I'm a data analyst by day and a proud bibliophile. I'm originally from Wisconsin.
For whatever reason, you’ve been thrust into the stressful situation of not being able to pay rent. You might be out of a job, maybe your rent was raised on you, or maybe you are under the effect of events outside of your control, like the pressures of a pandemic or out of work due to illness. Though statewide and government assistance might be able to offer you some relief and protections, there are things you should know if you can’t pay your rent. Let’s talk about what you can do.
Just so you know, landlords cannot just go and change the locks on you and kick you out of your place. They have to go through a formal eviction process in court (this is assuming you both agreed to a contract). I’ve helped several friends and family members through what to do when they were faced with the difficult of not being able to pay rent. Their reasons were various, but you can find out options they considered and what options you have available to you.
Reviewing Your Lease and Communication With Your Landlord
- Review your lease: Start by reviewing your lease to see what your landlord detailed about the repercussions of late payments.
- Notify your landlord: You will want to start by telling your landlord about your situation (what is going on?). Is it health-related, job-related, roommate-related, or something else? Always do it in writing (email or text) and not verbally. Keep good records.
- Consider a partial payment: You might want to consider paying your landlord partial payments even if that’s all you can afford (however, this is not recommended in the event of a pandemic...refer to local tenant rights). Get a receipt and proof of partial payment in the event that you get taken to court and sued. You will only owe the remaining portion of the rent. You might also consider sending your checks via certified mail so that the court sees you paid the partial amount.
- Keep good documentation: I cannot reiterate enough, keep all communication via email or text. Do not delete communication with your landlord. Stay organized, you will need to review any exchanges you have. You can create organized folders in your email inbox or even screenshot your texts and backup this communication on a hard drive.
- Speak of the present: Tell your landlord what you are doing to try to recover lost income so you can get back to a place where you pay rent in full.
- Give a timeline: Your landlord might actually be forgiving - if you can, explain that you will be short this month but can pay in full and make up the missed payment the following (maybe you are owed money or borrowing), let your landlord know. If you can, get them to agree to this arrangement in writing by email or text. Emphasize that you are doing your very best to work everything out as quickly as possible. Maybe you are applying for a new job or maybe you are receiving assistance by some other means (state or federal-level).
- Organize your documents: Keep all proof of conversations with your landlord (paper, email, text) and stay organized. You will need to refer to these documents. Pay close attention to agreements and calendar deadlines.
How to Manage Your Expenses
- Consider ways to decrease your spending: Cancel any unnecessary accounts (gym membership, food subscriptions, Netflix/Hulu/etc., reduce electricity consumption), buy food in bulk and reduce anything extra like expensive coffee, snacks, eating out, takeout, and any kind of food delivery service. Stop shopping.
- Cut your cable: Again, having a roof over your head is more important than being able to watch TV; consider switching internet providers if there is no cancellation penalty. If your local library is open, use Wifi at the library to access the internet and watch programs on YouTube. If you have unlimited data only our cell phone, use that instead.
- Cut down on food expenses: Skip starbucks and buy cheap and nutritious food at the market instead. Foods like potatoes, beans, frozen veggies, chicken, and more can offer you a decent meal in a pinch. Buy frozen vegetables to avoid losing money to spoiling.
- Get a second job or gig: Visit sites like Task Rabbit, Craigslist, Upwork, or consider working as an Uber or Lyft driver, for Doordash, Instacart, or more. There are many options for part-time work that can help tide you over.
- Revisit your current job: Consider asking for more hours at your current job; if you are close with your manager, explain your situation; they might be able to help.
- Find a roommate: If your lease allows you to find a roommate, do so. This will cut your rent in half and share some of the expenses. You can convert your living room with room dividers, or get bunk beds. Your landlord might very well be into this proposition if it wasn't in your lease before.
- Visit a food bank: If feeding yourself is an issue, look for a local food back in your area to avoid having to spend money on food while you are struggling to pay your bills.
What to Do If You Are Being Evicted
If you fear being kicked out of your place and are faced with being homeless due to eviction, prepare early. Consider reaching out to family and friends to see if any will offer you temporary housing. Craigslist and similar sometimes offers housing for work exchange. Hostels are another good option—you can get hired and offered room and board for exchange (this is also true of small farms and similar places with work for room and board). Craigslist often advertises live-in situations where you offer childcare, elderly care, or property management in exchange for housing.
If you are without option, find a cheap storage unit to store your belongings and consider selling some of your belongings, liquidating, to acquire additional money. You can sell off your furniture on Craigslist and store your important belongings in a small storage unit (some places offer small storage spaces for important documents or 5x5s for just enough). Consider looking into homeless shelters in your area - you can find places oriented towards women and women’s safety, sober living, and beyond.
If you are living in an expensive area and do not make enough to afford that area, move out of the area or out of state. You can secure a job beforehand and even look for housing (consider a place with roommates). A different city or state might help you get back on your feet. Apply for jobs and research housing beforehand. If you have enough saved up or could liquidate your belongings, consider buying a used SUV or van so that you do not have to sleep out in the open.
Planning is everything, and if you can prepare for the unthinkable, you can bounce back even faster. If you have children in your household, please consider housing for families in transition. Your county should offer programs for families that are faced with eviction, considering you have children. As always, stay safe and do not give up. Better times are head.
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- Tenant Eviction: What You Should Know as a Renter - FindLaw
FindLaw's overview of rights that tenants should know when facing eviction. Learn more about this and related topics at FindLaw's Landlord Tenant Law section.
- Tenants’ Rights: Knowing Your Rights as a Tenant | legalzoom.com
There are specific laws that provide protection for tenants. Being informed when you are a renter allows you to know your rights and stand up for yourself when necessary.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Brynn B Lewis