Conversation is key for renters, landlords during COVID-19 outbreak

With millions of Americans out of work, that means rent will go unpaid. And while Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware have banned foreclosures during the pandemic, there are still many questions related to landlords and leases.

If you can't pay your rent, your landlord cannot lock you out of your apartment or rental property. That is illegal. But that doesn't mean tenants are completely off the hook when it comes to making payments.

"My husband lost his job due to the current crisis going on with COVID-19 and we weren't going to be able to make our rent," explained Alexia Stipa.

Stipa said they decided they had to move in with her parents so she contacted her landlord to get out of the lease.

"They told me to be able to get out of the lease that I'm going to have to pay them $3,500, plus my security deposit," she said.

The $3,500 was the fee to break the lease.

"With everything going on there was no way we were going to be able to pay any of that. We weren't even going to be able to pay our rent," she said.

Another tenant tweeted the Troubleshooters a letter from her landlord which said, "We ask that all residents continue to meet their lease obligations by paying rent on time, as our financial obligations have not ceased because of the virus. You will be required to provide proof of your financial situation."

"A tenant is not required to show proof of financial hardship and the landlord can't demand that. Simply put, a landlord cannot evict a tenant during this crisis," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
However, Shapiro also has a warning for tenants.

"Just because you can't be evicted right now doesn't absolve you of your requirement to ultimately make the landlord whole or make good on your commitment to pay a certain amount of money," he said. "It just means you can't be evicted during this time of crisis."

So it is critical that tenants and landlords communicate and come to an agreement about how long rent payments can be deferred and what happens when that period is over. Also, of course, best to put those terms in writing.

As for Stipa and her husband?

"I kind of felt stuck and I had nowhere else to turn so I thought you guys might be able to help," she said.

And we do have good news the Stipa's landlord has let the couple out of their lease without requiring that $3,500.

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