It’s April 1, and if you rent your home, chances are good that your rent is due today. But with millions of Americans out of work due to coronavirus, those regular bills are even harder to manage.
So what should you do if your rent is due and you just can’t pay it?
Congress recently passed the CARES Act and it was signed into law by President Donald Trump. The CARES Act includes a provision to protect renters from evictions for 120 days if they reside in a property that is supported by federal housing programs including holding federally-backed mortgages, accepting public housing dollars, or providing rural housing rentals.
If you live in a property like this, you cannot be evicted until the end of July at the earliest. And, even if eviction notice is taken after that time on a federally-backed property, landlords must still provide 30 days notice after the moratorium expires.
What if I’m not in a property that is covered by the CARES Act?
Even if you do not qualify for eviction assistance under the federal law, your state may have paused evictions as well. States like California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Michigan have halted eviction proceedings in some way. Different states have taken different approaches with some halting eviction action for only a few weeks and others for several months.
It is very important to know that even if you live in a state where evictions are not permitted, most regulations allow landlords to collect past-due rent at the end of the moratorium period. Additionally, some municipalities are allowing landlords to file eviction notices with a pause in taking action on those notices. Some states have not instituted any eviction protection. You can check where your state exists in this database courtesy of the National Housing Law Project.
What if my landlord tries to evict me anyway?
This is one of the concerns for housing rights advocates — that landlords will try so-called “self-help” eviction methods like lockouts, utility disconnections, and threats or violence. The National Housing Law Project recommends that anyone facing an illegal eviction should contact legal aid or law enforcement. Courts will still hear these proceedings as emergency hearings.
I’ve heard about a rent strike? Is this something I should consider?
Rent strikes are difficult enough to organize building-wide, let alone nationally all in the middle of a pandemic. Even tenant rights advocates warn that they are better suited as last-ditch efforts when there are issues like hot water being withheld — not inability to pay. In some well-organized rent strikes of the past, striking tenants continued to pay their rent into an escrow account, in the event the dispute was resolved. Despite eviction moratoriums, nothing is stopping a landlord from filing an eviction notice against you when the moratorium expires — and even without enforcement, it will damage your credit.