If your tenants can’t pay rent, there are ways you can help – both them and you.


July 13, 2020
6 mins read

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the physical, mental and financial health of people across the U.S. Unemployment is at a near-record high and millions of Americans are in extreme financial distress — unable to pay their rent or mortgage because of loss of income.

We have received questions from tenants and landlords about how best to navigate these difficult times working together rather than against each other. We have written a few blog posts with useful information for the tenant community, so today we’ll address some key questions we’ve received from landlords. For both parties, communication is key.

How can I build trust with my tenants and alleviate their fears?

If you’re a landlord who is facing financial hardship – either from your own loss of work or because you have tenants who are unable to pay their rent (or both) – you may be considering terminating the agreement. However, this option may do you more harm than good in the long run as the market for responsible, paying tenants is becoming tighter by the day and you may find yourself with a vacant property that you can’t rent. 

Talking to your tenants is a critical first step. Through open, two-way dialogue, it’s possible to find a workable solution rather than create mistrust, and you can also help your renters understand the impact the loss of rental income may have  on you and your family. 

I don’t know how soon my tenants will be able to pay their rent again. What should I do?

If you have tenants who have not been able to pay their rent for the past few months — or if you’re concerned they may not be able to in the near future — check in to find out what their situation is and what help they might need. There are  resources available to them from the government, credit reporting agencies and other organizations that can offer counseling and financial assistance. (Our blog has suggestions for websites and agencies they can contact.)

Possible accommodations you can offer include reducing their rent for one or two months — or allowing them to stop paying rent altogether — perhaps asking them to commit to some form of repayment plan. As part of this deal you can ask them to renew their lease for an extended period of time, which will save you time and expense from having to find a new tenant in the near-term. Whatever option you choose, make sure you get it in writing.

What should I do if I’m unable to forgive their rent?

If the loss of rental income means you’ll have trouble meeting your own financial commitments, there are also resources available to you. The USA.gov website has information about how the CARES Act protects homeowners and mortgage forbearance options that are available to you. There is also information available on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website about options for mortgage and housing assistance.

Is there anything else I can do to incentivize them?

Tenants who have historically paid their rent on time can benefit from having you report their rental payment history to the credit bureaus as a way to boost their credit score. For tenants who are asking you for leniency in the near-term, offering to report their rent payment activity gives them an incentive to keep paying their rent as long as they can, and also encourages them to uphold commitments they make to you in terms of repayment. RentReporters makes it very easy to report the past two to four years of payment history at minimal cost. For more information, visit https://www.rentreporters.com/landlords/.  


Given current housing conditions, it’s much better to work with your good tenants and allow them to continue living in your unit for as long as possible. If they truly believe there is no possibility of repayment, exiting the unit may be the only option. However, while the situation today is not great, it won’t last forever and your tenants may soon be able to meet their financial obligations again, so working with your tenants and possibly forgiving their rent may work best for everyone.

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