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What to Do About an Eviction

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There have been so many dispiriting numbers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that it’s hard to pick which one is the worst, but here is one that belongs somewhere near the top – seven million renters In the U.S. could be evicted when the federal moratorium protecting them expires October 3rd.

Then what? Can cities really take on the challenge of finding affordable housing for seven million people?

If you haven’t paid rent in a month – or two or six or even 12 months, as has been the case in extreme situations – how do you get back in the good graces of property owners/managers?

It will not be easy, but it can be done. Some of the options include:

  • Apply for a grant from the $45 billion the federal government allocated for rent relief
  • Take steps to deal with unpaid rent and offer assurances you can afford a new apartment
  • Ask family or friends for help
  • Consider a private landlord before looking at managed properties
  • Sell yourself to the landlord

The goal for any of these steps is to repay past due rent and wipe the stain of eviction off your record. That is the fastest and most convincing way to make yourself a promising rental candidate.

You should know that when you fill out an application for a rental that it’s not hard for landlords to review your rent history and discover that you’ve been evicted. A public records requests will uncover evictions; your credit report will show late rent payments; or simply calling a previous landlord for a referral are common steps every landlord takes before approving a lease.

But most landlords are good at second chances. They know things happen and if you can satisfy them that you are better prepared this time, they could give you another chance. Exasperating as the situation can be, there are plenty of people and agencies that want to prevent you from being homeless.

COVID-19 Rental Assistance Programs

The federal government is trying to address the issue of “back rent” through a $45 billion grant program that would pay up to 12 months of back rent … if you qualify!

And the phrase to remember here is: if you qualify!

The $45 billion in federal money came from the second and third stimulus relief packages. It was sent to state, city and county governments, who set up the rules, regulations and qualifying standards that must be met every step of the way. Failure to follow all rules could result in being denied help.

To find programs where you live, take a look at this list of emergency rental assistance programs from the U.S. Treasury.

Some of the qualifying standards that generally apply wherever you are include:

  • Produce proof you have occupied this rental property. That proof could include a lease, rent receipts for past payments; some other document that proves you reside there.
  • Have at least one person in the household who experienced financial hardship directly related to COVID-19.
  • Have a household income at or below 80% of the area’s median income.
  • Have at least one person in the household at risk of being homeless.

The tenant isn’t the only one who must do paperwork to get a grant. The landlord must complete a stack of forms that validate their role and the tenant’s occupancy of their property. If the landlord won’t fill out the paperwork – Why wouldn’t he? – then you lose your chance at a grant to pay back rent.

All the forms and requirements are available on the government websites. Start there.

If you receive a grant, the money is sent directly to the landlord’s bank account. The money is only for “past due” rent, not future rent payments.

How to Rent After an Eviction

One of the keys to finding an apartment to lease after an eviction is to look at future landlords through a different lens. They can be nice guys, who want to work through this with you.

Landlords do not like to evict tenants. They spend a minimum of $600-$800 to file the paperwork needed to evict someone. Add in the cost in time and cleanup for the mess that’s often left behind and you can understand why eviction is not the preferred route.

It is such an unpleasant experience that some landlords have their own “Cash for Keys” program. You give them the keys to the apartment and leave quietly … and they might give you anywhere from $300 to $500!

Granted, there aren’t a lot of property owners willing to put up $500 to get you out, but the other half of that equation – the tenant leaving the apartment voluntarily – is one way to keep the stigma of eviction from following you.

The landlord can’t file for an eviction unless you refuse to leave. If you leave voluntarily, he/she doesn’t need to file legal paperwork for an eviction. Thus, there is nothing in the public records for future landlords to see.

Some other tips on finding favor with future landlords:

  • Set up a repayment plan with your former landlord. Most property managers recognize that COVID-19 created a financial crisis. Talk to them about what you can afford each month. Show them pay stubs or unemployment checks or whatever form of income you have and work out an affordable arrangement. It shows you’re being responsible.
  • Offer to pay in advance. If you have a job now and can save up enough money to pay 3-6 months rent in advance, the landlord might be persuaded you are a good risk.
  • Increase the security deposit. If you don’t have enough money to pay months in advance, you can try to double the security deposit.
  • Be honest on your application. If you just got evicted, admit it! Landlords typically look into public records to see if there has been an eviction. They also call previous landlords to get first-hand information. Don’t wait for them to find out. Tell them up front and explain the situation.

Rent and Deposit Help from Churches and Charities

Every area has local churches, charities and nonprofit organizations that offer some form of help with rent and security deposits.

These organizations usually help with security deposit and anywhere from one to six months rent while you get back on your feet. Typically, these programs favor low-income families and there are guidelines that must be followed to qualify, including operating on a budget.

For example, many programs require that you have a job and devote a portion of your income to housing. If your salary increases, the amount you pay for housing increases along with it. Rent should consume 30% or less of your family budget.

Some of the places that offer this help include:

  • Homeless Services Network
  • Salvation Army
  • Vincent de Paul Society
  • Catholic Charities

In most cases, you don’t need to belong to a church to receive help from one of its ministries. All it takes is a visit or phone call to the church office asking if financial assistance is available. The same is true for most charities and nonprofits. A call or in-person visit will start the ball rolling.

You can expect an interview that will include questions about how you fell behind; how much money is owed; steps you are taking to keep this from happening again; and any paperwork that verifies the information you are giving them is true.

The problem for both churches and charities is the amount of resources they have available. It’s not going to be anywhere near what the government agencies can offer.

It’s not unusual for them to pay a month’s rent, maybe even two month’s rent in some cases, but demand is so high that it’s rare they could dedicate much more than that.

It helps considerably if you have a job when you ask for help. Most churches and charities are trying to get people “over the hump” with a financial problem and not be a recurring problem solver.

If you’re not sure where to start, dial the 2-1-1 help line. The operators there will provide a list of churches and charities in your area that offer financial help in a crisis situation.

Get Rent Assistance from Family or Friends

This seems like an obvious solution to the problem, but it could be the most difficult to pull off.

There is no official tracking of how much Americans owe in back rent, but studies on the matter estimate that delinquent renters owe $5,600. That’s a big number for a relative or friend to loan to someone who already has demonstrated an inability to keep up with bills.

Your argument for assistance might be easier to win if you bring a loan agreement with you when asking for help. Make the contract read the same (or as close as possible) to a loan agreement with a bank. Spell out specific terms, including what will happen if you default.

Be careful with this. It’s one thing to have a property owner mad at you for non-payment. It’s another thing altogether to lose a brother, sister, parent or friend because you couldn’t pay your bills.

Find a Private Property Owner

Look for landlords who own the property you want to rent. They tend to be more flexible about things and may be willing to listen closely to your story and give you a second chance.

Property management companies have rules they seldom, if ever, bend for or an individual. They seldom call the property owner and explain the circumstances in hopes of getting you a second chance.

The property owner is the guy making the final decision. If you have a chance to speak directly to them – and you know how to tell a convincing story – you considerably improve your chances of getting a lease.

This is a subtle way to get around having an eviction on the books, but it might be the best way to get through the front door.

Convincing Landlords You Can Be a Great Tenant

If nothing else is working, there always is a chance you can build a case for the landlord around having learned your lesson and your promise to commit to the straight and narrow path of a good tenant.

What should you tell them?

You can start by proving to the landlord that you can pay the rent, the deposit and any fees or utilities associated with the lease. Rent is the number one concern for landlords. Show them pay stubs, checking/savings account balances and whatever other funds you have easy access to that prove you can afford rent this time around.

If you have good credit, which would be a long shot if you’ve been evicted, then bring them your credit report showing you paid all your other bills on time.

Ask a responsible person – preferably someone with a high credit score – to co-sign the lease with you. That gives the landlord assurance that somebody is going to be responsible if the rent doesn’t get paid. It does, however, also put you in the position of losing a relationship if you can’t pay rent.

If your eviction was just a one-time bump in the road, call past landlords you had a good experience and ask them to offer a positive referral on their experience with you as a tenant.

Another good move is to set up an escrow account that has at least three months of funding in it. The money in the account can only be used for paying rent, so it’s protected from being used to pay other bills if you fall behind on utilities or credit cards or some other spending.

In the end, you must convince the landlord you are worth a second chance. Nobody saw COVID-19 coming. Most people want a fresh restart to prove they learned a lesson. Take a positive approach with landlord’s and you might just find that fresh start in a new apartment!

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

Sources:

  1. N.A. (2021, May 7) Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Retrieved from https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/emergency-rental-assistance-program
  2. Goodman, L., Reynolds, K., Choi, JH. (2021, February 24) Many People are Behind on Rent. How Much Do They Owe? … Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/many-people-are-behind-rent-how-much-do-they-owe
  3. Conlin, M. (2021, April 23) Special Report: Giant U.S. landlords pursue evictions despite CDC ban. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/us/special-report-giant-us-landlords-pursue-evictions-despite-cdc-ban-2021-04-23/