As we move toward a COVID-19 vaccine and/or a cure, it is important for you to understand your legal protections and rights now.
In more normal times, if you don’t pay your rent, you will eventually be evicted. Evictions can differ state-by-state and can vary even amongst various municipalities. In some areas, you must be given a chance to cure your default; in other locales, your landlord can instantly lock you out of your apartment as a wake-up call that eviction may be imminent.
Eviction most always is a judicial process, and you generally must be given a chance to appear in court before you and your belongings are thrown out onto the street. In a pandemic like COVID-19, it’s important to understand that you may have other legal protections, so please pay attention to the following seven legal details.
Federal eviction moratoriums
A portion of the CARES Act that expired on July 25th, 2020 did require some landlords to observe a 120-day eviction moratorium. In other words, even if you didn’t pay rent for 120 days, you could not be evicted legally if your apartment fell under certain conditions—one of which was if your property had been financed by a federally backed mortgage.
Local eviction moratoriums
Austin, Texas, for example, has extended its local eviction ban until September 30th, so regardless of any lapse in federal protection, Austin tenants cannot legally be evicted, nor can their nonexempt property be seized. Therefore, it is very important to check with your local government to see what eviction protections are still in place.
Rent is not forgiven
Eventually, these eviction prohibitions will be lifted, and at that time tenants behind in rent payments will have to figure out how they are going to make payments going forward while at the same time taking steps to pay back rent. COVID-19 eviction prohibitions do not usually wipe out past-due rent balances, although local governments may introduce new regulations covering the handling of past due rent when the evictions bans do expire.
There is help available
In many states, there is rental assistance available. The Arizona Department of Housing has set up a site with a self-assessment questionnaire. Certain persons can qualify for COVID-19 rental assistance by completing the questions and continuing with the assistance process. Check your state’s resources if you think you might qualify for help. Alternatively, you can also shop around for better deals in case you are looking to save money during COVID-19.
While the CARES Act does offer some protection against negative credit reporting for certain late payments, late rent payments can affect your score. The good news is that many landlords—especially those with only one or two units—generally do not report late rent to credit bureaus and most follow the typical landlord guide on the majority of issues with tenants.
If you rent from a large property management firm, however, you could see your credit score negatively impacted if you have delinquent and/or late payments.
Landlord references in the future
As many apartment renters know, a good number of landlords request references from past landlords, so you want to maintain a quality relationship. In Texas, rental agents will sometimes request on-time paid rent verification from two previous landlords. If you are having a problem paying rent, realize that even if you cure your default, your current landlord could report your situation negatively to future potential landlords.
Work it out
Everyone realizes that these are extraordinary times, and if you are having a problem paying your rent, if you are already behind a month or two, or if you can now pay going forward but don’t know how you are going to ever catch up, talk to your landlord. Even if you are delinquent, if you’ve been a good tenant, your landlord will have an incentive to work with you. Maybe some rent will be forgiven, or perhaps you can be put on a long-term payment plan to take care of your balance due.
Also, realize that your landlord may have received a mortgage forbearance that could relieve some of the financial pressure caused by your late payments. If this is the case, your landlord may be more sympathetic to your plight.
As we move toward a COVID-19 vaccine and/or a cure, it is important for you to understand your legal protections and rights, how to successfully rent a home, and how to communicate with your landlord and work to keep credit reports and score issues to a minimum. Those who take these steps will be better positioned to rent apartments without trouble in the future.