to save.

Experts generally recommend not spending more than 30% of your income on housing. "If your current situation is difficult to maintain, you may want to look into moving somewhere less expensive with a roommate," says Martin. Above all else, "budgeting and saving scrupulously can help prevent future rent troubles."

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