Can’t Pay Rent for May? How to Talk to your Landlord.

By Rachel Puryear, Attorney at Law

It’s the 2nd. If you’re dreading talking to your landlord because you don’t have this month’s rent ready, you are not alone. Even many who always paid their rent on time are now finding themselves struggling. Here are some tips to talk with your landlord about your situation, and (most likely) maintain a good relationship.

Hands opening an empty wallet.

Be Realistic:

Your landlord might be willing and able to help, in which case you are both lucky. Sometimes, though, your landlord might wish they could help you more – but be counting on your rent payment to meet their own obligations. This is especially true if you have a mom-and-pop landlord, rather than one with lots of buildings. Your landlord’s circumstances will certainly influence their options as well as yours. When people are struggling and worried, it is common to only look at things from their own view – but trying to understand where your landlord is coming from will probably make them more willing to help you (to the extent that they can).

Communicate, and Sooner Rather than Later:

It’s no fun to tell someone you cannot meet your obligations to them, and the temptation to simply be avoidant is understandable. Uncomfortable as it may be, however, your landlord will appreciate your communicating with them sooner rather than later – even if they don’t take the news well. Wouldn’t you want someone to tell you if there was a problem? Everyone knows that people are struggling now due to Covid-19, and the news is unlikely to come as a surprise. If the lack of rent payment will be a hardship for your landlord, telling them sooner will maximize their options – and thereby also maximize your chances of preserving a good landlord-tenant relationship.

Two women facing each other on a doorstep, and having a difficult conversation.

Maximize Your Own Options:

Are you sure you have tapped all possible resources for coming up with rent money? Have you applied for unemployment benefits, including the new expanded benefits which include non-employees? Have you applied for other benefits (like food assistance) and relief (like student loan deferments) you are entitled to (even those which can’t pay your rent directly can still free up funds for rent)? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has a great page on protecting yourself financially during the time of coronavirus.

If you are just finding that you will (or likely will) qualify for benefits, let your landlord know that you expect to get money soon. They might be glad to give you an extension, knowing that the money is on its way.

Incidentally, if your landlord hasn’t checked to find out if they are eligible for mortgage forbearance, it might be helpful for them to let them know about this option. If you and your landlord both know this, it might make it easier for your landlord to reduce your rent for a while, give you extensions to pay, or forgo rent temporarily.

The flip side to above benefit to homeowners, is that the same properties which qualify for such relief, are also subject to stays of evictions for non-payment of rent through July 25, 2020 (unless the stays are extended). While this is not a reason alone not to pay rent, this could also motivate your landlord to negotiate with you.

The State of California also suspended bringing new eviction cases (unless necessary to protect public health and safety) until 90 days after Governor Newsom’s state of emergency has ended. Many cities and counties also have their own ordinances.

Note: Stays on evictions does not mean that rent is waived, or that tenants may not be evicted for lease breaches when the stays are lifted. The stays will buy you more time to catch up on rent (unless another agreement is made with your landlord), but will not protect you from eviction indefinitely.

Be Willing to Compromise:

Maybe there’s a solution to your situation that neither you nor your landlord would be thrilled with, but both of you could live with. In fact, most disputes (legal and otherwise) eventually get resolved with some balance of discontent.

Two men’s hands shaking.

If you are making some money but it is less than you used to make, maybe your landlord will agree to reduce your rent until you are earning more again. If you cannot pay now, maybe your landlord will let you skip a payment if you promise to resume payments on a particular date. If you can pay but it will be late, perhaps your landlord will give you an extension to pay with no penalty. Maybe, if you have skills and they have a need, you can offer some cleaning or maintenance (or other) services in lieu of part or all of your rent payments for a while. Or, some combination of more than one of the above. Feel free to use your imaginations.

Also, check your lease to see if it has a hardship or public emergency clause, or something like that. This might settle the matter, or at least give you a starting place.

If You Make an Arrangement With Your Landlord, Get it in Writing:

If your landlord does change these or any other terms of the lease, even temporarily, be sure to get a written agreement – even if it’s a text or email. This will help prove that an agreement exists, and it will help clarify the terms.

If You Get Served With Any Kind of Eviction Notice:

Get legal advice as soon as possible. Since evictions are suspended, you have more time than you normally would – but that does not mean that you should delay unnecessarily. Time is always of the essence in such a situation.

Good luck!

As always, dear readers, be safe and healthy out there. Please help keep everyone safe by observing official recommendations for social distancing, sheltering in place, covering your face in public, and practicing proper hygiene. Please also help others where you can in ways big and small, and ask for help if you need it. We will all get through this together. Thank you for reading, and for following me. I hope you enjoyed this, and learned something valuable.

** Got a legal subject or question you are curious about? Email it to me at Your question may be discussed in a future blog post!

Please note that the above is offered for educational purposes only. The information presented may not take into account every exception, variation, or complication which could apply to someone’s legal matters. Accordingly, nothing in this post or blog is ever intended as, nor should be construed by or relied upon by anyone, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney who can give you assistance specific to your needs.


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