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Behind on your rent or mortgage? Here's what to do

What to do if you can't pay your rent or mortgage
What to do if you can't pay your rent or mort... 04:41

The coronavirus recession is hitting Americans in their homes. As many as 11 million don't think they'll be able to pay  the rent next month, according to the Census Bureau, while nearly 3 million people are behind on their mortgage.

Still, renters and homeowners aren't powerless. While a federal eviction ban will expire this month, states and cities have also passed renter protections, some of which may be stronger than the federal ban.

Michael Sema, founder and CEO of Get a Rate, told CBSN that renters should always check locally to see what programs are available.

"Always double-check to see what state, city, county websites have," Sema told CBSN.

Organizations such as the Low-Income Housing Coalition keep track of statewide policies to protect renters, as well as when those policies expire. For instance, while the federal moratorium on evictions expires on December 31, California has banned evictions until February 1. Users can also search on the site LegalFAQ to find programs in their area.

The federal ban on evictions, which is effective through year-end, applies to renters with annual income of less than $99,000, have suffered financially in the pandemic and have tried to get help. The Princeton Eviction Lab provides guidelines and a form renters can sign to declare that they qualify for relief.

Check the mortgage

Renters should check what kind of mortgage their landlord has, Sema suggested. For instance, if the federal government holds the mortgage to a property, a tenant might have additional protections from eviction or more time to pay their rent. About 33 million households nationwide have federally backed mortgages, according to the Urban Institute, a centrist think tank.

"If their landlords have a government program, it might give them additional assistance to stop payments a little bit longer — give them a chance to catch up," Sema said.

Any homeowner with a mortgage, including a privately held one, should feel entitled to ask for forbearance from their servicer if they've been affected by the pandemic. A forbearance provides more time to pay off a loan.

"It's like hitting a pause button on your mortgage payments," Sema said. Some 2.8 million homeowners are currently in forbearance plans, according to the Mortgage Brokers Association.

Homeowners also have several options for handling the missed payments, such as spreading them out over the life of the mortgage or paying a lump sum at the end.

Get it in writing

Whether a renter or homeowner, it's important to document all communications with landlords, banks or loan servicers, especially when it comes to putting an agreement in writing.

"Make sure you have an agreement, in black and white, to be able to sign off on it and have something fully executed by both parties," Sema said.

LegalFAQ recommends that renters communicate with landlords by email, or keep copies of letters sent by mail, as well as keeping any documentation of coronavirus-related hardships. These can be important if there is a dispute down the road.

"These can be letters from your employer about termination, cut in pay or reduction of hours; paychecks and bank statements; bills for health expenses; or letters from a school or child care about closures," the website says. 

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