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Can’t pay your rent amid the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what you can do | COMMENTARY

Many Marylanders have lost their jobs and will struggle to pay rent next month.
Many Marylanders have lost their jobs and will struggle to pay rent next month.(Andy Dean)

This pandemic, like nothing we have ever seen in our lifetime, has wreaked havoc on public health and the economy. Renters and housing providers, alike, are struggling with loss of income and many are wondering how they will pay their bills.

Whether it’s government, business or non-profit, society is banding together to fight this unprecedented crisis. Fortunately, the state and federal governments have undertaken consumer protections and established financial assistance programs.

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The state of Maryland suspended evictions and utility shutoffs for residents who demonstrate an inability to pay rent as a result of COVID-19. Unemployment insurance is now available to more people with increased benefits, and soon will come a one-time lump sum payment from the federal government to many renters to aid in sustaining critical needs such as food, medical and shelter (housing). Student loan payments have been paused as well.

At the same time, nonprofits are helping to fill the void with assistance to families in need and communities are banding together to help their vulnerable individuals. While residents are struggling, many housing providers are engaging and creating flexibility with payments.

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The Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA), the largest association of multifamily housing providers in the state of Maryland, and its members remain committed to supplying quality housing for residents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. MMHA has identified tips and tools that renters and housing providers can take advantage of to ensure residents maintain their housing for the long-term and housing providers can afford to keep and maintain their properties.

For housing providers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage holders are allowed forbearance with the condition that they suspend all evictions for renters unable to pay rent due to coronavirus. This will yield much-needed relief to the industry. Some housing providers can also qualify for loans through the Small Business Administration, Maryland’s COVID-19 emergency relief loan fund. Maryland has also created a small business emergency relief fund. We applaud the state and federal government for their action.

Even with these options, housing providers understand that renters are struggling and worried about paying their rent on April 1, which is why MMHA compiled a list of nonprofits who can help with rent assistance on our website. We’ve also put together some advice on how renters can approach their housing provider and discuss rent payments.

  • The first step a renter can do is communicate with their housing providers. If a resident cannot pay rent, the management company should know sooner rather than later. The sooner the problem is identified, the more likely it is that the property management company will work with a renter on solutions.
  • Once this line of communication is open, renters should be prepared to show documentation in case the housing providers ask for proof that they have suffered financial harm due to COVID-19. Acceptable documentation may include pay stubs, letters and emails. Renters should check with their housing provider on what documentation is accepted.
  • Renters should ask their housing provider if the parties can create a payment plan together. Renters and housing providers should put the plan in writing. Renters must ask if their housing providers will consider extending the grace period or waiving late fees. Keep in mind that this is a business decision for the housing provider. Some may not be able to or choose not to do so. Renters should ask and not assume.
  • Finally, renters should be mindful of the fact that keeping up with regular payments may be easier than catching up to missed rent. Most people will not be able to afford to pay multiple months of owed rent once this crisis ends.

MMHA encourages residents to be open and honest with their housing providers, advocate for themselves and take advantage of resources available to them in the event they cannot afford to pay rent.

We also encourage housing providers to be flexible and understanding toward residents at this very difficult time and take advantage of any resources available to them as well. Visit the COVID-19 page on our website, for status updates, financial and general.

Adam Skolnik (askolnik@mmhaonline.org) is executive director of Maryland Multi-Housing Association.

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