A friend of mine texted to ask me if a landlord could raise the rent 1) during a global pandemic during which 2) Kentucky's Governor has ordered people to remain #HealthyAtHome, and 3) the Kentucky Supreme Court has halted eviction filings until at least May 31.
He sent me a link to a question about rent increases in Louisville he had seen on Reddit.
He also told me that someone had linked to the letter I've written for Kentuckians who can't pay some or any of their rent right now. For a nonprofit lawyer, let me just say, it is *pretty* *thrilling* to see a stranger sharing your stuff out in the wild. 🤓
Anyway, here's the question on Reddit.
It's a good question! So, I tried to answer it. I hope the information was useful to the Redditor (I am new there, but I think this is what they call themselves) and maybe it will be useful to others?
Here's my answer:
That sucks to hear that your landlord is raising rent during a global pandemic. Here’s some FAQs I wrote about renters’ rights (I also wrote the lettter/info linked above for my employer, KEJC. This guidance was written before the Kentucky Supreme Court suspended eviction filings on April 1. There’s nothing in any of these COVID–19 orders that would prevent your landlord from raising rent if they’re allowed to under the contract. Like, for example, if you’re month-to-month now and they contract says how much notice they have to give before rent increases or limits how much they can increase the rent (that won’t be in there because it doesn't benefit the landlord, only protects the renter), they would be limited by the notice or rent increase provisions in the contract. So, first step, read the rental agreement. If you can pay the increased rent, it's 100% the easiest way of proceeding. Pay it and look for a place when this settles down. If you can't pay it (or event the regular rent because you were furloughed), time to write a letter. You can use the one linked above as a template, but I would specifically say something like, "I cannot afford this rent increase. And, increasing rent at a time when your customers cannot safely or effectively shop for alternate housing is unfair. I expect you to keep my rent at $[insert amount you've been paying here] for the duration of this pandemic." In an eviction situation (no evictions can be filed in Kentucky until at least May 31 (no that does not mean don't pay your rent if you can pay your rent, people)), landlords have to 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.) Clear communication is key. If you tell them you can't pay the increased rent, but pay the regular rent, and then move out 1) when they tell you to move out or 2) before they tell you to move out, then the landlord will have to decide whether it's worth suing you to get a few hundred bucks because they increased the rent in a pandemic. (Of course, if you can't pay the regular rent, they may want you out sooner rather than later. See the note above, though, re: no evictions can be filed until May 31.) There's no telling what decision an individual landlord will make. They're all special, individual snowflakes! However, almost all landlords will sue to evict a person. Some smaller subset will sue to evict a person and sue again to collect money damages. And some smaller subset of that subset will sue to collect a relatively small amount of money damages that flowed from increasing rent in a pandemic. Is this useful? It's not legal advice (do not come to Reddit for legal advice), but I hope it's useful information nonetheless. Bottom line: Communicate with your landlord respectfully in mediums that are documented (email, letter, text). Tell your landlord the efforts you are making to make money/apply for unemployment/get benefits, etc. Remind your landlord of the reason why Kentucky's Governor and Supreme Court have put a hold on evictions and eviction filings: eviction is a profoundly disruptive event. Moving and jostling about right now is a public safety risk, first and foremost. Nevermind the financial crises people are facing right now with work shutdowns, furloughs, closings. Everyone is in a holding pattern right now as we all try to remain #HealthyAtHome and, my dude, increasing rent is not part of that holding pattern. It's not what Kentuckians are about right now.
UPDATE: In the letter you send (if you decide that’s best), I would recommend documenting the fact that you know they’re offering new tenants a LOWER RATE than loyal customers. To show how the rental increase is not only unfair but also unnecessary! So bad!