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People who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 are looking to the beginning of next month with dread, wondering how they’ll pay the rent, much less afford food and phone bills. Landlords are also worried about how they’ll pay their mortgages and keep their buildings maintained. Here are suggestions for what to do if you can’t pay your rent because of COVID-19.

Document Your Situation

If you’ve been laid off or fired because of the pandemic, find a way to document your situation. Corporate employers should have provided you information about things like continuing health insurance under COBRA and suggestions about applying for unemployment. Keep a copy of whatever you received, even if it was an email. If you didn’t get anything in writing, or if you are self-employed and your income has dried up, write a letter explaining what happened and how it has impacted your ability to pay. Your landlord may need some kind of proof of your financial hardship.

Know Your Rights

Your building may be covered by the CARES act, which puts a moratorium on evictions for buildings that have received federal funding. The problem is that it is hard for tenants to find out the terms of their landlord’s mortgage loans. However, even if your building isn’t covered, many cities and towns have issued their own temporary halts to evictions.

Contact local tenant’s rights organizations, and look online for help in composing a letter to your landlord explaining your situation and expressing your desire to work something out. The crisis has hit landlords hard, and they have bills to pay, too. It would be tough to find a new tenant under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. Landlords have an interest in retaining reliable tenants in good standing who are simply going through the same hard times as everyone else.


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Negotiate

Trying to fill a unit left empty due to an eviction for non-payment of rent is the last thing a landlord wants to do right now. Contact your landlord after you have written your letter explaining your situation to find out if the landlord will accept partial payment or work out a deal where you can make smaller payments over time to make up for rent you can’t pay now. Landlords want to be known as the type that tenants like and respect, and they have nothing to gain by behaving heartlessly during a crisis.

Prepare a Plan B

The cold reality is that many of the jobs lost due to the pandemic may not come back. Even if a landlord can work with tenants now, forbearance can’t go on forever. Come up with a plan for what you would do if your job doesn’t come back soon and you need to find a more affordable place to live when the spread of the virus slows.

Although it may be slow in coming, there is help out there. Federal relief checks or direct deposits will come eventually. State and local social service agencies and tenant’s rights organizations can provide expert guidance about what to do if you can’t pay your rent because of COVID-19.


Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.