What to do when you can't pay rent during COVID-19 crisis

It's the first of the month. The rent is due. But many renters say they can't pay it after having just lost their jobs.

"It's a hard moment for me," said renter Taylor Syers.  "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Just 22 and suddenly out of work.  Syers says she can't pay her rent, but says her apartment managers say they still need to collect it.

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"I just filed for unemployment but I haven't got accepted for it yet, so I don't have the money to pay for everything that I have," said Syers.

The Houston Apartment Association explains landlords must still collect rent in these tough economic times to keep apartments and rental homes running.

"We have our mortgage and our insurance and our taxes and our payroll to pay," said Clay Hicks, President of the Houston Apartment Association.

The HAA recommends renters who can't pay notify landlords right away.

"Bring documentation reflecting what your issue is, whether it's job loss, reduced hours, furlough.  Bring the documentation in so we can come up with a plan together," suggests Hicks.

Local courts have placed evictions on hold until April 19.  And the HAA is encouraging landlords to waive late fees, online payment fees, and work out payment plans with tenants.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston says they're helping callers with some rental assistance.

"The number of calls for yesterday and today, 279 calls just for rental assistance and other basic needs, compared to 144 two days ago," said Cynthia Colbert, President of Catholic Charities.
But with more calls than funds, Colbert says they have to prioritize the biggest need.

"We prioritize right now certainly senior citizens," said Colbert.  "Secondly, single parents and also with children under the age of five."

The United Way of Greater Houston says rental assistance is the top need from the more than 7600 calls they received in the month of March.

People much like Syers, needing help to make rent.

"I've always been a hard worker and for this to happen, it really sucks, because I don't know what I'm going to do," said Syers.

The Stimulus package passed by Congress includes a 120-day ban on evictions by landlords with federally backed mortgages, such as FannieMae or FreddieMac.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs says money from the CARES Act will help shore up some of the local rental assistance programs, but does not know yet how much.

The TDHCA features resources for rental help on their webpage.
Renters can also call 211, the United Way Helpline, for assistance.