What if you can't pay your rent?

The Coronavirus shutdown has already caused major changes in the lives of most Americans. Whether we are social distancing or experiencing the disease first-hand, we all are affected.  And one result of the virus is that many Americans are now unemployed, but your landlord says the rent is still due on the first of the month. 

What can you do?  

Here are key takeaways: Yes, your rent is still due on the date you agreed to pay it. No, the owner may not pursue eviction against you now. Yes, the rent will still be due when the shutdown is over. It’s best to communicate with your landlord rather than to hide.

Here’s my advice:

1. Be proactive and communicate with your landlord as soon as you see that a rent payment may not be made on time.  You can’t hide from the landlord, because he knows where you live. Call and say “I’ve been laid off, I have applied for unemployment, but I don’t have any money right now.” And be prepared to document your financial hardship.

Many landlords are taking the position that you don’t have a legitimate excuse until you demonstrate your hardship to their reasonable satisfaction. Otherwise, they can declare you in default and start the late fee clock.

2.  Waiting until after the rent is late puts your landlord in a hostile position that can only work to your disadvantage. From his perspective, if you force him to call you about late rent, you are likely using the virus as an excuse to not pay.

In contrast, if you reach out ahead of time, ask for assistance, and don’t try to dodge your responsibilities, your landlord is MUCH more likely to work with you to find a solution.

Remember that your landlord does not want you to leave. This is a terrible time to try to fill a vacancy.  It’s much better to work out some accommodation with you!

3. Georgia's Chief Justice declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency which is now scheduled to expire May 13, 2020. In most counties, this is interpreted to mean that eviction proceedings may not commence as they are not deemed “essential.” 

In addition, the recent CARES Act imposes a federal moratorium for tenants living in certain types of housing that have a federally backed mortgage loan.

But that does not mean you no longer owe your rent or the late fees and interest that may be added. Furthermore, your credit score may be impacted negatively and a judgment filed against you.

4.  Put it in writing!  Only if you have a written agreement with your landlord are you protected in this situation. If the landlord won’t put it in writing, document your agreement by letter or email, and notify him of your understanding, then follow through.

Many landlords are now willing to accept partial payments now and defer the reminder until sometime in the future, waiving penalties and interest altogether. Most landlords are unwilling to waive rent requirements altogether, reasoning that you are still living there and they are still paying loan payments, taxes, insurance, and repair costs.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t try to hide from your landlord or shirk your financial obligations due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you have a true hardship, contact your landlord in advance of the rent due date, and offer to pay at least a portion of your rent. Then ask for accommodation based on your hardship.