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Smart Money

How to Get Help With Rent When You Can’t Pay

Are you struggling to make rent this month? You have a few options, including rental assistance programs, loans from loved ones, and help from your community.

Catherine Hiles • April 20, 2023

In This Article

  1. How to find help paying rent
  2. Rental assistance programs
  3. Steps to take before you miss a rent payment
  4. How to avoid missing rent payments
  5. Be proactive in looking for rental assistance
  6. FAQs

Just like the cost of food and gas, rent has risen steadily over the last few years. According to Redfin1, the median asking rent in February 2023 was $1,937 — that’s a lot of money to pay when you’re also facing higher costs for goods and services.

Why is rent so high? In short, it’s due to rising inflation, decreased supply, and increased demand. No wonder many renters are thinking, “I can’t pay my rent,” and looking for assistance.

If you’re struggling to pay rent, you’re not alone. Learn what to do if you can’t pay rent, how to talk with your landlord, where to get the support you need to keep your home, and how to plan for the future.

How to find help paying rent

Couldn’t pay your rent this month? You might worry about eviction, but one missed or late payment doesn’t mean your landlord will kick you out.

However, you may eventually face eviction if you start missing payments regularly. Getting ahead of the problem right from the start is important.

If you’re struggling to pay your rent, you have several options to get help. These include assistance programs, loans from friends or family members, community help, emergency savings, and downsizing or subletting.

Look for assistance programs

Assistance programs can help you with living expenses in times of crisis. You can find these programs through the government or local charities. Check out our list further down for available rental assistance programs.

Work with your landlord

Eviction is expensive for a landlord, so working with you is in their best interest. Ask if they will sign a repayment agreement to help you catch up on missed payments without risking eviction.

Ask loved ones for help

If your inability to pay rent is temporary or you don’t qualify for assistance, ask a friend or family member if they would be willing to help. But be careful when borrowing money from a loved one. If you aren’t able to repay the loan, it might be better to look elsewhere to avoid damaging a significant relationship.

Look online for assistance

Online community groups can help get you through your financial crisis. They could help pay your rent temporarily through peer-to-peer payments or help with other expenses to free up cash for rent. Local Buy Nothing Groups on Facebook will often gift food, diapers, and other essentials so you can spend your savings on your housing expenses.

Use your savings

If you have an emergency savings fund, now’s the time to dip into it. An emergency fund is meant to be used when you need it, which includes keeping a roof over your head.

Downsize

Ask your landlord if you can move into a smaller (and cheaper) place. If they decline, ask if you can temporarily sublet your apartment while you move back in with your parents or a friend. Taking these steps could help you keep your apartment and maintain your lease agreement without risking eviction.

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Rental assistance programs

If you’ve lost your job, applying for unemployment can help you pay for rent and other expenses until you find a new gig. There are several programs available to help those struggling to pay rent. Aside from unemployment, look into the following options:

  • Emergency Rental Assistance Program: The U.S. Department of Treasury’s program helps cover rent in an emergency. You can search online for your local program or call 2-1-1 for assistance.
  • Housing Choice Voucher Program: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a program to help low-income families and individuals pay rent. Also called Section 8, this program subsidizes rent by paying the landlord a portion of the rent directly to lower the renter’s out-of-pocket expenses. Learn more here.
  • USDA Rural Development Program: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to help homeowners and renters in rural areas pay their housing expenses. Contact your local USDA office to apply.
  • The Salvation Army: Reach out to your local office to request financial assistance for rent with a one-time payment. You can find your local Salvation Army office by clicking here.
  • Catholic Charities USA: You may qualify for short-term help from a local Catholic Charity to pay for rent and other living expenses. Click here to find your nearest office.
  • Modest Needs: This organization offers a Self Sufficiency Grant to help families and individuals with everyday expenses, including rent. To learn more, visit Modest Needs’ website.
  • Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Some Catholic churches have a ministry that can help locals in crisis. Learn more about services in your area.

Steps to take before you miss a rent payment

Know your rights as a renter to navigate challenging situations better. The first place to look is your lease agreement — the contract should outline your rights and obligations. If you can’t find them or don’t understand your rights, check the Housing and Urban Development website to find rental laws in your state.

It’s also a good idea to check the fine print in your lease. Some landlords write a grace period into the lease for situations where you can’t pay, and the grace period usually spans a few days before a penalty kicks in.

You can also explain your situation to your landlord as soon as you know you’ll miss a payment. Being upfront about your financial situation with your landlord means they’ll be more likely to work with you to find a solution.

How to avoid missing rent payments

Emergencies happen, but you can often come through them relatively unscathed with the right financial planning tips. Here are a few ways you can avoid missing future rent payments:

  • Create a budget to help you determine where you can cut back on spending to save money for future financial emergencies. Learn how to manage your finances as a renter to avoid missed rent payments.
  • Work with a credit counselor. They can help you manage credit card debt and plan to regain your financial footing.
  • Pay early. You can make a payment before the day your rent is due, and paying early means you’re less likely to forget.

Be proactive in looking for rental assistance

Acting quickly to find help paying for rent is essential. Ignoring the problem and hoping it will improve can lead to more significant issues, including eviction.

Worried your rent is too high? Learn how to negotiate a better deal on rent with your landlord to avoid overpaying.

FAQs

Who can help me pay my rent?

There are several assistance programs to help pay rent and other living expenses. Some programs are offered through the U.S. government, and others through charitable organizations. If you don’t qualify for any of these programs, you can ask for help from friends and family.

What happens if you don't pay rent?

If you miss one rent payment, you’ll face a penalty as outlined in your rental agreement. If you miss several rent payments, you could face eviction. That’s why it’s vital to get ahead of the problem as soon as you know you won’t be able to pay your rent.

How can I apply for stimulus rental assistance?

Many Americans faced job losses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and struggled to pay rent. The government created the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to help more people avoid eviction. Contact your local ERA program to learn how to apply for stimulus rental assistance.

How can I get emergency housing assistance near me?

If you need help paying rent ASAP, contact local organizations like St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities USA, or Modest Needs for emergency housing assistance. You can also look into longer-term government assistance programs such as the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

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1 Information from Redfin's Rental Market Tracker as of April 14, 2023: https://www.redfin.com/news/redfin-rental-report-february-2023/

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