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With millions of people’s finances disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, renters may have difficulty making rent payments. But there are resources available to help.


James Martin/CNET

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What happens if you can’t make rent in June? What about July or August for that matter — will you get evicted? What kinds of resources and protections are available to help you stay in your home as you weather the financial crisis? If you’re among the millions of tenants whose finances have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, these are pressing questions as June 1 inches closer. 

Don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one asking. Nearly one third of US apartment renters — 31% — hadn’t paid their rent by the second week of April, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. The current economic downturn has set off a wave of rent freezes (when a government prohibits rent collection) and rent strikes (when tenants band together to stop paying rent). Meanwhile, calls for a federal cancellation of rent and mortgage payments while the pandemic lasts have grown louder.

Some government measures are already in place. There’s the extended federal tax deadline, the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks, a possible second stimulus check and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s suspension of evictions and foreclosures. But it’s not always clear which laws apply to you and which don’t — or which ones an unscrupulous landlord might try to ignore. 

Ordinances vary from state to state and city to city, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone who’s having trouble making rent. That’s frustrating, but there are ways to figure out which protections apply to you. Here’s how to work out which laws cover tenants in your area, plus how to approach your landlord once you’re armed with that information.


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First, see if your rent is covered by the CARES Act

The federal CARES Act provides the broadest and strongest protections to renters. It temporarily bans evictions and late fees until July 25. It also requires a 30-day notice to vacate before you can be evicted. 

So the soonest your landlord can ask you to leave is July 25, and the soonest they can file an eviction to force you to leave is August 24. Also, they can’t charge you late fees until July 25. (The HEROES Act, which recently passed in the House of Representatives but is awaiting a vote by the Senate, would extend these protections by another eight months.)

This part is especially important. The protections spelled out in the CARES Act only applies to properties that receive federal funds and/or are financed under a federal program like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This is where things get tricky. If your landlord owns your building outright and does not get any government assistance like Section 8 money, the CARES Act would not apply to your situation.

If you rent a single-family house or an apartment in a building with four or fewer units, it’s going to be really hard tracking down whether this law applies to you. But if you live in a multifamily property with five or more units, you’re in luck, because there’s a tool published by the National Low Income Housing Association that’s designed to tell you if the property where you live is covered under the CARES Act. Just enter your zip code and scroll through the list of properties looking for yours. (Our computer’s tool to search within the page didn’t work for us, so scrolling it is.)

There’s one more wrinkle, however. Just because yours is not listed doesn’t mean it’s not also covered — the tool only tracks properties with five or more units. That means if you rent a single-family house or an apartment in a building with four or fewer units, even if the property falls under the CARES Act it may not be listed here. We’re still looking for resources to help you determine if your single-family, duplex or quadplex rental falls under the law and will update this story as soon as we find more information.

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Worried about making rent? You’re not alone. 


Josh Miller/CNET

Other online tools that can help you find resources

The online legal services chatbot at DoNotPay.com recently added a coronavirus financial relief tool that the company claims will identify which of the laws, ordinances and measures covering rent and evictions apply to you, based on your location. 

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DoNotPay offers a variety of legal services, including financial relief due to the coronavirus pandemic.


Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

DoNotPay will also draft and send a letter to your landlord on your behalf asking for either deferred payments or to waive late fees. Here’s how to set up an account and use the DoNotPay chatbot.

Nonprofit website 211.org connects those in need of help with essential community services in their area. It has also recently set up a portal for pandemic assistance. If you’re having trouble with your food budget or paying your housing bills, you can use 211.org’s online search tool or dial 211 on your phone to talk to someone who can try to help.

Another nonprofit, JustShelter.org, puts tenants facing eviction in touch with local organizations that can help them remain in their homes or, in worst-case scenarios, find emergency housing.

Look up your specific state and local resources   

The legal services website Nolo.com has a list of which states have and have not passed emergency bans on evictions. It includes links to the resolutions published by the states themselves. TheDailyBeast maintains a similar list. Protections range from almost none at all to the broad and wide, so you’ll want to know exactly what the situation is in your location. 

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Demonstrators protest evictions in San Francisco.


James Martin/CNET

Many state governments across the country have suspended evictions for as long as 90 days, including New York, Arizona and California. Los Angeles residents will have up to a year after the city’s declaration of emergency ends (whenever that may be) to catch up on any rent they were unable to pay during the pandemic — with no late fees.

Court closures may create a loophole to delay eviction

Even if you don’t live in an area covered by a ban on evictions, some districts across the country have halted court proceedings during the pandemic, meaning landlords will be temporarily unable to have courts order an eviction. Political encyclopedia Ballotpedia.org has an updated list of regional court closures. Legal news service Law360.com maintains a similar list.

In Georgia, for example, where residents are petitioning the governor to suspend rent payments, the state Supreme Court recently ordered the state’s courthouses to close for all except “essential functions.” Courts can open to issue arrest warrants and restraining orders, but evictions don’t fall under those guidelines.

Additionally, some county sheriff’s departments — typically the arm of law enforcement tasked with serving eviction notices — have taken it upon themselves to stop serving evictions, as was the case starting last month in Seattle. It may be worth a call to your local sheriff’s office if you can’t turn up any information online, but you’ll also want to consult with a local real estate attorney to understand how laws in your area apply to your situation.

Ask your landlord for a reduction or extension

In almost all instances it’s probably best to work out an arrangement with your landlord or leasing agency, if at all possible. Although some landlords have reacted to the pandemic by reportedly putting even more pressure on tenants to pay up, others have risen to the occasion, some going so far as to stop collecting rent payments for the next few months.

It may be worth approaching your landlord to see if they can reduce your rent in the coming months, or let you spread payments for the next couple of months’ rent out over the next year. As renters across the country are beginning to organize rent strikes and more community leaders push for rent freezes, your landlord may prefer such an arrangement over not receiving any rent at all.

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If you don’t have enough money to cover rent, first see what protections are available in your area, then consider trying to work out a payment arrangement with your landlord.


Angela Lang/CNET

Just be wary of landlords who make excessive demands. For example, some are asking tenants to turn over their $1,200 stimulus check or any money received from charity as a condition for not filing an eviction order. Don’t agree to unreasonable conditions or terms you won’t be able to meet, especially if your city or state has enacted protections against such arrangements.

If you’re concerned about your financial situation these days, consider these 28 ways to save money during the pandemic and get some free financial advice from these six organizations. And if you’re one of the millions of Americans who received a $1,200 stimulus check, be sure to spend it wisely.

source: cnet.com

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