Affected By Coronavirus? Here's What You Can Do To Keep Up On Rent
Updated 9:45 a.m. MDT 4/2/2020
Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order Wednesday allowing Utah renters to defer rent payments and offering eviction protection until May 15.
“This does not get rid of the obligation,” Herbert said. “But it creates some time and space for other measures to come into place. Again this will help us buy some time.”
The $2 trillion federal relief fund signed by President Trump last week means help is on the way for many Americans struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The package offers direct cash payments and expanded unemployment benefits, as well as an extended tax filing deadline and more options to make retirement contributions.
Most people who make less than $75,000 can expect a one-time check of $1,200, plus an additional $500 per child. Those on unemployment can get an additional $600 per week from the federal government on top of the base amount they receive from the state.
But for the record number of Utahns who filed for unemployment benefits last week, checks aren’t likely to arrive for at least three weeks.
In the meantime, arrangements will likely still need to be made with landlords, but most are willing to work with tenants who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, said Paul Smith, executive director of the Utah Apartment Association. He recently put out guides for renters and landlords on navigating potential rent deferrals.
“The key in this crisis is communication,” Smith said.
He said with April 1 quickly approaching, those directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic — sick or otherwise — should hopefully have spoken with their landlords by now. But if not, Smith said they should as soon as possible.
They should also provide some documentation that shows they’ve been affected, which might be confirmation that they’ve applied for unemployment or a letter from a former employer saying they were let go.
After that, Tara Rollins with the Utah Housing Coalition advised coming up with a payment plan that’s realistic and reasonable for both parties — one that does not include late fees or interest.
She said that frequent communication will also help to establish trust so that if the situation continues longer than expected or other issues arise, tenants and landlords can continue to work with each other.
“People showing good faith are the people that are going to get help,” Rollins said. “We don't have answers for next month and the month after, but I think we need to make the best of [what’s happening] right now, so we can build upon the relationships that are being formed now.”
While no one should be facing eviction over the next month, Utah Community Action, which provides short-term rental assistance for clients, offers landlord-tenant mediation for those facing extreme circumstances. Typically, clients have to be at risk of homelessness but in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is additional help available.
The federal stimulus package also includes a 120-day eviction moratorium for tenants who can’t pay rent, but it only applies to renters in properties whose owners have federally backed mortgages or in federally subsidized low-income housing.
In Utah, that includes about a sixth of the state’s 300,000 apartment units, Smith said, though it can be difficult for renters to determine if their apartments are eligible. They would again need to speak with property owners, who are also eligible for mortgage deferments of their own if they borrowed from federal lending agencies.
If all else fails, Smith recommended tapping into community resources, turning in particular to friends, families or local nonprofits.
“Many people are very generous and are willing to help,” he said. ”It doesn't all have to come from the government.”
Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon