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Is it okay not to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The coronavirus, resulting stay-at-home orders and record job losses are impacting some people’s ability to pay their rent. According to the list of apartments, 31% of Americans made a partial rent payment or no payment at all in May. That’s up from 25% in April, but the majority of those missed payments were eventually caught up.

The figures of the National Multifamily Housing Council are a little better. They show that only 20% of tenants have yet to make a payment for May. That’s just a 1.5 percentage point drop from the same time last year, but the board says it reflects the fact that it represents professionally managed buildings that tend to have wealthier tenants, and some landlords have developed payment plans.

Things could still get worse. A recent Marketplace-Edison Research Survey found 62% of tenants are worried about being able to pay.

“With this number of unemployed and the economy at a standstill right now, I just don’t see this trend continuing,” said Doug Bibby, chairman of the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Many individuals and families who have lost income due to the pandemic are faced with the question: Do I have to pay rent? And could I be kicked out of my house or apartment if I don’t?

Protections for renters vary by state and city. In New York, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week that no one in the state can be evicted for not paying rent due to the coronavirus until August 20. In a tweet, he said, “New York State will extend the eviction moratorium for those facing COVID-related hardship for an additional 60 days.

New York State has also banned late fees and missed payment charges, and is allowing tenants facing hardship related to COVID-19 to use their security deposits as payment and repay them over time. time.

Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, with Columbia Law School’s Emily Benfer, has created a policy dashboard for each state. Twenty-three states received less than one out of five stars. Benfer, who studies health equity and social justice, said these states are home to 31 million renters.

There are nine states, including Missouri and Idaho, where renters aren’t protected by statewide eviction moratoriums. Some cities in these states, such as St. Louis, have adopted local protections.

There is national protection for people live in federally subsidized housing. They are covered by a moratorium until July 25, and after that date landlords must give tenants 30 days notice. But it can be difficult for tenants to know if their building qualifies, for example, because the landlord has a federally guaranteed mortgage.

Even if a tenant is protected by a moratorium on evictions, what happens after the moratorium ends?

“As soon as these are lifted, we will see a massive number of eviction filings,” Benfer said.

Suspension orders are really only stopgap measures, she said. They are designed to keep people housed during the public health crisis and so they can comply with local stay-at-home orders. They will not give longer-term protection to people who have lost their jobs or other income.

Benfer said tenants should contact their local legal aid office for specific advice and check their state, county and city websites. At some point, they will have to agree with their landlord on how to catch up on past rent.

“The bottom line for tenants is that if you can’t pay your rent, or if you can’t pay all of your rent, you need to contact your landlord,” said Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project. . Tell them about your situation and tell them about reduced rent, a payment plan or a payment holiday. Most landlords want to know what’s going on with their tenants, he said.

Rent activists have united to call for a national rent strike, and asked even those who can afford to pay to withhold rent from May. They are calling for rents to be waived until people can safely return to work.

Benfer warns that if people can’t or don’t pay, the effects will quickly be felt more widely.

“We will see a direct impact on national and local economies,” she said.

The owners will stop paying their maintenance and other workers. They may miss payments on their property tax, which funds local services. They can default on mortgages. This will affect the whole country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“If people aren’t housed safely, we won’t recover as a nation,” Benfer said.

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