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Can't pay your rent? Here's what you should do

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A monthlong battle with the coronavirus made it difficult for Esteban Giron and his husband to pay their $990 rent. "I was so sick I could barely walk to the bathroom," Giron, 41, said.

He's lived in his apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for over seven years, and if he had to move out, it would be devastating, he said. 

"I've never felt so at home," Giron said.

The coronavirus pandemic has made almost every facet of American life harder, and coming up with rent is high on that list. More than 20 million jobs in America disappeared in April, and nearly 15% of people in the U.S. are now jobless.

Although the paychecks have stopped, the rent bills haven't. 

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In response to the public health crisis, many states have ordered a moratorium on evictions. Still, the economic pain of the crisis is likely to outlast many of the temporary relief measures, experts say.

"The moment these moratoriums are lifted, we'll see massive evictions," said Emily A. Benfer, a professor at Columbia Law School. 

Meanwhile, renters in some states haven't even been given a temporary break. Eviction proceedings continue to unfold in states such as Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri and Idaho, albeit over Zoom or on the phone instead of in a courtroom. 

Still, there are steps you can take and relief you can apply for to try to stave off an eviction. 

Learn your protections 

The first step is to learn what protections your state has (and hasn't) provided you.

Benfer has been following and documenting rent policies during the crisis by location. Check the rules often, as the situation is constantly evolving. For example, this week New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the state's moratorium on evictions to Aug. 20, from June 20. 

Another thing to check for: In the absence of state protections, some cities and counties have issued their own moratoriums, such as the temporary suspension of evictions in St. Louis, Benfer said. 

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"There might be some protections for renters locally," she said. 

Regardless of where you live, the stimulus package Congress passed in March bans evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing. Government-sponsored lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac released tools recently that help renters search their property to learn if it qualifies for the eviction moratorium. (The Urban Institute estimates the provision will cover nearly 30% of the country's rental units.) 

If your landlord attempts to flout the protections, you should quickly lodge a complaint with your state's attorney general or city counselor's office, said Anthony Alexis, a partner in Goodwin's financial industry and consumer financial services litigation practices. 

Apply for relief

In the March stimulus package, unemployed people are eligible for an extra $600 per week, through July, on top of their weekly state benefit. The bill also expanded benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.  Hopefully these checks will help with your rent.

There's this recognition that this downturn is unlike anything we've ever seen.
Chase Harrington
president of Entrata

Some states have established funds to help struggling renters. Arizona has earmarked $5 million to help tenants in the state stay in their homes. Residents in Delaware can now apply for up to $1,500 in rental assistance. Similar relief measures are available to those in Montana, Ohio and New York

More than 100 organizations sent a letter to members of Congress this week, asking them to support direct financial assistance to struggling renters. 

Talk to your landlord

Many landlords are showing flexibility with struggling tenants during the pandemic, said Chase Harrington, president of Entrata, a property management software company. 

Landlords are waiving late fees and establishing payment plans, he said. 

The average property owner has helped around 10% of their tenants with payment obligations, according to a survey conducted in April by the National Apartment Association. 

"There's this recognition that this downturn is unlike anything we've ever seen," Harrington said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.