The short answer is YES! If you’re in financial trouble and can’t pay all your bills, make sure you pay rent. Otherwise, you can be evicted.
Many people think they can get away with letting the rent slide when finances are tough. This is especially true when renters are in a mom-and-pop type of landlord situation (as opposed to a huge management company).
Not paying rent is one of the worst financial decisions you can make.
Just because you have a mom-and-pop landlord doesn’t mean you’re actually dealing with your mom or dad. Maybe you could get away with not paying money owed to your parents, but you shouldn’t take that risk with your landlord. If you do, you could be out on the streets.
You could be evicted
Not only could you be evicted for not paying rent, an eviction goes on your personal record. When you try to rent another place, the new landlord or property manager will look at your background check and see that you’ve been evicted. And that will make it difficult for you to rent another place.
Prioritize your payments
It’s never good to skip paying a bill, but if you’re in financial trouble because of a job loss or other reason, prioritize which bills you should pay first.
Your top priorities are survival needs: food, medical, and shelter. Make sure you stay healthy and have a roof over your head. Pay for your basic needs first.
It’s better to skip your credit card payment than your rent.
Next in line: pay utilities, your car payment, and legal obligations such as child support and taxes.
After you’ve paid all the above, pay your unsecured debt, such as credit card debt.
Communication is key
When you know you won’t be able to pay all your bills, call your creditors and explain the situation. You might be able to work out a payment plan that you can afford. Some creditors might agree to take a lump sum payment—for less than what you owe—as a settlement. This lessens your bill and eliminates your monthly payments.
Talk with your landlord
Let your landlord know right away if you can’t pay rent. Don’t bury your head in the sand, hoping the situation go away. And don’t keep this information from your landlord, in the hopes they won’t notice—they will.
Besides, if you’re up front with your landlord right away, they might work with you on a solution. They might let you pay rent late one time, for example. Or they might discount your rent moving forward if you do some work in return.
Note: Most landlords are more likely to work with you if you’ve always paid the rent on time, before you lost your job (or whatever financial difficulty has come up), and if you followed all other lease terms.
Keep in mind that your landlord doesn’t have to agree to any arrangement other than what’s in the lease. Your landlord has their own bills to pay.
But it’s a good idea to ask if you can work something out if you find yourself in financial difficulty. Whether you think your landlord will agree to a special arrangement or not, let your landlord know about major changes in your life that affect your ability to pay rent, rather than just skipping out on rent payments.
Note: In general, big management companies are less likely to be flexible with rent payments than independent landlords.
Figure out a game plan
Look at your income and expenses. Maybe not being able to pay rent will only be a one-time incident. But if it looks as though you won’t be able to afford your rent payment moving forward, discuss options with your landlord. They might let you out of your lease, for example, if you agree to leave quickly.
Every situation is different, so discuss your particular case with your landlord.
Discuss your personal situation with your landlord.
What to do if you’re in financial trouble
Here are some measures you can take to help you get back on your feet:
- File for and collect unemployment if you lost your job.
- Ask about a hardship program. Call the customer service department for your credit card or loan, and ask about a hardship program that can help you pay your bill. These programs can help in various ways, such as lowering your monthly payment. In many cases, if you enter into a hardship program with your credit card issuer, they won’t report you to the credit bureaus (if you complete the program).
- Go to your city or county government website for assistance programs. You will often find grants offered by charities, churches, and the government to help with your bills and rent.
- Get counseling on how to budget. You can find reputable counselors from your local government website.
- Ask your family or friends for help.
The bottom line
It’s tough to lose your job and then have problems paying your bills. But rent is not an expense you can skip out on. Don’t risk losing your home. Many landlords, if they can financially afford to, will try to come up with a plan that both of you can live with.