Understanding Emergency Rental Assistance For Landlords And Tenants

Joseph is CEO of TenantCloud, a cloud-based property management solution that helps landlords maximize revenue from rental properties.

If you are a tenant or a landlord who has been struggling with rent, news that the President signed the latest stimulus package – known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 – was probably a huge relief. Included in the bill is $25 billion in rent assistance for landlords in order to assist the CDC’s new call for a moratorium on evictions through January 31, 2021.

The carved-out portion for landlords, known as the Emergency Rental Assistance, provides every state a minimum of $200 million with maximum amounts based on the proportion of the population in the state compared to the country’s total population. I’ve put together some common questions around this new stimulus package and resources to help you find answers.

Who Can Claim These Funds?

Both tenants and landlords are eligible to apply for rent assistance, but tenants must meet minimum pre-set requirements.

Do I Qualify To Receive Rent Assistance? 

The first requirement is that the beneficiary of the grant must be a renter. This will obviously be an easy requirement, but for clarity, the landlord can not apply for rent assistance without a tenant who meets the requirements. In fact, if a landlord does apply for the rent assistance on behalf of the tenant, then the tenant must co-sign the application. A landlord, however, can apply for their own rent assistance in the event they are also a tenant and meet the requirements. 


The next requirement is household income. The household income can be no more than 80% of the local area’s average median income (AMI). The U.S. average median income is near $60,000, so the 80% upper limit would be $48,000 for an individual who lives alone. To find out your local AMI, Fannie-mae has a great tool. 

For a family, the AMI is a sliding scale:

1 person   2 people  3 people  4 people

$60,000  $65,800  $71,600  $477,400

Additionally, grant applicants must prove that someone in the household has been directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19. For example, if you have become unemployed, experienced loss of income, substantial costs or other types of financial hardships. This requirement is vague and has lots of room for interpretation, which makes it a catch-all provision so the more specific you can be, the better.

How Much Is Available To Me?

Rent assistance grants will be divided out in three-month increments and require verification every three months to make sure you still meet the requirements. However, rent that is still owed from past months in arrears is eligible to be paid, as well as other expenses like utilities. 

The payments are intended to go directly to whom they are owed, but can be distributed to the tenant in the event the landlord refuses to accept payment directly. So if you are a landlord who hasn’t evicted your tenant for months of unpaid rent and are still owed money, then you could potentially get paid for past rent and your tenant might have the next three months taken care of while they find gainful employment.

An applicant can utilize the program to pay rent in arrears and potentially future rent totaling a maximum of 15 months. This would last until the funds run out or the program expires at the end of 2021. There is a catch, though. State and local governments have a limited amount of time to deploy these funds or lose them altogether. This means typical government red tape and long protracted roll-outs of programs mean all the funds may not be utilized.

Where Do I Apply?

Where can you apply for rent assistance is a valid question, and the first one everyone is asking. But the answer is complicated. The specifics of each state and city program is not yet known because funds were only recently deployed. The treasury has put together a website for assisting states in claiming funds and setting up each program. 

The programs can be uniquely administered by each city or local government, but each state will have its own program for areas not covered by city programs. The National Landlord Association has put together a list of city and state websites that will potentially be running the programs. 

These programs are tasked with setting some priorities. The priorities include AMI of 50% and below for household income and/or a household with someone unemployed for 90 days or more. The priorities are vague, but I think the intention is obvious – that those who have the most to lose if evicted should be the first to receive grant money.  

Past moratoriums on evictions have been divisive in the current economy as landlords grapple with paying their mortgage and tenants struggle to pay rent. The Emergency Rent Assistance could be a program to help those who are most vulnerable in both situations and alleviate tension between landlords and tenants for months to come. 

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