If you missed rent payments because of the pandemic, you have only two weeks left to apply for state help in paying what you owe.
California’s Housing is Key program will pay all of the rent debt that eligible renters have run up since April 2020. Landlords can apply too if their tenants meet the program’s criteria and provide the necessary paperwork.
The state announced this week, however, that the program will stop accepting applications on March 31. Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said the program is running short of funds, which is why it’s shutting down.
As of Tuesday, the state had received more than 480,000 completed applications and distributed more than $2.3 billion on behalf of almost 206,000 households. The grants, which can cover unpaid rent and utility bills, are averaging $11,508.
But there’s no shortage of other tenants with rent debt. The National Equity Atlas, a joint effort by the USC Equity Institute and PolicyLink, estimated that 740,000 California households owed more than $3.5 billion in unpaid rent as of early February.
The program’s rent relief goes directly to landlords if they participate; if not, the aid goes to renters, who are obliged to pay it to their landlords.
If you are behind on your rent because of COVID-related issues, here’s how to determine if the state’s program can help you, and if so, how to apply. The state says it takes less than an hour to apply, but you’d better hurry — time is running out.
Who qualifies for help?
The relief is available for people living in rented homes, apartment units or mobile homes, subject to two main eligibility rules.
First, tenants have to attest that they suffered a financial hardship related to COVID-19, such as lost wages or increased medical or child care expenses. (A full list can be found on the Housing Is Key website.) Applicants don’t have to provide evidence of the hardship, but false claims would expose them to charges of perjury and, potentially, fraud.
Second, applicants cannot earn more than 80% of the area median income, which in Los Angeles County is $66,250 for an individual and $94,600 for a family of four. The program’s online application form will show you what the income limit is for your household.
California tenants who are not U.S. citizens are eligible for the program as long as they meet the two requirements.
Landlords can also apply for aid, but they’ll need the cooperation of their tenants, who will have to provide the attestation and paperwork required by the state.
People who live in the city of Los Angeles and other communities participating in the state program can apply online at Housing Is Key. Some cities, though, run their own programs with their own application processes on their local websites. Long Beach is one example. To find out if your city is participating in the state program, consult this map at Housing Is Key.
What you need to apply
The state requires little paperwork to obtain help with rent debt. If you’re a tenant seeking relief, you’ll need to submit a copy of one of the following:
- Your 2020 tax return;
- Your 2020 W-2 and, if you were unemployed, your 1099-G;
- Your current pay stubs;
- Proof that you participated in a state or federal safety net program, such as CalFresh (preferably, an acceptance or renewal letter from 2020 or 2021).
For help with money you owe for utilities, trash removal and internet service, you’ll need to submit copies of your bills.
The state says it’s possible to apply without that paperwork, though, as long as the applicant can provide proof of identity.
The paperwork burden on landlords is a bit heavier. To qualify, you are expected to submit copies of all of the following:
- The lease or rental agreement reflecting the renter’s name, residence address and monthly rent due;
- A rent ledger or rent statement showing the balance of unpaid rent from April 1, 2020;
- Your W-8 or W-9, if you received one.
As with tenant applicants, landlords unable to provide any of these documents may still apply and work with the state on other ways to verify their claims.
Can I be evicted?
In cities and counties without local protections, the state rent relief program can provide at least a temporary shield against eviction for renters who moved in before Oct. 1. Under state law, a landlord cannot seek to evict tenants for nonpayment before March 31 unless the landlord has applied to Housing is Key and has been denied, or unless the tenants have not informed the landlord that they’ve applied to the program.
That’s all the more reason to apply to Housing is Key before March 31.
The city of Los Angeles has its own eviction moratorium that’s scheduled to continue at least until April 1, 2023.
In cities without their own ordinances, L.A. County’s tenant protections apply, and they’re more complicated. Under the county’s rules, all renters affected by COVID are protected against eviction for failing to pay their rent in April and May of this year. They will have until May 31, 2023, to pay that debt. In addition, COVID-affected tenants who make no more than 80% of the county’s area median income will be protected against eviction for nonpayment of their rents for the months of April through December of this year. These renters will have until Dec. 31, 2023, to make those payments.
Where can I get help with my application?
Housing Is Key offers a hotline — (833) 687-0967 — and a list of organizations in each county that can provide guidance, computers and internet access.
Here are some other resources: