How to Avoid an Eviction & Where to Get Help

How to Stop an Eviction

Eviction notice crumpled up on the floorIf you’re facing eviction due to the financial strain of the coronavirus pandemic, the good news is help is on the way.

The bad news is it might not arrive in time to keep the current roof over your head.

Eviction moratoriums are expiring, and the government has sprung into action in typical governmental style – lumbering and confused.

Congress has allocated $46.5 billion for rent assistance, but most of the “emergency” money is clogged in bureaucratic channels. That means unwanted suspense for millions of cash-strapped Americans.

About one in seven renters were behind on payments in March of 2021, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. But if you’re one of them, do not completely despair. There are things you can do that might keep you in your home while waiting for the government to get its act together.

COVID-19 Rental Assistance

Congress approved $25 billion in December to help people who’d fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. It added $21.5 billion in March. The combined total is almost as big as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual budget.

Distributing that much money has required building a system on the fly. It’s being funneled through hundreds of federal, state and local housing agencies and organizations.

A lot of them are barely up and running. At the end of May, California had distributed less than 10% of its federal money. New York’s program hadn’t taken its first application.

And the clock is ticking since unused federal funds begin to expire in September. Speaking of worrisome deadlines, eviction protections are also on the clock.

» Find rental assistance programs in your state here: Emergency Rental Assistance Programs

When Do Eviction Moratoriums Expire?

For renters suffering economic hardship due to the pandemic, the federal government and Centers for Disease Control have banned evictions until Oct. 3. More than 40 states and scores of local governments have issued moratoriums, most of which expire in the fall.

Landlords and realtors challenged the CDC ruling, and courts have been divided over its legality. A Federal judge struck down the moratorium in May, but the moratorium stands after some legal maneuvering.

It’s unclear when landlords will no longer be prevented from evicting delinquent tenants, but that day will eventually arrive.

How Much Rent is Overdue?

Americans racked up about $70 billion in unpaid rent in 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. But analysts say quality data is hard to come by in the rental business, so other estimates range from $8.4 billion to $52.6 billion.

Whatever the number, that $45.5 billion would cover the majority of overdue rent.  So how do you get some?

Steps That Could Help You Avoid Eviction

1. Apply for the Federal Money

Stimulus checks from COVID-19 relief bills were automatically deposited in bank accounts. That’s not the case with rental assistance, and there’s also no central location to access the funds.

They are being allocated to local governments and organizations – some of which might exist only on paper.

Ugh.

If you’re unsure where to apply, the U.S. Treasury has a list of organizations distributing funds. You can also call the HUD counseling program at 800-569-4287.

You’ll have to meet certain criteria to qualify for help, including earning less than $99,000 ($198,000 if filing jointly) annually.

2. Proactively Communicate with Your Landlord

Evictions cost money, and many landlords are as financially stressed as their tenants. To avoid court costs, they might be motivated to let you stay if you can agree on a payment plan.

Don’t wait on the government rent fairy to put the money under your pillow. Let your landlord know you plan to apply for financial relief which would cover current rent, back rent and any other late charges you may have accrued

If you come to an agreement, get it in writing. And be sure it is dated and signed by both parties.

» More about: Solving Problems with Your Landlord

3. Get a Lawyer

Retaining a lawyer could make your landlord more willing to negotiate. And free legal counseling was part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March.

The Legal Services Corporation has a database of lawyers that could help you. Visit their website or call 202-295-1500.

The relief organization Just Shelter also has a list of legal organizations offering free counseling.

4. Negotiate

You probably made a security deposit when you rented your dwelling. Tell your landlord he or she can keep it. Volunteer to help them maintain their property or help around the office. Ask them to reduce your rent or waive late charges.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get any co ncessions, but you never know until you ask.

5. Know Your Options

An eviction is not a simple process. Renters must get written notice, there is legal paperwork, tenants can appeal, courts must grant or deny evictions, Writs of Possession must be posted.

Given the glut of potential evictions, it could take weeks or months before your eviction mess hits the fan. You can basically become a squatter until a sheriff is ordered to remove you from your dwelling.

That might buy enough time for your financial picture to brighten or for a government program to kick in.

Help should eventually come knocking on your door. You just have to hang on long enough to answer it.


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