How to Move on Financially Following an Eviction
So, the worst case scenario occurred after the federal government lifted the eviction moratorium put in place during the pandemic. You fell too far behind in rent, could not recover, and now your landlord has filed an eviction notice. How can you find a place to live, rebuild your credit and take back control of your finances?
It’s Not Over With the First Notice
First thing’s first, say the experts: Don’t panic. The reality is that you probably have enough time to get your ducks in a row following an eviction notice.
“Eviction is a legal process that can take weeks to months to complete, depending on the circumstances and the laws in the city and/or state where the eviction takes place,” says Andrew Schrage, personal finance expert and the co-founder and CEO of Money Crashers personal finance site. “It’s important not to panic and start packing your things the moment you receive an eviction notice.”
Harold Dvorkin, CPA, chairman of Debt.com, agrees, noting that it could be worth it to try to appeal the eviction. “The process varies by state, but at the very least, it can buy you more time. In Massachusetts, for example, you have 10 days to appeal after a court orders your eviction,” he said.
“If you believe your eviction is unlawful, you should contact a qualified tenants’ rights attorney and explore your legal remedies,” Schrage said.
Of course, you’ll need a lawyer to fight an eviction in court. But many cities offer pro bono legal services for low-income renters facing eviction. In the long run, it costs most cities less to try to keep people in their apartments than it does to house displaced families or individuals.
One cost-benefit analysis of legal counsel for New York City renters discovered that a right-to-counsel program would cost $200 million per year but save the city $320 million in various cost related to homelessness and the preservation of affordable housing.
Landlords, too, for the most part, would like to keep their tenants. It’s easier and less expensive to work out a payment arrangement with a tenant than it is to find new renters. “If you believe you can come to an accommodation with your landlord to satisfy back rent, you should attempt to do so, making sure to document every step of the negotiation process in writing,” Schrage advised.
You’re Evicted: Now What?
Sometimes, even the best attempts at negotiation or legal action fail. But there’s help available, whether that means couch-surfing with family or friends for a short time or looking into city, state or federal rental assistance.
“The easiest place to start is probably the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by searching help for renters,” Dvorkin said. This site curates the various programs available, which can help point you in the right direction.
If that research seems too much during this stressful time, you can also enlist the help of a housing counselor from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Simply call 800-569-4287 or visit the CFPB website to find a housing counselor in your area.
If you live in federally subsidized housing, you may be able to apply for income recertification. If your income has decreased as a result of the pandemic or other factors, you may qualify for lower rent payments. Ask your Public Housing Authority or your current landlord — if you haven’t yet vacated the premises — for “income recertification.” You may be able to negotiate with your landlord and offer to put any money you save toward back rent, enabling you to stay in your apartment.
If you can’t find help through HUD, look into the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance program. The program was put into place to provide local assistance to those affected by the moratorium.
“The program funds a slew of local rental assistance programs that help people afford rent, security deposits, utilities and home energy expenses. These programs may also connect people short on funds, including those who’ve recently been evicted, with affordable housing communities near where they currently live,” said Schrage.
You can find a list of programs, sorted alphabetically by state and then by county, at the CFPB website.
Finding a New Place to Live
If you can’t stay with family or friends and assistance programs fall short of the funds you need, you may need to turn to a shelter as a temporary solution. Local churches and food pantries can often direct those in need to a place to stay.
Schrage also recommends contacting your city or county housing department to find a shelter in your location. “Every shelter has its own rules, but understand that you likely won’t be able to spend daytime hours in the shelter. You’ll need to leave in the morning and return in the evening if you still need housing,” he said.
Rebuilding Your Credit
As your hunt for housing continues, you’ll want to do everything you can to save money while rebuilding your credit if it took a hit in the eviction. Fortunately, an eviction by itself won’t directly affect your FICO credit score, the three-digit number that lenders, landlords and even some employers use to determine your creditworthiness.
But your landlord can report unpaid rent to the credit bureaus, which will damage your credit since it will show up as past due payments on your credit report.
Also, as Dvorkin pointed out, “I’ll go out on a limb and say someone who’s been evicted probably doesn’t have a stellar credit score to begin with. Obviously, they’re short on cash, and may have been running up their credit cards to cover living expenses.”
He recommended seeking the services of a nonprofit credit counseling agency for a free debt analysis. “Getting into debt is easy,” Dvorkin said. “Getting out often requires an expert.”
There are several steps you can take to rebuild your credit. “Try to pay down outstanding credit balances over time to reduce your credit utilization ratio,” said Schrage. “And try to make the minimum payment on credit card bills and other loans on time, no matter what.”
How to Prove Your Income
If you’re still working — whether you have a full-time job or have been earning money in the gig economy — you have a better chance of digging yourself out of a financial hole and qualifying for another rental.
If you have money coming in, proving your income should be relatively simple. “[Many landlords will accept] IRS tax returns, W2 income statement, a 1099 form, a bank statement, a copy of your paycheck or even a letter from your employer. Of all the documentation a landlord might want, a letter from your employer is the easiest to get,” Dvorkin said.
How to Prove You’re a Trustworthy Tenant
If you can show you have the funds to pay for a place — and that housing won’t make up more than about 30% of your income — the next step is proving to your landlord that you’ll be a reliable tenant.
“If possible, find a co-signer for your next apartment lease,” Schrage advised. “Many landlords are reluctant to rent to tenants with eviction records without one.”
If you don’t have a co-signer, you’re left with two options:
- Find a landlord who doesn’t search eviction records or pull credit files.
- Convince the landlord you’re trustworthy in spite of your financial past.
“Landlords don’t succumb to emotional pleas,” Dvorkin said. “So, get references from past landlords who can vouch for you. If you can prove your eviction was an aberration, you have a better shot at moving into a new place.”
If you don’t have any prior landlords besides the one who evicted you, it’s time to pull out all stops to find character references. “Cast a wide net for personal, professional and housing-related references,” said Schrage, noting that you should make a list of co-workers, bosses, teachers and mentors. “Anyone who can vouch for your character and trustworthiness is a good reference.”
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