What landlords, tenants need to know if rent is due but can’t be paid

There are area resources available to help people navigate rent assistance, unemployment

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– It’s the beginning of the month which means rent may be due or already past due. But for the thousands of people who were laid off or under-employed because of the coronavirus, paying these bills might not be possible.

Last week, both Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed orders halting the eviction of renters based on failure to pay. Pamela Strittmater, president of the Apartment Association of the La Crosse Area, was nervous when she first heard the news.

“I was concerned that tenants would think that this is just not a time to pay rent,” Strittmater said.

The orders do explicitly say that this does not relieve anyone of the duty to pay rent, make mortgage payments, or any other obligation under a tenancy or mortgage. There is one way renters could be served a notice terminating a tenancy or eviction from a property. However, the landlord would have to have an affidavit showing that someone else is at risk of serious physical harm.

The Wisconsin Apartment Association has also developed a COVID-19 Task Force to help landlords understand changes and orders because of the crisis. It is posting updates on its Facebook page and website.

Strittmater said being a landlord is like any other small business that’s still running. One apartment she oversees, for example, has utilities included in the rent payment. If that person doesn’t pay, she can’t put that toward it.

“Repairs still need to be done, bills still need to be paid,” Strittmater said.

She understands that people may have fallen on tough times. If someone cannot afford all or part of the rent, they need to let their landlord know right away.

“We all just need to work together and communicate and work out a plan,” Strittmater said.

One option may be to contact Catholic Charities, which assists anyone in need, regardless of religion, in 19 Wisconsin counties. There are offices in Eau Claire, Wausau and Loyal that can connect you with an advisor.

“Once they do talk with somebody, they’ll do an assessment and intake over the phone,” said Shannon Parker, Coordinator of the Representative Payee Program and St. Lawrence Community Services Programs for Catholic Charities.

The area advisors work with people to understand their situation, develop a financial plan and ways to address immediate needs.

“Making sure they know about unemployment, and other local resources too,” Parker said.

The organization can provide some financial assistance to pay rent or utilities. But Parker said they have to treat this like a disaster situation.

“We know that after the immediate crisis is over, that there’s still going to be some long term ripple effects,” Parker said.

People can contact Toni Z (608) at 519-8014 or Nick H (608) at 519-8041 with Catholic Charities for more information.

Several resources will be available to eligible workers in the Cares Act. The Tenant Resource Center may also help renters understand available options.