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Use your security deposit for rent? An expert’s advice on what to do if you can’t afford rent payments

Even if renters are “safe” from evictions now, they’re still on the hook for rent. However here are steps to take to help ease the burden.

ATLANTA — Millions of Americans out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic continue to worry about rent. Some steps have been taken to prevent evictions, such as the Atlanta City Council approving a 60-day moratorium on evictions in the city’s public housing.

The federal stimulus package, signed by President Trump, bans evictions for the time being in buildings that have received federally backed loans along with Section 8 Housing. Also, the Georgia Supreme Court has halted all non-essential court proceedings in the state. Which means, eviction orders can’t be processed for the time being.

However, landlords can still file for evictions. Even if renters are “safe” from evictions now, they’re still on the hook for rent.

“You are going to be responsible for paying that back rent,” said Brian Carberry, Managing Editor of Apartment Guide. “If that restriction is lifted and you do owe back rent and you continue to not pay it, or you’re ignoring your landlord’s request for payment, they will have the right to evict you once this is all said and done.”

Carberry said the best thing to do if you can’t afford rent, is to talk to your landlord. Be transparent with your landlord about your situation, if you were laid off, furloughed, cut wages. Also, ask if you can use your security deposit towards a payment of the rent or try to set up a payment plan or rent deferral and get it in writing (more on that below.)

Carberry admitted it may be easier to deal with larger corporations than individual landlords.

“Because an individual landlord is going to depend on your rent payment more than a larger company that is getting payments from thousands of people.”

In addition, larger companies are offering rent deferrals, payments plans or have set up relief funds. Carberry said check with the office or property manager or with the corporation itself that owns your apartment complex to see if there’s assistance you can take advantage of.

That’s not to say an individual landlord won’t work with you. Carberry said just make sure you deliver on your side of the payment plan.

"If you're facing financial hardships, chances are your landlord is facing the same issues as well. While there are a few landlords that may be hard to work with, we've seen many more who are willing to help. But, you have to make sure you come up with a plan that works for both of you."

Carberry said don’t break a lease to move if you cannot afford current rent payments. Chances are, you’ll have to pay a penalty for breaking the lease and may have to pay a security deposit on the place you’re moving to.

“The monthly cost of your rent might be cheaper if you move, but other costs may add up to more if you can’t afford to pay your rent now.”

Other advice Carberry offered:

Show your need by providing documentation or proof of the severity of your financial situation. The more you have the better, whether it's a memo from your employer indicating the length of your layoff or a copy of your unemployment compensation application. Don't be ashamed of needing help. Millions of Americans are in the same exact situation as you are right now.

Let your landlord or property manager know how much you can reasonably pay now and how much you'll be able to pay over the next month or two. Unless you're in dire straits, you should offer to pay at least some of your rent. If you offer something, they're more likely to agree to your plan.

Give them a specific date when you'll be paying back the remainder, along with full payment of that month. Stick to that date. If you can't, discuss an extension with your landlord as early as you can.

Provide all of this in writing, signed and awaiting their countersignature.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's website offers links to a number of helpful resources for rental assistance, such as state or local financial assistance programs.

The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities may also be sources of rental support, as well. You can also contact the United Way by dialing 2-1-1 to be connected to local organizations that may be able to help.

If you or anyone in your household is a veteran, HUD and the U.S. Veterans Administration has programs that can help with rent.

Don't forget about the CARES Act.

Finally, Carberry said be patient. "It's like the stimulus money, it may take a few days or weeks for money to hit your account."

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.

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