Last week we talked about various programs designed to help folks pay their mortgage during the financial impact of COVID-19. Today, we’ll concentrate on information that renters and landlords need to know during these unprecedented times.
The basic message is that because of various governmental actions, renters in most all situations should be able to stay in their homes or apartments regardless of their ability to pay.
Once again, we turned to Julie Galligan, our housing counselor here at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor. She’s working hard to keep up with all the latest COVID-19 related financial programs and has several practical tips.
“This is such an unusual time for our society with so many people out of work, so many businesses shut down and so much uncertainty. Even once the economy gets going again, many people will struggle to pay their rent for a while,” said Julie.
However, Washington State has enacted a moratorium that provides protection to renters through June 4 so they can’t be evicted, she said.
“In addition, the moratorium states that in many federally funded housing programs, a landlord cannot evict someone if they have not paid rent up to four months.”
Just so you know, we are a non-profit housing agency that offers free help and impartial advice for Grays Harbor residents about housing and financial issues. You can contact Julie at (360) 533-7828. Leave a message if she isn’t able to talk to you immediately.
Talk to your creditors
Before we get going with the details, we want to reiterate what we emphasized in our last blog – when it comes to struggling to pay bills, after food, prioritize housing. Do what you can to pay your mortgage or rent. Some questions to ask are “What options are available to temporarily reduce or suspend my payments? “Are there forbearance, loan modifications or other options available? Can you waive any late fees?
“If it becomes difficult, the first thing you want to do is to make contact with your landlord,” Julie said. Your landlord may have options in reducing the amount of rent or a deferment of some sort.
“In fact when it comes to your mortgage, rent or any other bill, if you can see you will have a hard time paying, contact your creditor immediately. Communication is key and so appreciated by your creditors, “Julie said.
What about the rent?
In today’s column we are talking about paying rent. (If you want to see our last column about mortgages, go to our website at www.nwghc.org or find the link on our Facebook page.)
The good news for renters in Washington is that Washington State Governor Jay Inslee declared an eviction moratorium on both residential and commercial evictions caused by virus-related disruption, with only a few narrow exceptions. Right now the state-wide moratorium is set to expire June 4, however when dealing with COVID-19, things are quite fluid, so it’s possible that will be extended.
This state-wide declaration includes a moratorium on terminating month-to-month tenancies and even seeking eviction at the end of a lease term. The moratorium includes forbidding landlords to serve even initial notices, such as a notice to pay rent or vacate or a notice to terminate the tenancy.
There are narrow exceptions to the moratorium. If a tenant poses an immediate risk to health and safety, it does not apply. However, if a resident has COVID-19 or has exposure to it, that cannot be the basis for eviction.
Furthermore, those people, who find themselves in an emergency because of lost income during COVID-19, cannot be forced to move to a smaller rental if they cannot pay the rent. In addition, the landlord cannot raise the rent or increase the deposit between now and June 4.
A landlord may not charge late fees for any rent payment that you paid late or could not pay, beginning Feb. 28, 2020. Also, they cannot report a debt for rent on your credit.
Under this moratorium, a landlord must offer you a reasonable payment plan if you cannot pay the rent. The plan must be based on your individual circumstances. So you will need to communicate with your landlord.
This moratorium covers anyone who pays rent living in any type of place including an apartment, house, motor home or RV you own but you rent the lot it is parked on, transitional housing, camping area and even an Airbnb. Also it covers living in a hotel or motel for more than 30 days, and even renting a room from a roommate.
Now, we aren’t lawyers, nor do we give legal advice, but we can point you in the right direction, if need be.
Help for Landlords
In our organization we provide information and help to both renters and landlords. We are aware that this moratorium could put quite a strain on the income of landlords.
So far there is little help out there for landlords, but maybe that will change. Renters must remember that paying their rent is what pays for the landlord’s mortgage, utilities, taxes, insurance and repair expenses. Renters should make an earnest effort to pay what they can and work out the rest over time. We suggest both parties communicate and work together.
Landlords may find some help from a new federal law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relied, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which has protections for homeowners with federally backed mortgage. First your lender or loan servicer may not foreclose on you for 60 days after March 18, 2020. Second, if you are experiencing a financial hardship due to the pandemic, you have a right to request a forbearance for up to 180 days. You can find more information at consumerfinance.gov.
We can help
Have questions? Give us a call at (360) 533-7828. We are practicing social distancing so some of us are working from home on certain days, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.