Things happen. If you live on a tight budget, a small financial crisis can throw you off-balance. But if something major happens, like losing your job, you may struggle to afford even the roof over your head.
Not being able to pay your rent on time can be terrifying, since most rent payments have small grace periods and if you don’t pay in full, you risk being evicted.
Fortunately, you’re not powerless. There are things you can do to improve your situation and ways to get financial help when you need it.
8 Ways to Get Help Paying Rent
1. Talk to Your Landlord
You might be surprised how willing your landlord is to work with you, especially if you’ve been a good tenant in the past.
Plan out what to say before you talk to your landlord and have a good idea of when you can pay the rent and how much you can pay. If possible, offer to pay a portion of the rent now and the remainder later. Explain your situation honestly and offer alternatives, such as a different payment schedule or work in trade for the portion of rent you can’t afford.
If your landlord agrees to negotiate and lower your rent payments, ask if you can put it in writing. That way, you’ll have proof of your discussion if an eviction is filed later. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay a late fee if one is listed in your lease.
2. Find a Roommate
Chances are you’re not the only one having a hard time making ends meet. A roommate can make the difference between being able to pay your rent and not. Before you proceed, however, make sure it’s okay with your landlord. If your landlord balks, be clear that this may be the only way to afford the rent.
Your landlord will want to draw up a new lease or modify the old one to reflect the change. Plus, it’s a good idea to create a written roommate agreement between the two of you that details your responsibilities regarding the division of rent and utilities, at the very least. In that case, should problems arise with your roommate, you have a court-enforceable contract.
3. Ask Friends or Family
Borrowing money from friends or family can be tricky. If you don’t make good on the loan quickly, you run the risk of damaging the relationship, sometimes irreparably. On the other hand, borrowing from someone you know has advantages. You get to skip the formal application process and you’re likely to get a better rate.
That said, treat a “friendly” loan the same way you would any other loan. Agree on an amount, interest rate, and repayment schedule, and get it all in writing.
4. Take Out a Small Personal Loan
You can take out a personal loan from the bank to pay for anything, including your rent. Most banks will require a decent credit score and a verifiable source of income, but some may approve you with a co-signer or collateral.
Ways to Work offers short-term loans for low-income single parents. Though you do not need a great credit score, you will need a source of income. You can search for locations in several states on their website. Another way to get a personal loan is through peer-to-peer lending websites like Lending Club and Prosper.
Keep in mind you’ll have to make monthly payments on your personal loan starting the month after you take it out. Therefore, don’t sign up for a loan if you’re not sure you can make the payments on time. Just like with any other debt, missed payments can hurt your credit score.
5. Get a Charitable Grant
Many charities offer one-time grants that cover the cost to rent during a financial hardship. How much you qualify for depends on the charity’s limits and your situation. Unlike a loan, however, these grants do not have to be paid back.
- The Salvation Army. Local Salvation Army chapters offer one-time assistance to help you cover rent payments. You’ll need to apply in person and prove your hardship.
- Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities offers emergency assistance grants, which you can use to pay your rent. You’ll need to apply in person and talk with a case worker.
- Modest Needs. Private donors provide the funding for Modest Needs, and anyone with a job can apply for a grant. Modest Needs offers the Self Sufficiency Grant, which provides up to $1,000 to cover one emergency expense. You can create a grant request on the Modest Needs website.
- Society of St. Vincent De Paul. This is a smaller charity (they only have one or two branches per state). You will need to visit a location near you to apply.
- Local Charities. Local nonprofit groups may also offer rent assistance and other grant money. There are various online databases of nonprofits across the U.S. that you can use to get started, such as 211.org, a program of the United Way.
6. Short-Term Assistance
Most states do not offer short-term rental assistance directly, but a state case worker can point you in the right direction. Local Housing Authority and Social Services offices maintain a list of short-term assistance programs offered in the area. Typically, you need to prove financial need to qualify and some programs require that you have a source of income. However, many places offer help if you’ve lost your job recently.
You may find a short list of programs available on your state government’s website, but you’ll get a more comprehensive list if you visit the social services office in person. Take your ID, most recent pay stub, and a copy of your lease agreement with you.
7. Apply for Long-Term Assistance
These programs will help you pay rent in a private home or help you find a more affordable place to live. You can receive assistance for several months, but the programs often have strict requirements and long wait times.
- Section 8. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program pays for the majority of your rent and utilities. With Section 8, you can live in a privately owned house or apartment complex. The Housing Authority pays your landlord directly once a month and you cover the remaining balance due. Every state offers Section 8. To qualify, your income must fall below the average for your area.
- Privately Owned Subsidized Housing. Many apartment complexes offer partially subsidized housing. The complex owner gets a tax break for renting to you and you get a reduction in rent. How deep of a reduction you get depends on your income level. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a database of privately owned subsidized housing complexes in the U.S.
- Subsidized Housing. The government owns and manages apartment complexes for the benefit of very low-income families. Most urban areas typically have a long wait list, but once you’re in, you’ll pay far less than market value for your rental.
- State Assistance. The federal government provides block grants to every state through the HOME program. State governments can then use the grant money to provide affordable housing. Some states also offer specialized long-term housing assistance to low-income residents.
You can apply for multiple housing programs and review your options at a local Department of Social Services office or at a local Housing Authority office. You can search for an office on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HA office database.
8. Seek Free Legal Guidance
Legal Aid Society has offices all over the U.S. and offers free pre-eviction assistance if you can’t afford a lawyer. Some offices provide mediation services between you and your landlord, and a few lawyers may even be willing to appear with you in court. Keep in mind, however, that you may have to pay court costs if your eviction case goes to trial.
Start looking for assistance as soon as you know you’ll need it. Some banks and many charitable offices can take several days or weeks to approve you, and in other cases, you might be wait-listed. Moreover, make sure you let your landlord know if you’re going to be late with your rent payment, and see if you can negotiate a lower rent payment. You can even try to incorporate a work-trade, or search for a roommate to split rent costs with. The more options you pursue, the more likely at least one of them will work out.
Do you know of any other charities or grant programs people can use in times of need? If you’ve used any of these options, what has worked best?