Many renters may now be facing eviction after protections under the CARES Act expired. But not all is lost, experts said, because you can still negotiate with your landlord.
“The best way to lose an eviction case is to bury your head in the sand and ignore it,” said Charles Gallagher III, an attorney at Gallagher & Associates Law Firm. “If you stand up and fight for your rights, you will increase your chances of success,”
‘You can cash for keys’
If you’re strapped for cash, landlords will often pay you to leave the property, instead of formerly evicting you. The process is known as cash-for-keys.
“I know it sounds crazy but you’d be surprised that a landlord will pay a tenant to get out,” said Aisha Thomas, an attorney at AJT Law. “If you leave by a certain date, I’ve seen landlords offer up to $1,500 for you to leave.”
Often, landlords have an incentive to pay you to avoid future court costs that could be even more.
“A lawyer can cost between $500 to $5,000 for the eviction process, so they would rather give you $1,000 to wipe you off their hands,” Thomas said.
‘Check up on pro bono legal services’
But if your landlord isn’t as accommodating, chances are you’ll need professional help, especially if the case is going to court.
“Upon receipt of the lawsuit, it is best to retain an attorney to assist you,” Gallagher said. “But if you cannot afford an attorney, contact a legal services organization to see if you can obtain pro bono legal services.”
As a last resort, make sure you respond to the lawsuit in writing by serving the response to the landlord’s attorney as well as the court, he said. The worst action you can take is no action at all.
Even though millions of people have lost their job since the pandemic began, the court likely won’t have mercy on you. Financial hardships ranging from job loss, illness, and divorce aren’t considered grounds for excusing the eviction, Gallagher said. But other, smaller issues can buy you more time.
“If your heat was not functional, or you did not have working plumbing in a bathroom or there was mold, these are the kinds of legal defenses you would want to assert in your response to the eviction lawsuit,” Gallagher said. “Thereafter, expect that there will be additional court filings and hearings.”
‘Be upfront and careful to ask for temporary extension’
Sometimes the best way to tackle a difficult situation with your landlord is to be as honest as possible.
“A tenant is less likely to sour their relationship with their landlord if they are upfront and are careful to merely ask for a temporary extension to pay rent,” said David Reischer, attorney at LegalAdvice.com. “If it is possible, offer to pay a portion of the rent on time and provide a concrete date to pay the remaining balance due.”
But negotiate only after you’ve done your due diligence.
“Go find similar apartments or suitable apartments and see what the best deal you can negotiate is,” said Christopher Totaro, real estate agent at Warburg Realty. “It’s important to do research and find out exactly what a tenant’s rights are under the current rental regulations and guidelines.”
But most important of all, remain honest.
“Try to be clear with the landlord what is the actual budget that will make paying rent on time possible,” Reischer said. “Always be honest and upfront when negotiating with a landlord because of an inability to pay the rent on time.”
Read more information and tips in our Housing section