If you’ve been out of work and can’t pay rent, the end of the federal moratorium on evictions is guaranteed to dredge up a ton of stress. But now’s not the time to bury your head in the sand.
By exercising your negotiation muscle, you may be able to strike a deal with your landlord that prevents the worst-case scenario: getting kicked out of your home.
Negotiating a Deal With Your Landlord If You Can’t Pay Rent
When you think you can’t pay rent for the upcoming month, it’s best to talk to your landlord sooner rather than later. Even if you’ve been letting late payment notices stack up, coming to a fair agreement with your landlord can help alleviate some of that financial stress.
Here’s what you should do.
First, Know Your Rights
Matt Koz, finance director for the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, Wisc., 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.
There may be an eviction moratorium in your local area that extends past the federal moratorium. For example, New York City’s rental eviction moratorium is in place through the end of August.
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 them 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 if you can pay the remainder once your kids’ school starts and you can pick up more hours at work.
Instead of suggesting a partial payment, you could ask to skip paying for one month and spread that payment over the remainder of your lease if you think you’ll be able to pay the following month. Or you could negotiate for an overall reduction in rent given that you sign a new lease locking you in for a longer term.
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 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, 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.”
Remember, You’re Not Alone
You may experience shame over not paying rent or fear over potentially losing your home, but try not to let that lead you to making drastic decisions.
“The thing I would recommend, if you can avoid it, is to not take out loans to pay rent,” Capalad said.
It can be comforting to put things in perspective and realize you’re not the only one who can’t pay your rent right now, she said.
4 Additional Solutions If You Can’t Pay Rent
In the event that your landlord won’t budge on requiring you to pay your rent in full, it’s good to have a backup plan. Here are a few ideas.
1. Seek Housing Assistance
Look into local housing assistance or eviction prevention programs for emergency funding to help keep you in your home.
The United Way’s 211 network is a great way to connect to resources in your community. Other charities, like Modest Needs, may also be able to help. Your landlord may even know of housing assistance options in your area.
2. Bring In a Roommate
If you can find a good roommate, you can split housing expenses and lower your financial obligation. Just make sure you properly vet the potential roommate and your landlord approves of the new tenant.
Subleasing your place could be another route to take, provided your landlord allows it and you have somewhere else you can crash in the meantime.
3. Sell Something
Make some extra dough by selling unwanted items around your home. Put that money toward the rent.
You can even make sales while practicing social distancing. Check out these 14 websites for selling things online.
4. Get Another Gig
Get money for rent by landing a new job — or securing a second source of income.
Consider a side gig, like a food delivery driver or a pet sitter, where you’re paid based on how much work you take on. These jobs often pay faster than traditional jobs that run on a biweekly schedule.
Many retailers and restaurants are hiring to make up for a shortage of workers. Some are even offering sweet sign-on bonuses.
Now is also a great time to find a job where you can work remotely. There are several gigs that are perfect for doing virtually, like freelance writing. Check out The Penny Hoarder’s work-from-home job portal for new job opportunities posted every weekday.
Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting bootcamp!
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.