How to Avoid an Eviction If You Can’t Pay Rent

Even though President Trump’s recent executive order promised an extended eviction moratorium and $400 a week in unemployment benefits, it…did not actually do either of those things.

“The most important message right now that people need to understand is the executive order is not an eviction moratorium [emphasis added],” says Deborah Thrope, Deputy Director of the National Housing Law Project (NHLP). “It does not place any limits on landlords, public housing authorities or courts to not evict tenants. It provides absolutely no protection to renters.”

The CARES Act put a pause on evictions and protected renters from late fees, but it expired on July 24. We’re now in the 30-day buffer before landlords are able to proceed with evictions on August 24 if previously protected tenants can’t pay their rent. And despite federal protection, almost half of renter households were already facing cost burdens before COVID-19.

“Without swift intervention, the pandemic’s ramifications on renters will be especially catastrophic,” says Lavar Edmonds, a research specialist with the Eviction Lab.

According to recent paper published by the Aspen Institute, of the approximately 40 million people who could be at risk of eviction in the coming months, the moratorium only applied to renters who participate in federal housing assistance programs or live in a rental property with a mortgage that is federally backed. That’s less than half of the total renters across the country.

“Reductions in unemployment benefits and the expiration of eviction moratoriums will only make matters worse,” Edmonds says.

Here’s what to do if you’re facing an eviction

1. Consult a lawyer about the eviction status in your state

There are additional state and local bans trying to fill the moratorium gap, but protections are still uneven across the country. 43 states and Washington, D.C. have set their own eviction bans, though many are set to expire soon.

“The question of what protections apply to me as a tenant is really challenging. It depends very much on where you’re located, what kind of housing you live in, even the type of mortgage your landlord has,” Thrope says.

[ Read: Where to Find Financial Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic ]

She suggests the first thing any renter should do is talk to a local lawyer who may be familiar with protections in your state. If your budget won’t allow for the additional bill, local legal services can help you find what you need to know.

Aside from differing renter protections, how many tenants are at risk of eviction varies widely across states. Unsurprisingly, places like California and New York have the most number of people at risk for eviction. While less-densely populated states like New Hampshire and North Dakota are on the lower end of the spectrum.

Here are the five states with the highest number of eviction risks

Source: The Covid-19 Eviction Crisis: An Estimated 30-40 Million People in America Are at Risk / Aspen Institute  

2. Talk to your landlord

After you’ve done your research, take the time to revisit the terms of your lease. Check the fees and penalties charged for late payments. Then talk to your landlord and see if they’d be willing to make an arrangement that fits your current situation.

Unless you have a pre-existing track record of not paying your rent, you’ll hopefully find that your landlord wants to keep you in their property by offering flexibility. Remember, 22.7 million of the 48.5 million rentals on the market are owned by “mom-and-pop” landlords. The key is to contact them as soon as possible, instead of waiting until a week after rent is due.

3. Look into rent assistance programs

If your state doesn’t have a specific ban on evictions, there are local rent assistance programs for pandemic relief that you can turn to. Pamela Atwood, Director of the Housing Policy for the North Carolina Housing Coalition suggests that renters shouldn’t panic.

“Many localities have begun to offer rental & utility assistance,” Atwood says. “They may be able to help with immediate resources for getting caught up on payments. The state has also dispersed funds to Community Action Agencies (CAA) across the state that can be used to cover rent, utility and mortgage payments.”

Local social services organizations can help point you towards tools like emergency rental assistance or food banks, which can help you increase funds to cover rent.

  • National Low Income Housing Coalition— Renters can view local rent assistance programs, as well as frequent updates or changes in each state.
  • —This nonprofit connects renters facing eviction with organizations that can help.
  • DoNotPay — Offering a financial relief tool, renters can easily access rent and eviction law resources that apply to their state.
  •— A nonprofit organization, connects people in need with services and pandemic assistance based on their location.
  • The Eviction Lab — Renters can find an updated list of state-by-state protections and when those protections expire.

Too long, didn’t read?

The job loss caused by COVID threatens to spark a rapid escalation of evictions across the country that will long outlive the pandemic. As the end of the 30-day grace period following the CARES moratorium draws near, the administration’s long-term plans aren’t clear, so if you’re concerned about a potential eviction, take proactive steps as soon as you can to find support.

Keep reading

Experts cited

Deborah Thrope

Deborah Thrope joined NHLP as a staff attorney in June 2013. Deborah’s work focuses on policy advocacy to preserve federally subsidized housing and tenants’ rights in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing programs. Deborah also collaborates with state and national policy leaders to develop strategies to expand housing opportunities for people who have come in contact with the criminal justice system.

Lavar Edmonds

Lavar Edmonds is a research specialist with the Eviction Lab. Guided by experiences as a high school math teacher, his research centers around inequality, particularly in education. His current research explores the impact of teachers from Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) on student achievement. As part of the Eviction Lab team, he is interested in studying the intersection of housing policy – namely, causes and consequences of housing instability – with education policy.

Pamela Atwood

Pamela Atwood is the Director of Housing Policy for the North Carolina Housing Coalition. Pamela comes to the Coalition with a background in policy advocacy, sustainable development, urban planning and real estate. She holds a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she studied Public Policy and Psychology. She is also a LEED Accredited Professional (BD+C) and holds a real estate broker’s license in North Carolina. Follow Pamela on Twitter.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at with comments or questions.

Taylor Leamey

Personal Finance Reporter

Taylor Leamey is a personal finance reporter at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, mortgages, renters, and financial policy. Her reporting has also been featured at,,,, and elsewhere.

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  • Andrea Perez
    Andrea Perez
    Personal Finance Editor

    Andrea Perez is an editor at The Simple Dollar who leads our news and opinion coverage. She specializes in financial policy, banking, and investing.