A rent deferral agreement can help tenants experiencing financial insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic. But to receive rent deferral, you have to ask. And the sooner you ask, the better.
“We encourage our residents to get in contact with us ASAP if they are not able to pay their rent on time,” says Justin Becker, owner of Brookfield Management, which represents four properties in Michigan. “We are willing to work with our residents on payment plans, as long as they hold up their end of the bargain.”
What does rent deferral mean?
Rent deferral allows a tenant to defer (or postpone) rent payment until a later date, as specified in a written rent deferral agreement or rent deferment agreement.
Regardless of what you call the document, rent deferral occurs only for an agreed-upon amount of time, which is negotiated by the tenant and the property owner in advance. Rental companies enter into these agreements on a tenant-by-tenant basis, based on well-documented individual need.
Typically, only a portion of the total rent payment is deferred. Most renters continue to make minimum payments by the dates specified in the rent deferment agreement.
Rent deferral doesn’t equal free rent
The federal CARES Act and many states, cities and municipalities have temporarily banned evictions due to nonpayment of rent because of coronavirus-related events. But that doesn’t mean that the rent isn’t due.
“Many residents are taking information put out by municipalities that there is a moratorium on evictions to mean that they just don’t have to pay rent, when that isn’t actually the case,” says Shravan Parsi, CEO and founder of commercial real estate company American Ventures. “So, while we have a responsibility to notify residents of the situation, they also have a responsibility to discuss their personal situation with us.”
Similarly, rent deferral does not forgive past due rent, nor does it mean that residents can stay in their homes rent-free. The latter situation would require a rent abatement agreement, which is a completely different document.
Even if you obtain a rent deferral, you’ll still be responsible for paying your rent. Rent deferral is a tool to negotiate to pay more of the total dollar amount later. It’s a temporary way to relieve financial pressure during a period of unexpected economic difficulty.
How does rent deferral work?
Rent deferral offers a renter more time and flexibility to make rent while still contributing funds to help a property owner meet their own financial obligations. It’s a very personalized agreement that takes into account the financial needs and challenges of both parties.
A rental deferment document will include a revised payment schedule to accommodate the renter’s changed circumstances, the total dollar amount to be paid and the duration of the agreement. At the end of the specified time period, the tenant will resume paying the regular rent in addition to paying the deferred rent.
The deferred rent is typically paid in a series of installments that are agreed upon by both the tenant and the landlord. As long as the renter meets the conditions of the rent deferral agreement, they will be able to stay in their home while the agreement is in effect.
How to reach out to your landlord
Most property owners have anticipated that at least some of their tenants will be affected by coronavirus-related furloughs and layoffs. As Parsi mentioned, many have taken steps to ask renters to reach out if they anticipate financial difficulties ahead. Such communications often include flyers or letters.
This correspondence is an important first step and provides tenants the information they need to make contact with the rental company, should the need arise. Since many property owners and management companies are working remotely due to social distancing, the preferred communication methods or contact people might be different than in pre-pandemic times.
1. Gather your documents
Once you know who to contact and how, gather your supporting documents. Your landlord has many tenants and it’s your responsibility to make sure that they understand your financial situation clearly. They’ll require written documentation for their files. It’s also a helpful visual aid.
Record the dates of furloughs or layoffs that have affected your income. (And include projected re-opening or re-hiring dates, if applicable.) Detail financial assets you can bring to the table, including government assistance, tax relief programs, private insurance payments, severance pay and alternate sources of funding such as a part-time job or temporary gig work. They may ask you to supply supporting documentation like pay stubs, layoff notices or bank statements, so make sure you can obtain them quickly.
2. Draft a letter
Once you’ve gathered your information, reach out to the property management company to request a meeting as soon as possible. This shows consideration for the property owner and indicates that you’re actively seeing a solution. And practically speaking, it’ll help you avoid the stress of rushing around right before the rent is due, something both you and the landlord will appreciate.
Due to social distancing, it’s possible that this meeting will be virtual, held over a video conference, on the phone or via email. No matter the forum, it’s important to document in writing every step in the rent deferral agreement process, including your initial letter to your landlord.
Keep your tone respectful and upbeat, but be honest about your situation. Mention that you can provide all the financial documentation listed above so they can clearly see how this financial need arose.
Lay out what you’re able to pay and when in a rent payment plan. Consider making a larger payment upfront if you’re able, both as a gesture of good faith and to guard against unanticipated financial setbacks down the road. (Remember, you’re still responsible for the total amount of rent you’ll owe and will have to pay it back eventually.)
Rent deferral agreement sample request
If you’re struggling to put everything in words, seeing a template can help. Just insert your information into this sample letter, and you’re ready to take the next step. Send your request via email and follow up with a printed copy sent directly to the office.