AUSTIN, Texas — On April 1, some people may have been scrambling and trying to figure out how to make rent and mortgage payments. But if you're financially struggling because of coronavirus layoffs, you do have some options.
"There isn't an owner or operator of a business in this country that does not know what is going on and how people are affected," said Jennifer MacGeorge, an attorney and the owner of MacGeorge Law Firm.
The Texas Workforce Commission reports companies laid off at least 4,000 Texans in March. MacGeorge said if you fall into this category, it's really important to communicate with your landlord or mortgage holder. If there are any changes to your lease or payment plan, make sure everything is in writing.
"Try to pay what you can, when you can and come to an arrangement with each other," MacGeorge said. "If you can find a way – someone in your family who has money you can borrow – f you can find some kind of way to pay your rent or mortgage, you should do that. You know, the same resources exist today that have existed. We have the Rental Assistance in Austin that you can apply for if you have certain income restrictions. There will be a waiting list for that."
The folks with the Austin Apartment Association said, "In many cases, the rental property owner may be able to waive late fees, work out payment plans or take other steps to help residents who have been financially impacted by COVID-19."
The Austin City Council is also trying to help renters, giving them a 60-day grace period before the landlord can start eviction proceedings. The Austin Tenants Council said this applies to people whose income is directly impacted. It doesn't let you off the hook for rent.
"It does give people time to make a plan and pull the resources together to pay late rent if they weren't able to pay in April, in May," said Jeannie Nelson, the Austin Tenants Council's executive director.
The council announced it would consider extending the ordinance to future months if needed. The ordinance applies only during this local disaster, as it is meant to protect public health by ensuring that people are not displaced from their homes during a time where the public is being asked to quarantine and social-distance at home.
It's important to remember the council's ordinance doesn't include people with mortgages, but the federal government recently allowed struggling homeowners with federally backed mortgages to ask for a six- to 12-month grace period.
"It's always better to pay your rent or your mortgage if you have the ability to pay it because down the road, even though you have a 60-day grace period, it doesn't mean you won't have to end up in the next expensive court battle over it," MacGeorge said.
There are a number of organizations that offer emergency rental assistance. A list of many of them can be found on the Texas Apartment Association’s renter’s resource page.
If you have questions about rent payments, you can call the Austin Tenants Council at (512) 474-7006.
And if you have legal questions for MacGeorge, you can find her contact information on her website.
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