About 8.1 million renters were behind on their payments in mid-June, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 4.5 million said they thought they faced eviction. Not all will be evicted, but the end of the moratorium July 31 means that as many as 4.2 million adults are at risk of eviction in July and August, according to an estimate by the Urban Institute.
Congress appropriated about $46 billion in rental assistance in coronavirus relief packages. Here's what renters can and can't do to stay in their homes as the moratorium ends.
The eviction moratorium
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered the eviction moratorium to slow the spread of COVID-19, under the assumption that a rash of evictions during the pandemic-induced economic shutdown would further spread the disease. Courts have upheld the order, which has been extended four times. The order was first issued Sept. 4, and the CDC issued its final extension June 24.
Renters can only take advantage of the moratorium if they can prove they are unable to pay rent because of the pandemic, either because they lost their jobs or have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses. They may also take advantage of the moratorium if they felt that losing their home will result in homelessness or placement in a homeless shelter. In addition, the eviction moratorium covers only those who expect to earn no more than $99,000 in 2021 (or $198,000 if married and filing jointly).
The moratorium does not keep rent from accruing, nor does it prevent landlords from evicting tenants for other reasons, such as damaging property or fighting with neighbors. Those who take advantage of the order must prove that they are making their best efforts to make timely partial payments.
What relief is available?
A tool to help you get aid
Renters and landlords looking for assistance can now use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Rental Assistance Finder tool to find information on rental assistance in their area. Simply enter your state or tribe into the tool, and it will give you links to state and local organizations distributing federal rental assistance in their communities. The money can help landlords and renters who are struggling to keep up with rent and other bills.
The tool will also help you figure out if you’re eligible for assistance. If you need a housing counselor, the tool will help you find one as well. Rental assistance is available across the country; many programs take applications from both landlords and renters.
Some states and cities have extended the eviction moratorium. California, for example, has extended the ban through Sept. 30. Hawaii's ban extends to Aug. 6, and New York's lasts through Aug. 31. Maryland and the District of Columbia base their extension through the end of the national emergency period, and New Jersey's lasts for two months after the end of the emergency period.
The largest chunk of aid comes from the federal government, which approved $25 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA) through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, enacted in December. Another $21.55 billion came from the American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March 2021, which also allowed funds to be used for moving and other expenses. The money is disbursed according to a state's share of the national population. The assistance can last 12 months, with the possibility of one three-month extension.
State and local agencies are distributing the money, and many of these agencies, the Treasury Department says, are just getting up and running. “While some state and local programs are increasingly reaching households in need, others lag far behind, and many programs have just launched in recent weeks,” Treasury said in a July 2 statement. As of May 31, only $1.5 billion had been paid out, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
How to get aid
The first step is finding a state or local agency that can help you. One of the most comprehensive directories is maintained by NLIHC, which promises uses are just two or three clicks away from an application. Alabama, for example, has eight agencies distributing rental assistance, which includes a statewide agency, several county agencies and one for the Choctaw tribe.
You'll need documentation to prove that you have lost your job or had your income reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You'll also need to prove that your income is within the limits set by Congress. Agencies may be flexible as to the particular form of documentation they require, including permitting photocopies or digital photographs of documents, emails, or attestations from employers, landlords, caseworkers, or others with knowledge of your household's circumstances.
You may also have to get your landlord to agree to the terms of the rental assistance, which may include agreeing not to raise the rent or evict you for a certain period of time. If your landlord objects, you should see if you can get the funds directly, which is now easier than when the program was first authorized. And if you're a landlord waiting for back rent, you can also apply to get help from the government under the ERA program. AARP has strongly supported both landlords and tenants to ensure that all interests are considered in these national efforts to keep people housed.
You will still be eligible to get aid if you turn in your application at the last minute. But don't do that. If you miss the deadline, you simply may not get the aid.
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.