First, Know Your Rights
Matt Koz, finance director for the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, Wisconsin recommends that renters do their due diligence to research the eviction laws in their area and see if their city, county or state has a moratorium on eviction proceedings during the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a page on its website with crucial housing information for each state.
“There is also a federal moratorium on evictions, but that only applies to federally subsidized properties,” he said.
Koz notes that it isn’t always obvious for renters to determine whether the home they rent is federally subsidized, and landlords may not be obligated to share that information.
Being educated about the tenant laws in your state doesn’t just give peace of mind about whether or not your landlord can evict you during this crisis. It can also help you decide how to best proceed when reaching out to your landlord.
For example, Koz said there could be laws where you live that make it disadvantageous to pay partial rent, if you were thinking of suggesting that to your landlord.
“In some cases, it may be better not to offer terms and wait to see what recourse is available to you,” he said.
Approach Your Landlord with Empathy
You may just think of your landlord as a faceless entity that takes the biggest single chunk of your money every month, but a little kindness can go a long way.
“Lead with empathy,” advises Michael Thomas, an accredited financial counselor and faculty member at the University of Georgia. “It’s very easy to become self-absorbed when we’re experiencing a financial shock.”
He says taking the time out to ask how your landlord is doing and working to establish a relationship can make your landlord more willing to work with you. Understanding where each person is coming from can lead to a resolution that’s best for both parties.
Provide Realistic Solutions
Offering up a solution to your situation can show your willingness to work with your landlord. You might propose to make a partial payment with a promise to pay the remainder of the rent by a certain date. If you don’t know when you’d be able to make the remaining payment, Koz said it’s reasonable to make an agreement based upon a specific occurrence.
For example, you might ask your landlord if you can pay the remainder once you get your stimulus check or unemployment benefits or when your hours increase at work or your furlough ends.Instead of suggesting a partial payment, you could ask for an overall reduction in rent or ask to skip paying for one month and spread that payment over the remainder of your lease.
Another option: Ask your landlord to apply your security deposit to the upcoming rent payment, agreeing to replace it at a later date. Or if you paid your last month’s rent upfront when you first signed your lease, you could ask your landlord to apply that money to next month’s rent.
When trying to come up with a rent solution for the upcoming month, make sure you’re not creating a worse financial situation for yourself later on.Something else you might consider is bartering. For example, you could agree to do landscape work for your landlord’s properties in exchange for a break on rent.
When trying to strike a deal with your landlord, Thomas suggests coming up with at least three plausible solutions that work for your budget.“Go with your best-case scenario first,” he said.If your landlord won’t agree to that, ask for their input on mitigating the situation before presenting your other options.
Get Agreements in Writing
If you and your landlord are able to agree on an alternative plan for paying rent, make sure to get that deal in writing.“If [your landlord] were to come back and say we didn’t agree to that, [you can say]: Actually we did and here’s proof,” said Pamela Capalad, a New York-based certified financial planner and founder of Brunch and Budget.
Putting things in writing also helps eliminate misinterpretations of your agreement, she said.
However, when signing a lease addendum or other paperwork, don’t rush into a contract with terms you don’t understand.“If you’re not sure what you’re signing, you can always try to contact a tenants rights organization or an attorney,” Koz said. “Whatever you sign is something that you’re held to. If you don’t meet the terms of that agreement, you’re back where you started.”