Are You a Kentuckian Who Can’t Pay Rent Right Now?

Updated: Nov 2

**UPDATED JUNE 1st in light of the Governor's and Kentucky Supreme Court's Orders allowing landlords to file evictions starting June 1 if they claim a reason other than nonpayment of rent**


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A global pandemic. 25 percent of Kentucky workers out of work. Governor's Orders. #HealthyAtHome. Delays in unemployment payments.


What is a person who rents their home supposed to do?


Here are some answers to questions you may have about renters' rights in the time of COVID–19.

What protections are in place for Kentuckians who rent their homes?


Unfortunately, what protections exist for Kentuckians who rent their homes depends on a few different factors. First, is the property covered by the CARES Act? (More info on the CARES Act protections below.) And, second, is your landlord seeking to evict you for a reason other than nonpayment of rent?


After suspending all activity related to evictions until July, the Kentucky Supreme Court changed its Order on Friday, May 29th to begin allowing landlords to pursue evictions starting on June 1st if the (claimed) reason for that eviction is something other than nonpayment of rent. Eviction filings for residential properties for nonpayment of rent are suspended until Gov. Beshear changes his Executive Order. And, in properties covered by the CARES Act, renters can't face eviction for nonpayment of rent until July 25th. (They can now face eviction for non-nonpayment of rent reasons starting today.)


Don't these changes just give landlords a chance to file evictions against people who can't pay rent right now based on pretextual "violations" of the lease agreement?


Yes.

This seems confusing and unfair. Are there any lawyers I can talk with for guidance?


There are four legal aid organizations working across the state to help renters with their legal issues. Find the one serving your county at HomerenterDeclaration.org. (There's more information about finding a lawyer at the bottom of this post, as well.)



If my landlord is claiming some breach based on something other than nonpayment of rent, do I get a chance to fix it?


It depends. Because the Kentucky legislature has not passed the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) statewide, the rights Kentuckians have in dealing with their landlords depends on where the rental property is located. In URLTA jurisdictions, a landlord must provide a renter with what's called a "14-day letter". This notice will describe the breach and give the renter 14 days to "cure" (fix) the problem. In non-URLTA jurisdictions, what notice renters get will depend on the rental agreement. (Hint: it won't be much.)


Where does URLTA apply?


The following counties have adopted URLTA: Fayette, Jefferson, Oldham, Pulaski.


The following cities have adopted URLTA: Barbourville, Bellevue, Bromley, Covington, Dayton, Florence, Georgetown, Ludlow, Melbourne, Newport, Silver Grove, Southgate, Shelbyville, Taylor Mill, and Woodlawn.


Isn't evicting people contrary to Kentucky's efforts to be #HealthyAtHome?


Yes. Evictions—even in normal times—cause massive disruption in peoples’ lives. Now (during a global pandemic), disruptive evictions create an even greater risk to public health and safety than they normally do. It is not safe or even possible for people to move, seek new housing, and run all the errands necessary to transition to new housing during this pandemic.


Do I have to pay rent?


Yes. None of the laws or orders that have been passed suspend a person’s obligation to pay rent. If at all possible, pay your rent.


What these protections do is prevent Kentuckians from having to choose between paying rent and feeding their families or buying necessary medicines. Or deciding to risk their personal safety to make enough money to pay rent.


These protections mean that landlords cannot evict renters right now. When the Governor lifts his Order, when the Kentucky Supreme Court allows evictions to be filed again, Kentuckians who are behind on their rent will be vulnerable to eviction actions.

In addition to eviction actions, landlords can also file a lawsuit against you for the rent you did not pay (plus late fees and other costs) and potentially the balance of the rent payments you owe under the lease.


I can’t pay rent right now. What do I tell my landlord?


Tell your landlord you can’t pay rent because there’s a global pandemic going on. KEJC has prepared a tool to quickly and easily generate a letter to your landlord to let your landlord know what’s up. You can download the letter, customize it (or not), and ship it out.


Maintaining a good relationship with your landlord during this time of hardship is important. Or, at minimum, clearly communicating with your landlord is in your best interest. If you are going to have a hard time paying rent in the coming months, you should tell your landlord:


1) why you can’t pay rent

2) what steps you’ve taken to find money to pay rent

3) what your plan is to pay rent eventually.


KEJC’s letter generator helps you deliver this information to your landlord.

You should communicate this information in a way that you can document what you told your landlord. If you send a letter, send it certified mail. If you send an email, save a .pdf of the email. If you send a text message, take a screenshot of the text message after you’ve sent it. If you have a conversation with your landlord, you can record that conversation. (Note: in some states it is illegal to record a conversation unless both parties know the conversation is being recorded. In Kentucky, it is legal to record a conversation as long as one party knows it is being recorded.)


The generated letter includes language requesting that the landlord only communicate via email or text.


I lost my job or lost hours. I can’t afford rent or food or health care. What help is available to me?


KEJC is maintaining a list of programs that may help you get the food, health care, and money you need during this crisis. Please apply for as many as you can and understand: programs are changing almost every day in order to help more people during this crisis. If you don’t qualify for a certain program this week, you need to check again in coming weeks.



Can a landlord charge late fees during the crisis?


It depends. If you live in a “covered property” under the CARES Act, your landlord is prohibited from charging late fees. If your landlord is subject to the CARES Act and is trying to charge you late fees, you need to speak with an attorney right away (see below for finding an attorney).


However, if your landlord is not subject to the CARES Act and your lease agreement includes late fees, your landlord can charge you late fees if you pay rent late or can’t pay rent.


Can a landlord raise my rent during the crisis?


I wrote a whole blog post on this. The short answer is “Probably, yes, but that is not a very chill thing to do.” Of course, if you have a lease agreement that runs until, for example, September, the landlord can’t raise rent until the lease agreement ends. But, if you are a month-to-month tenant, your landlord can (but should not) raise your rent. Please read the whole blog post on this question.


What federal programs make a landlord subject to CARES Act restrictions?


A full list of programs is available from the National Housing Law Project’s CARES Act Eviction Moratorium Summary, but it includes landlords who participate in public housing, Section 8, programs for people who are elderly or disabled, Low Income Housing Tax Credit, and many rural housing programs.


Critically, the CARES Act also protects anyone who rents from a landlord whose mortgage is backed by the federal government’s mortgage programs (FHA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac). This includes properties with only 1-4 units as well as multifamily units.


How can I find out whether my landlord’s mortgage is backed by FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?


Good question! For people who live in multifamily units, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has a table and map of (almost) all the multifamily properties insured by a federal housing program.


Finding out whether a house or other 1-4 unit property is a “covered property” will be more difficult. Sometimes that kind of information can be deduced from county land records, but not always. And, we don’t exactly recommend asking your landlord whether the house is a “covered property” under the CARES Act. I wish we had a better answer for this problem.


Do I have to pay utilities?


Yes. If your lease agreement requires you to pay utilities, you still need to pay utilities. If your utilities are included in your rent payment, your landlord should (as a good person) continue to provide those utilities to you. Note: some utility companies in Kentucky have promised not to shut off services during the crisis.


What do I do if my landlord shuts off my water? Electric? Cable? Internet?


Call the utility company and see if it will restore service. See if you can get the service put in your name.


Call a lawyer. If your landlord has shut off utilities, this could be an unlawful ouster and you need legal help, stat. (Sorry, solutions to a utility shut-off problem will depend on the facts of your situation, including where you live in the state and what utility you’re deprived of. No easy answers.)


What do I do if my landlord tells me to move?


Everybody is stressed right now. Just like you’re stressed about paying rent, your landlord is probably stressed about making a mortgage payment, or paying employees, or whatever: maybe your debt-free, greedy landlord is just stressed about not making as much money as he or she normally does.


If your landlord tells you to move out, tell your landlord that you are not going to move until it is safe to move. Right now, it is not safe to find new housing and move into that new housing. These renter protections are in place for a reason: they save lives. Don’t let your landlord put your life and the lives of others at risk by moving because of your landlord’s threats.


While you’re telling your landlord you’re not going anywhere for the time being, you can also take this opportunity to tell your landlord what your plan is for catching up on rent payments.


What do I do if my landlord locks me out? Moves my stuff to the curb while I’m gone?


Call the police. Take pictures. Take video. Narrate the video with what happened. What you see. Then, call a lawyer.


What do I do if law enforcement officials are helping the landlord move my stuff or overseeing the process?


That shouldn’t happen. The Governor’s Order explicitly says so. Show them the Governor’s Order. Tell them this shouldn’t be happening. Take video (if it’s safe). Then, call a lawyer.


My landlord has told me he is going to send my account to collections? What does that mean and can he do that?


In a situation where a renter can’t/doesn’t pay rent, landlords can file two lawsuits: one to get a tenant out of the property (physical possession) and another to get a money judgment against a person (for destruction of property, unpaid rent, etc.) For now, landlords cannot file the lawsuit to get physical possession (evictions are technically called “forcible detainer” actions in Kentucky).


However, there’s no Order or law preventing landlords from filing the lawsuit to collect unpaid rent. So, you may be receiving letters or phone calls from a debt collector or debt collection attorney. Or, you may receive papers (a Summons and Complaint) for a collection lawsuit.


It’s very important to file an Answer to that lawsuit. Seek legal help. If you do not file an Answer to that lawsuit, the landlord wins by default. Plus, if your landlord (or your landlord’s attorney or debt collection company) is charging fees they’re not allowed to charge, you may have counterclaims that might help you avoid eviction and/or recover damages from your landlord.


My landlord has told me he will accept work or sexual favors in exchange for rent. What do I do?


Okay, this is called a quid pro quo: something for something else.


First, don’t do sex things with your landlord in exchange for rent. Unfortunately, this kind of coercive conduct is not rare in Kentucky. Sexual harassment is sexual assault.


If your landlord suggests sex things in exchange for rent, report him (you know it’s a him) to the Kentucky Human Rights Commission and find a lawyer. The Human Rights Commission enforces Kentucky's civil rights laws, which prohibits discrimination based on (among other things) gender and national origin. So, if your landlord is coercing sexual favors in exchange for rent from you (a woman and/or a person without documents), he may be violating Kentucky's civil rights laws if he's not also coercing sexual favors from men and/or U.S. citizens.


And, if you did what you needed to do to survive, it is not your fault. Help is always available through the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE.


Second, if you do decide to paint a fence or mow lawns or something in exchange for rent, make sure you document the agreement. It doesn’t have to be a formal, signed document (though that would be nice). Text your landlord and say, “I’m going to mow those yards today. This will be in exchange for May rent as we discussed.” Then, take pictures of the mowed yards, text those to your landlord, and save the texts and the pictures yourself somewhere safe.


What if I’m living with an abusive partner and I need him or her out?


Gov. Beshear’s Executive Order about evictions does not affect your right to get a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) from a judge ordering your abuser to vacate your rented home or apartment. For help with this, please contact the legal aid organization in your area.


What if I want renters to have more and better protections in Kentucky all the time, not just in a pandemic?


Whether you’re a renter or not, you can sign up for action alerts from KEJC to learn about opportunities to take action locally and in Frankfort to secure better protections for renters across Kentucky.


Additionally, whether you are a renter or homeowner, two organizations are collecting information on Kentuckians and their housing experiences. You can fill out surveys at Lexington Fair Housing Council (Kentucky-wide) and the Root Cause Research Center (Louisville) to provide advocates with more information about housing in Kentucky.


I’ve read this whole post. Are you my lawyer now?


No. KEJC is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that works across the Commonwealth on issues affecting people experiencing poverty. We are providing this information for the public’s benefit at a time of crisis. While we are all united in our efforts to prevent COVID–19 from spreading further, each of our circumstances are different. If you are having trouble paying rent or have another problem with your landlord, please seek actual legal advice from an attorney who can advise you on your specific situation. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else.


How do I find legal help?


Legal Aid Organizations

There are four Legal Aid organizations in Kentucky. Legal Aid firms exist to help people who do not have enough money to hire a private attorney for their civil matter. You can find out what organization serves your area by searching for your city here. If you live in Louisville or the surrounding counties, you will likely be served by the Legal Aid Society. Legal Aid of the Bluegrass serves northern, northeastern, and central Kentucky. The Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD) serves eastern and southern Kentucky while Kentucky Legal Aid works in western Kentucky.


Lawyer Referral Services

Many areas have lawyer referral services run by the local bar associations. They are a good resource to consult to begin trying to find an attorney in your area. If you get referred to an attorney and he or she can't help, I encourage you to ask him or her if they know any attorney (or attorneys) who might be better suited to help you.

Louisville Lawyer Referral Service (this serves surrounding counties, as well)

Northern Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service

Central Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service


Organizations

Two legal organizations that may have members in your area are the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the Kentucky Justice Association. Both can likely help you get a start in finding an attorney in your area to review your case. NACA's website has a "Find An Attorney" feature that helps you find a consumer lawyer close to you. The Kentucky Justice Association has a similar search feature for people seeking an attorney.


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