According to a 2018 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 38% of all American renter households put more than three-tenths of pretax income toward rent in 2015, qualifying as “rent burdened” – up from 19% in 2001.
Some 17% of renter households put more than one-half of pretax income toward rent in 2015, qualifying as “severely rent burdened.”
Households led by African-Americans and seniors of all races were more likely to be rent burdened and severely rent burdened than households led by whites and non-seniors – though a 2018 RentCafe study reported by USA Today found that millennials spent more on rent than older generations.
The bottom line: Millions of Americans struggle to make rent every month.
Perhaps you’re struggling too. Whether your financial straits arise from a layoff that you expect to last just a few weeks or a serious health setback that could persist for much longer, here’s where you can turn for help.
Ways to Get Help With Paying Rent
Use these strategies and resources to make rent during periods of financial hardship. Most are not mutually exclusive; for best results, pursue several simultaneously.
1. Try to Negotiate With Your Landlord
Your first resort during temporary financial hardship is to negotiate a modified payment plan with your landlord.
Although your lease requires you to pay the full balance of rent accrued during the contract’s term – $12,000 in total rent on a one-year lease at $1,000 per month, for instance – your landlord may be willing to receive the balance over a longer period or even forgive a portion altogether.
Your landlord isn’t obligated to work with you, of course. They’re more likely to budge if you make the stakes crystal clear: Presently, you’re unable to make full, timely rent payments, and you will need to break your lease and move out unless your circumstances change. Your ask should be clear as well – for example, “I can pay, in full, the six months’ rent remaining on my lease over the next 12 months” is preferable to a sob story that ends with “So I can’t make rent this month.”
The goal here is to reach a binding lease modification agreement without involving lawyers or courts. Ideally, this agreement should result in a written contract that supersedes your lease’s payment clause without invalidating the entire document.
2. Trade Labor or Services for Reduced Rent
Even if your landlord is open to modifying your lease’s payment terms, they’d be within their rights to ask for something in return.
Often, that “something” is physical labor. No matter the property’s size, condition, and amenities, your landlord can likely find ways to put you to work. That might mean cleaning and shoveling the sidewalks or driveways, mowing the lawn, tending the garden, cleaning the common areas, or performing minor repairs or odd jobs, such as painting or finishing, that don’t demand specialized skills.
The more involved the work, the better the terms are likely to be. A friend of mine earned a substantial rent discount by serving as her 20-unit apartment building’s resident cleaning person. The job required several hours of labor per week and knocked perhaps $300 off her already fairly modest monthly rent. An old neighbor of ours earned a comparatively meager discount – $50 per month – to mow our brownstone’s small lawn and remove snow from its sidewalks.
You can also ask for a labor discount right away. “You can lay off your part-time groundskeeper” is a great way to begin negotiations.
3. Take on a Roommate
When it comes to paying rent, two bank accounts are better than one. Dollar for dollar, adding a roommate to your lease is the best way to make rent when money is tight. If you need help finding roommates, check out Roommates.com.
Taking on a roommate is sometimes easier said than done, however. For starters, to create a legally binding relationship between your roommate and your landlord, you’ll need to add them to your current lease or a new lease that you both sign. Any problems that arise in the course of the inevitable pre-lease credit and background checks could jeopardize the arrangement. That’s also the case for romantic partners, by the way; your lease probably has guest restrictions that compel love interests to join the lease before making the leap from perennial overnight guests to official live-in partners.
Other issues may complicate or preclude the addition of a roommate. Your landlord may balk at allowing you to add a new tenant in the first place. Depending on the rules in your jurisdiction, your lease may obligate all tenants to the full rent balance, leaving you on the hook if your roommate decides to skip town. You may not want to share a cramped studio or one-bedroom with someone you don’t know – or allow close living quarters to jeopardize an existing friendship. The list goes on.
If you do choose to take on a roommate, plan ahead for potential roommate-related problems. Then, talk to your landlord and make clear to them that this may be the only way for you to make rent. Finally, after your landlord approves your roommate, draw up a roommate contract – or cohabitation agreement if your romantic partner is moving in – that formalizes your boundaries, rights, and obligations.
4. Take on a Side Hustle
A part-time job or contract-based side gig doesn’t have to monopolize your free time. Working 10 hours per week at $12 per hour puts an extra $120 in your pocket each week before taxes. That’s $520 per month, give or take.
Gig economy side hustles are trickier. Some, such as driving for ride-sharing apps like Lyft, pass substantial overhead costs on to workers. Crunch the numbers before signing up, and look for worker-friendly opportunities. In many Lyft markets, for instance, the app offers new drivers sign-up bonuses worth several hundred dollars.
Are you ready to start making more money? Here are four of our favorite side hustles:
- List Your Car on Turo – Are there days when your car sits at home without being used? You can list in on Turo and get paid to share it when it’s not in use.
- Instacart Shopper – Instacart is another great way to make money with your car. Instacart users order their groceries through the app, and Instacart Shoppers take care of the delivery. You’ll get paid weekly, and you can choose when you want to work.
- DoorDash Driver – Yet another great way to make money on the side is delivering takeout with DoorDash. Don’t have a car? Not a problem. “Dashers” can also deliver using a scooter, bike, or even on foot.
- Survey Taker – A great way to make a little extra money without leaving your home is to take online surveys through companies like Survey Junkie or InboxDollars. While you’re not going to get rich, you will make a little extra cash that can help with your rent payments.
- Proofreader – Proofreading is the final step before any type of content is published. It’s the last set of eyes, the person responsible for making sure that everything is grammatically correct and the words shine! It could be a book, a research report, online article, a podcast transcript, court transcripts — you name it! If it’s written and the publisher’s value accuracy and professionalism, they need a proofreader. Proofread Anywhere’s general proofreading workshop is free and will help you understand if proofreading is for you. Proofreaders make anywhere from $25-$50 per hour depending on speed and experience. Check it out!
- Handy Professional – Do you enjoy completing projects around the house? It could be basic handyman services like putting together furniture or painting a room, or it could be larger tasks like replacing a kitchen sink or an electrical outlet. Handy.com allows you to monetize your skills. Depending on the task, you could earn up to $45 per hour.
5. Start a Crowdfunding Campaign
A personal crowdfunding campaign is not a license to print money. If your campaign is compelling enough to earn the generosity of total strangers, however, it could dramatically ease your housing woes.
Launch your campaign on a reputable crowdfunding platform, such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Set a realistic funding target, likely not to exceed the total rent due on your current lease term, bearing in mind that you may not receive anything if you don’t reach your goal. Make a concise, persuasive case, explaining why you’re facing hardship, its stakes – housing insecurity, for starters – and how you’re planning to overcome it.
Don’t start a crowdfunding campaign without first considering its potential tax consequences. Crowdfunding’s relative novelty complicates tax planning; while there’s some support for the argument that crowdfunding donations qualify as non-taxable gifts, the Journal of Accountancy holds that the matter is best described as “It’s complicated.” Your best bet is to present your plan to a certified tax advisor before your campaign launches.
6. Take Out a Personal Loan
Check your credit score, then check rates and terms with reputable personal loan providers like Credible. Loan terms vary by lender policy and depend on your credit score, assets, and income, but unsecured personal loan limits often range up to $35,000 or $40,000 for well-qualified borrowers – more than you’re likely to need to make rent in the near term.
Bear in mind that a personal loan is only a temporary solution to housing woes. Moreover, any loan adds a new monthly obligation to your budget, typically for three to five years from origination. If existing debt is a significant contributor to your present financial distress, use your loan to address that root cause – for instance, by paying down high-interest credit card balances on which you’re currently paying the bare minimum, rather than putting your loan’s proceeds in the checking account from which you make rent payments.
Pro tip: If your credit score is less than ideal, it might lead to higher interest rates on personal loans. You can sign up for Experian Boost and they will start factoring on-time utility payments into your credit score. This could help give you the boost you need to get lower rates.
7. Borrow Money From Friends & Family
Many a struggling renter has turned to financially secure friends and family members for assistance. Before you make the ask, though, consider:
- How the Obligation Might Affect Your Relationship. You don’t want an unpaid personal debt to derail a relationship that’s endured for years or decades, perhaps through far worse.
- Expectations for Repayment. If you’re concerned about your ability to repay in the near term, make this clear before accepting a private loan. If the other party is amenable, ask for a grant instead or agree to a longer repayment timeframe.
- How Much You Really Need. Don’t borrow or accept more than you need to make ends meet until your financial situation improves or you’re able to find long-term housing assistance.
While it might feel awkward to draw up a legally binding contract before a summer barbecue or Thanksgiving dinner, putting all this in writing is the surest way to protect your mutual interests – and your long-term relationship.
8. Apply for Charitable Grants
Secular nonprofits and faith organizations alike offer emergency and longer-term housing assistance grants to needy individuals and families.
No matter where you live, you can almost certainly find local housing support resources without going through a national organization. In Minneapolis, where I live, Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness provides temporary housing support, including cash assistance, to families and individuals in acute need.
Specific faith organizations may offer assistance as well. In major cities, most large congregations have the resources to provide small but meaningful grants or temporary shelter to people struggling to make ends meet. Generally, these grants are reserved for renters at risk of imminent eviction and those already experiencing acute housing insecurity.
9. Cut Your Expenses
If you’re not yet in such dire straits, you may still have time to get your budget under control and avoid underpaying or missing rent altogether. Once you look for them, you’ll find opportunities to cut everyday expenses everywhere, such as:
- Dining out less, even when meals are relatively affordable, such as a Subway sandwich for lunch
- Drinking less alcohol or even quitting drinking entirely
- Wasting less food at home through better meal planning
- Spending less on groceries by purchasing generics and taking advantage of coupons and sales
More drastic changes, such as getting rid of your car, could prove more consequential, but even small cuts add up. If you want to take saving a step further you can sign up for Trim. They will scan your bank and credit accounts and look for expenses that you can eliminate. They will also negotiate things like your cable and internet bills.
10. Enroll in a Credit Counseling Program
If your credit or income isn’t sufficient to qualify you for a personal loan to pay down existing debt, find a nonprofit credit counseling organization that offers low-cost debt management plans. For a nominal monthly fee of $100 or less in most cases, your credit counseling partner acts as an intermediary between you and your creditors as you work to pay off your debts by a predetermined date, usually two to five years in the future.
Your debt management plan won’t include your housing payments, but it may alleviate some financial strain by reducing your monthly credit card and loan payments, making it easier to cover rent. Once you become – and stay – debt-free, you’ll likely find it easier to make rent as well.
11. Talk to Lenders About Hardship Programs
If the root cause of your inability to make rent is overwhelming credit card or student loan debt, talk to your lenders about hardship programs and temporary forbearance.
Although the details vary by lender, most creditors are willing to work with borrowers facing temporary hardship. Hardship programs work like credit counseling organizations’ debt management plans, except they’re specific to a single lender and don’t involve a middleman. Typical plans offer lower interest rates, longer repayment terms, fixed repayments, fee waivers and reductions, or all of the above.
Enrolling in a hardship program could temporarily hurt your credit score, and the fact of your enrollment will likely be visible to anyone who pulls your credit report. But the long-term benefits of paying down high-interest or budget-busting debt will almost certainly outweigh the near-term impact.
12. Look for One-Time Opportunities to Raise Money
If you expect your hardship to be temporary – you were unexpectedly laid off, for instance, but your job search is progressing well – then a one-time boost may be all you need to keep current on your rent.
One-time opportunities to raise cash abound. Now might be a good time to look for unclaimed money lying around in a state treasury or class action settlement fund, to downsize and offload unnecessary possessions at a garage sale or on eBay, or to look into more personal – and potentially consequential – options such as selling sperm or eggs.
14. Hire a Pro Bono Tenants’ Rights Attorney
Use the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s state-specific Tenant Rights resources page to find tenants’ rights attorneys licensed to practice in your state. If you believe that your landlord is violating the terms of your lease, local housing ordinances (such as rent control), or state or federal renter protections (such as anti-discrimination laws), your tenants’ rights attorney can advocate on your behalf.
To be clear, a tenants’ rights attorney won’t pay your rent on your behalf. Nor can they tailor the law to fit your situation; if your landlord is on the up and up, your legal recourse may be limited. You may want a tenants’ rights attorney on call, however, if and when your financial straits compel you to terminate your lease prematurely.
15. Apply for Rural Rental Housing Assistance
If you live in a qualifying rural area – generally, communities outside Metropolitan Statistical Areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau – and spend more than 30% of your household’s adjusted monthly income on rent, you may qualify for income-based rural rental housing assistance. For more information about this program, its requirements, and its application process, visit Benefits.gov.
Even if you don’t qualify for federal housing assistance, you may find more affordable rural rentals through the USDA’s rural housing assistance portal.
16. Apply for Short-Term Housing Assistance
Many county and state agencies offer short-term housing assistance for individuals and families experiencing temporary hardship, as do some bigger cities. In Oregon, for instance, Home Forward administers short-term housing assistance on behalf of Multnomah County and its two largest cities, Portland and Gresham. Start by calling your local 2-1-1 hotline, if one exists, or visit your city, county, or state housing authority’s website.
Generally, short-term voucher or subsidy programs provide no more than three consecutive months of support, during which renters expecting longer periods of hardship may apply for long-term housing assistance.
17. Apply for Long-Term Housing Assistance
Long-term housing assistance comes in multiple forms. Two are worth mentioning in particular.
Many localities operate public housing communities, not all of which resemble the sterile, segregated “towers in the park” stereotype. Here in Minneapolis, for instance, the city operates hundreds of “scattered-site” single-family homes and duplexes tucked away in leafy residential neighborhoods.
HUD’s Section 8 low-income housing assistance is another lifeline for thousands of low-income families, though the program has many practical drawbacks: an arduous application process, the possibility of long waiting lists for qualifying housing, and housing discrimination (in many jurisdictions, landlords may legally refuse to rent to Section 8 tenants).
18. Break Your Lease
Breaking an apartment lease is not a decision to make lightly. Unless you’re in an actively unsafe situation – your domestic partner is abusive or your housing is functionally uninhabitable, for instance – you should break your lease only as a last resort after exhausting all other reasonable options to make rent.
That said, if the alternative is ending up on the street, you may feel that you have no choice but to break your lease. Before you do, line up your next place to live, most likely by finding privately owned subsidized housing into which you can seamlessly transition or lining up a friend or family member willing to host you. If you expect your hardship to last, you’ll want to begin the process of applying for longer-term housing assistance too.
As a renter, you’re obligated to learn about federal, state, and local housing regulations. You also have the power to exercise the rights provided by those obligations. Landlords, for their part, must abide by the letter of the law; ignorance is rarely a defense.
Even if the financial hardship that’s compelled you to seek rent assistance has nothing to do with your landlord, a clear understanding of your legal rights – and a willingness to act on them – could mitigate the financial and legal ramifications of a broken lease, should it come to that.
Have you used any of these resources to make rent? Are you considering any?