Most of us have faced difficult times that make it challenging to meet our financial obligations. Sometimes a loss of income, an unfortunate setback or mismanagement of money puts us in a position where we get behind in our rent or utilities. Rent is usually our largest single bill and one of the most important since it is what keeps a roof over our head. If there are times when we can’t pay our rent or are at-risk of getting behind, there are ways to avoid eviction. Remember, evictions are reflected in our credit reports and will impact our ability to rent other apartments as well as make other purchases in the future.
If you find yourself needing help paying your rent, there are a few options to immediately consider. Remember, it is important to consider a wide array of options just in case your first option does not work out.
· Review your rental agreement. You want to make sure that you thoroughly review your rental agreement to see what is the latest date you can pay your rent without incurring a late fee, what the late fee is, and what the next steps are if you are late on your rent. It is very important to always be aware of this information.
· Borrow money from someone in your support network. Is there someone that you trust that will let you borrow money to pay towards your rent? Borrowing money can always get a little tricky so make sure that you share what the situation is, how much you need and when you expect to pay it back.
· Speak with your landlord. If you know that you are going to have trouble paying your rent, make sure you contact your landlord. The sooner, the better. Don’t wait until after the rent is due. Explain your situation – don’t exaggerate or get too emotional, just tell your landlord the facts. Make sure you are clear as to why this happened this month and why it will not happen again. In some cases, you may have a relationship with your landlord and he or she may be willing to give you some extra days to avoid a late fee. No harm in asking. You also might want to consider making a partial payment. For example, maybe you have most of your rent and are only $200 behind. Your landlord may be willing to work out a timeline for the remainder of money you owe.
· Tap into community resources. It is important to also tap into community resources. Most communities provide temporary rental assistance to low-income households at high risk of homelessness due to a crisis situation. Some of the services include temporary rental assistance and help with security deposits. These resources can usually be tapped through your local department of human services.
· Access Chafee funds. Child welfare agencies can use up to 30% of these funds for aftercare room and board services. If you are over 18 and have not reached 21 years old, you are eligible to access for Chafee funds to support some of your housing needs. Each agency uses the money differently. Some agencies use it to provide time-limited rental subsidies, start-up housing funds including first and last month’s rent or security deposits, or for emergency rental assistance. If you meet the age requirements, contact your worker or their supervisor for more information.
· Look for more affordable housing options. Depending on the circumstances of your situation, there may be other options to consider. You could:
Get a roommate. It is generally more cost-effective to have a roommate. Because the cost of living is rising, even professionals are doing it. You can tap into your support networks to see if someone is looking for a roommate or check out listings in the paper or online. Living with other people can sometimes be challenging so be mindful of who you will be sharing space with. Ask lots of questions and follow your gut. If something is a bit off, it is probably not a good match.
Downsize. Sometimes you can cut costs by moving to a smaller apartment nearby or in another location. For example, it might be cheaper to move from a one-bedroom to a studio with utilities included. Remember, you will need a security deposit for a new apartment so plan accordingly. Also, make sure you check your lease to see how long before you get your security deposit back from your current apartment. Typically, landlords have 30 days to assess the apartment, make any necessary repairs and then return the appropriate amount back to you.
Identify low rent apartments (HUD). If you are income eligible, you can sometimes access low-rent/subsidized apartments in your area. There may be several options. See Subsidized Housing (below) section for more information.
Subsidized Housing Options
· Section 8.
The housing choice voucher (Section 8) program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income individuals and families to afford safe and affordable housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. If you are interested in applying for Section 8, you should contact your local housing authority. Some jurisdictions have also set aside Section 8 vouchers for former foster youth. Locate your local housing authority by clicking here.
· Family Unification Program (FUP) Vouchers.
Family Unification Program vouchers can be made available to families who are involved with the child welfare system and homeless or at-risk of homelessness. FUP also aims to facilitate and expedite access to housing and supportive services for older youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who left foster care at ages 16 or older and who do not have adequate housing (vouchers are time-limited for youth). Together, child welfare agencies and housing authorities implement the use of Family Unification Program vouchers. For information on how FUP is implemented on a local level and which housing authorities recently received new vouchers, visit the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare.
Ask your local child welfare agency worker if you think you might be eligible.
· Public Housing Units.
Public housing provides safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Public housing units can be scattered single family houses to high rise apartments for elderly families. For more information, contact your local housing authority.
· Independent Affordable Housing Units.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants. To search for an affordable housing unit click here
. Once you locate the management company, you should directly apply at the management office. You should also contact your local housing authority
and your local department of human service to see if they have access to lists of other affordable housing units available where you live.
· Transitional Housing Programs
. Across the country, there are transitional housing programs available to assist former foster youth or families at risk of homelessness. Typically these programs help you to identify housing, learn financial literacy skills, improve your employment and provide you with a time-limited housing subsidy. Contact your local department of human services/welfare office to learn about any potential programs in your area.
Helpful Hints for Every Tenant
Getting ready to move into a new apartment can sometimes be
overwhelming. However, it can be less stressful if you are organized and well
When you are preparing to apply for a new apartment there are some essential things that you should have on hand. You should have the completed rental application, your employer’s contact information and the contact information of three references (this could be former landlords, colleagues, or personal friends). It is also helpful to have a copy of a recent credit report. You can access your credit report for free at least once a year. To access your latest credit report, click here.
Also, remember to bring your checkbook. You will likely have to pay a fee to submit an application and/or put down a holding fee while your application is being processed. It is helpful to call in advance and ask about any required application fees or deposits.
Once you have been approved for an apartment, it is very important that you review your lease carefully before you sign. Pay close attention to the restrictions on guests, pets and/or running a business out of your home. You should also know when your rent is due every month, when you incur late fees, how much they are and how much notice you have to give when you are ready to move out.
As a tenant your have rights too. For example, your landlord needs to give you notice before entering your unit. Usually, it is at least 24 hours and only under certain circumstances such as repairs or showing unit to new renters.
You want to make sure that you set up your utilities before you move into the apartment. Plan ahead and call the utility companies at least one week before you move. Utility companies typically have different payment options. You could for example, sign up for a budget plan where your payments are the same each month. Make sure you ask about the different payment options available. You also might have to put down a deposit however, companies will usually include it in your bill over the first couple of months. Make sure you ask so you are not surprised when the bill arrives.
If you find that your apartment is in need of a repair. Make sure you tell your landlord as soon as possible. Also, make sure you put it in writing whenever possible. An open relationship with your landlord can be very important in getting repairs done. For information on landlord-tenant disputes click here.
While it may seem like an added expense, renters insurance can protect your belongings in case of a crisis (e.g., theft). Typically, renter’s insurance is not too costly. For more information on this insurance, click here.
Security deposits are usually refunded at the end of the lease term unless you damage the property. To ensure that you get your security deposit back you want to make sure your take care of your apartment/house. Click here
for steps to getting your security deposit back when you move out. Landlords generally return security deposits 30 days after you move out. However, you should read your lease carefully for this information.
Hopefully you will never find yourself in a position that you have to deal with an eviction but as a renter there are a few things that you should know about evictions. You cannot be evicted from your apartment unless your landlord has gone to court and he or she has terminated your rental contract in writing. For more information, click here.
Renters at Risk of Losing Homes Due to Foreclosures
Many of us know someone who has had to leave their home due to a foreclosure.
Foreclosures have not only impacted homeowners but also renters. Across the country, numerous renters have been considerably impacted by the mortgage crisis. When landlords go into foreclosure many renters lose their homes and are at risk of losing their financial stability. Some have lost their security deposits and have been forced to move leaving their neighborhoods, schools, friends, and pets behind.
Fortunately, President Obama recently signed the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act
into law to protect renters from sudden evictions. Today, in most cases, as renters, we have the right to continue as tenants for the remainder of our lease or at least 90 days from the date we are given notice to vacate—whichever is longer—as long as we are in compliance with the terms of the lease. In some instances, the new owner can offer to pay moving expenses to expedite our relocation. If we have a Section 8 voucher, we have additional rights that refer to the contract that the owner has with the local housing authority. For more information, tools and resources, click here
Unfortunately, many renters are also becoming victims of rental fraud. In some cases, tenants have been scammed by landlords who know their properties are going into foreclosure. Some of these owners have been known to lease their properties to unsuspecting renters, collecting security deposits and rent and quickly disappearing when the foreclosure process begins, while other tenants have been scammed by people posing as landlords who rent vacant, foreclosed properties. If you are a renter, it is important to be aware of rental fraud, click here
Know Your Rights
There are several rights and responsibilities that you should be aware of as a current
or potential tenant.
Fair Housing Law:
You are protected from landlord discrimination; you cannot be denied housing because of your race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability.
Having Trouble Paying Your Utility Bills?
Sometimes financial problems are not related to paying your rent but rather, your
utility bills. Are you behind in your electric bill or is your water about to be cut off? If so
there are resources out there to help you. Most states offer numerous programs to
provide utility bill assistance and help with heating and electric bills. Many utility
companies will also offer aid to those in need of assistance. You should visit your
utility company’s website to see if there are any programs that might be available to
your state for additional information on emergency assistance. It will link you to
different agencies in your area that can provide assistance to help pay for your utilities.
If you haven’t reached 21, you could also contact your local child welfare agency. Child welfare agencies can use Chafee funds towards room and board services, which could include assistance with late utility payments.
The internet is full of resources to help you learn and teach others to manage money. You can find a number of money management tools and resources including sample budget sheets, monthly rent calculators and information on financial literacy. Below are some examples of tools and resources you can access to help manage your finances and afford your housing.
There are a variety of user friendly calculators available on-line. Some of these calculators help to calculate how much rent you can afford.
Figure out how much rent you can afford using this rental calculator
. Don’t forget to consider all of your expenses.
Financial Literacy Tools
Foster Care Alumni of America would like to thank the Freddie Mac Foundation for their generous support in making these resources available. To learn more about Freddie Mac, visit the Freddie Mac Foundation website.