In this era of rapidly increasing housing costs, many renters know the familiar dread when the first of the month is coming and they know they can’t cover the rent.
But now’s not the time to bury your head in the sand.
By exercising your negotiation muscle, you may be able to strike a deal with your landlord that prevents the worst-case scenario: getting kicked out of your home. And in those crunch times, it’s always a good idea to look at your budgeting and spending to see where you could find a little extra cash to put toward rent.
Negotiating a Deal With Your Landlord if You Can’t Pay Rent
When you think you can’t pay rent for the upcoming month, it’s best to talk to your landlord sooner rather than later.
Here’s what you should do.
First, Know Your Rights
Matt Koz, finance director for the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, Wisc., recommends that renters do their due diligence to research the eviction laws in their area.
The federal eviction moratorium enacted in response to the pandemic ended in August 2021, but some states, cities and counties passed their own laws protecting tenants and granting them new rights.
Being educated about the tenant laws in your state doesn’t just give peace of mind about whether your landlord can evict you during a crisis. It can also help you decide how to best proceed when reaching out to your landlord.
For example, Koz said there could be laws where you live that make it disadvantageous to pay partial rent, if you were thinking of suggesting that to your landlord.
“In some cases, it may be better not to offer terms and wait to see what recourse is available to you,” he said.
There are also two federal protections for renters that many people are unaware of. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, if you or your landlord receive federal subsidies, there are tenant protections. This could mean that you live in a building with five or more units that has a federally insured mortgage. Or if you or your landlord gets a tenant-based HUD voucher, you probably have the right for a 30-day eviction notice.
Approach Your Landlord With Empathy
You may just think of your landlord as a faceless entity that takes the biggest single chunk of your money every month. But a little kindness can go a long way.
“Lead with empathy,” advises Michael Thomas, an Accredited Financial Counselor and faculty member at the University of Georgia. “It’s very easy to become self-absorbed when we’re experiencing a financial shock.”
He says taking the time to ask how your landlord is doing and working to establish a relationship can make them more willing to work with you. Understanding where each person is coming from can lead to a resolution that’s best for both parties.
Provide Realistic Solutions
Offering up a solution to your situation can show your willingness to work with your landlord.
You might propose to make a partial payment with a promise to pay the remainder of the rent by a certain date. If you don’t know when you’d be able to make the remaining payment, Koz said it’s reasonable to make an agreement based upon a specific occurrence.
For example, you might ask if you can pay the remainder once your kids’ school starts and you can pick up more hours at work.
Instead of suggesting a partial payment, you could ask to skip paying for one month and spread that payment over the remainder of your lease if you think you’ll be able to pay the following month.
Another option: Ask your landlord to apply your security deposit to the upcoming rent payment, agreeing to replace it at a later date. Or if you paid your last month’s rent upfront when you first signed your lease, you could ask to apply that money to next month’s rent.
When trying to come up with a rent solution for the upcoming month, make sure you’re not creating a worse financial situation for yourself later on.
Something else you might consider is bartering. For example, you could agree to do landscape work for your landlord’s properties in exchange for a break on rent.
When trying to strike a deal, Thomas suggests coming up with at least three plausible solutions that work for your budget.
“Go with your best-case scenario first,” he said.
If your landlord won’t agree to that, ask for their input on mitigating the situation before presenting your other options.
Get Agreements in Writing
If you and your landlord are able to agree on an alternative plan for paying rent, make sure to get that deal in writing.
“If [your landlord] were to come back and say we didn’t agree to that, [you can say]: Actually we did and here’s proof,” said Pamela Capalad, a New York-based Certified Financial Planner and founder of Brunch and Budget.
Putting things in writing also helps eliminate misinterpretations of your agreement, she said.
However, when signing a lease addendum or other paperwork, don’t rush into a contract with terms you don’t understand.
“If you’re not sure what you’re signing, you can always try to contact a tenants rights organization or an attorney,” Koz said. “Whatever you sign is something that you’re held to. If you don’t meet the terms of that agreement, you’re back where you started.”
Local legal aid organizations or pro bono lawyers may provide free counsel to low-income individuals.
Don’t Go (Further) Into Debt
You may experience shame over not paying rent or fear over potentially losing your home, but try not to let that lead you to making drastic decisions.
“The thing I would recommend, if you can avoid it, is to not take out loans to pay rent,” Capalad said.
However, you could consider consolidating your debt. Find nonprofit debt consolidation companies through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
It can be comforting to put things in perspective and realize you’re not the only one who can’t pay your rent right now, Capalad said.
4 Measures to Take if You Can’t Pay Rent
If your landlord won’t budge on requiring you to pay your rent in full, here are a few ideas for coming up with the money.
1. Seek Housing Assistance
Look into local housing assistance or eviction prevention programs for emergency funding to help keep you in your home.
Your landlord may even know of housing assistance options in your area. The US Department of Agriculture provides rental assistance for some low income rural housing.
2. Bring in a Roommate
If you can find a good roommate, you can split housing expenses and lower your financial obligation. Just make sure you properly vet the potential roommate and your landlord approves of the new tenant.
Subleasing your place could be another route to take, provided your landlord allows it and you have somewhere else you can crash in the meantime.
3. Sell Something
Make some extra dough by selling things you don’t regularly use. Put that money toward the rent.
Check out these 14 websites for selling things online.
4. Get Another Gig
Get money for rent by securing a second source of income.
Consider a side gig, like a food delivery driver or a pet sitter, where you’re paid based on how much work you take on. These jobs often pay faster than traditional jobs that run on a biweekly schedule.
Nicole Dow is a former senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke contributed to this report.