Following the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic fluctuations directly impacted many renters' household incomes. As a result, more renters than ever before were looking to negotiate rent payment plans with landlords. It would be fair to say that landlords recognized that having a little money coming in during the worst stretches of the pandemic was better than receiving no rents at all. It appears that negotiating with tenants to keep them in their apartments may have prevented a surge in residential eviction orders.
For more than a year, a statewide moratorium on the filing of new eviction actions and likewise a moratorium on the enforcement of eviction orders also helped stave off housing instability for many renters. Additionally, the City of Chicago passed a COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance in June 2020. Why is this ordinance relevant now? Because it prohibits landlords from filing eviction notices for 60 days from the expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium AND it requires that landlords enter into good faith negotiations with tenants to create repayment plans for any missed rent payments before the landlord may start the eviction process. Now that the eviction moratorium has expired, landlords have a few options when it comes to negotiating with tenants who are unable to pay the rent due to job loss triggered by the pandemic.
What Details Should Renters Share with Landlords About their Household Finances?
Communication is key in establishing a positive, professional relationship between landlords and tenants. Renters who are facing reduced wages from being furloughed or laid off shouldn’t delay in communicating their financial circumstances with their landlords, even if they hope that new work will materialize or new government benefits will become available before the next rent payment is due. Landlords and tenants can share updates and try to maintain a cooperative relationship, if possible.
A landlord usually runs a thorough credit screening before offering a lease agreement to a potential tenant. But if a landlord’s impression of a renter’s finances was shaped by a pre-COVID world, a renter whose employment status has changed would benefit from sharing any important updates on the household income status prior to missing the rent payment.
How Can Tenants Set Up Payment Plans with their Apartment Landlords?
Renters who proactively open a dialogue with their landlords about budget shortfalls can explore different ways to close the gap. Paying partial monthly rent is one course of action. Landlords might be willing to accept a portion of the monthly rent in the short-term, in exchange for a promise to repay the missed rent in future months, and even agree to a lease extension.
Chicago landlords who negotiate partial payment plans with their renters should ask renters to sign a lease amendment that details the agreement to defer part of the rent. The City’s COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance requires landlords enter into good faith negotiations with tenants who are struggling to pay, and this paper trail will evidence that effort.
There are additional resources poised to help landlords and tenants reach mutually beneficial arrangements. The City of Chicago is partnering with the Center for Conflict Resolution to provide free mediation services for landlords and their tenants regarding payment plans or communication issues.
What Can Landlords Who Need Immediate Cash Flow Do if Tenants Can’t Pay the Rent?
Cash is king, as the saying goes. And landlords certainly aren’t immune from money troubles in the uncertain conditions created by the pandemic. If renters anticipate having zero flexibility in their household budgets, at least for a brief period of time, they can suggest that landlords use their apartment security deposit as a stopgap payment toward the monthly rent. Renters may also consider paying a couple of months in advance while they have the cash. Landlords should document the amended rent payment schedule and any application of the security deposit to meet the shortfall.
The State of Illinois has pledged to make $1.5 billion in rental funds available to renters in the State according to the Illinois Department of Human Services website. While the State plans for the rollout of its next round of emergency rental assistance grants, there are other places that renters may go to seek funding for missed rent payments. One such resource is All Chicago. Eligible renters may receive assistance funds up to 15 months and/or $25,000 per household according to All Chicago's website for rental assistance. Renters who are behind on payments can check their eligibility on the IHDA web portal: https://www.illinoisrentalassistance.org
If everyone works hard to find a harmonious solution, we might just get through this historically difficult period.