How federal rental assistance works
State and local programs are distributing billions of dollars in rental assistance to help renters stay housed during the pandemic. Rental assistance helps renters and landlords make ends meet.
If you’re a renter having trouble paying your rent, utilities, or other housing costs – or if you’re a landlord trying to stay afloat with tenants in this situation – help may be available. State and local programs are taking applications from renters and landlords to distribute money from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in their own communities.
If you’re a landlord, you may think of rental assistance as help for renters. But right now, most federal emergency rental assistance programs accept applications from landlords. Where renters can apply, they often need your help to complete the process and make payments to you.
Questions and answers about federal rental assistance
How do I apply for emergency rental assistance?
You apply through your local emergency rental assistance (ERA) program. Each local program has some flexibility in how they set up policies and procedures to suit the needs of their local community. For example, in some areas, you can apply for rental assistance yourself. In other areas, landlords need to submit an application first.
Find a rental assistance program for your state, tribe, or local area
Use the search bar to find programs in your area. If you cannot find any program in your area, call 2-1-1 or your local housing authority for assistance.
What does emergency rental assistance cover?
The federal ERA Program allows local programs to cover rent, utilities, and home energy costs. This includes electricity, gas, fuel oil, water and sewer, and trash removal. If your landlord normally pays for utilities or home energy costs, these are counted as part of your rent.
Rental assistance may also cover:
- Reasonable late fees (if not included in your rental or utility debt)
- Internet service to your home
- Moving expenses and other rental-related fees (such as security deposits, application fees, or screening fees) for families who have to move
Some programs may also provide housing counseling, case management, legal representation, and other housing stability services.
Talk to your local program to find out how they can help
The federal ERA Program allows local programs to help with moving expenses, security deposits, rental applications or screening fees. Check with your local program to find out if they’re using this flexibility.
The federal ERA Program allows local programs to receive up to 18 months of help with rent, including overdue rent, back to March 13, 2020, if the money is available.
If you have overdue rent, the money must go toward rent that you owe, first. Local programs may be able to help with future rent. In addition, you may get help with your future rent payments, up to 3 months at a time. But this depends on your local program.
Ask your local program about the total amount of help available to you.
Yes, your local program may offer help with utility or energy costs alone. This includes help paying for future utility or energy bills, even if you owe money for existing or overdue bills.
Utilities and home energy costs include electricity, gas, water and sewer, trash removal, and fuel oil. If your landlord is responsible for paying utilities and home energy costs, these will be treated as rent.
Local programs are allowed to cover moving expenses, security deposits, rental application or screening fees, and motel or hotel bills for families who have to move out of their homes.
Local programs are also allowed to use some emergency rental assistance funds to help you with other expenses related to your housing, such as reasonable late fees, as well as costs for internet service that allows you to engage in distance learning, telework, telemedicine, and getting government services. For providers to cover it, you must provide a bill, invoice, or other evidence that shows you paid for the service.
Yes, but only for rent and utility bills charged on or after March 13, 2020, when a national state of emergency was declared.
You don’t have to be behind on rent to get assistance. Some programs offer help with future rent. However, if you have overdue rent, the money you get must go toward rent that you owe before it can be used for future rent.
Yes. If your household is eligible for emergency rental assistance, local programs may cover the cost of a hotel or motel room if:
- You had to move out of your home and you don’t have a permanent home elsewhere
- You can provide hotel or motel bills or other evidence of your stay, and
- Your local program follows the rules for this emergency rental assistance
If emergency rental assistance is not available to help cover these costs, you can also ask for help under the HUD Emergency Solutions Grant program. Visit Benefits.gov for more information about Emergency Solutions Grants. You may also be able to find help at DisasterAssistance.gov .
Am I eligible for emergency rental assistance?
To be eligible for help covering your rent, you must have an agreement to pay rent for your home or mobile home lot. You don’t necessarily need to have a signed lease, and your home could be an apartment, house, mobile home, or other place.
These three statements also need to be true:
- At least one member of your household has:
- Qualified for unemployment or should qualify
- Lost income
- Owed large expenses, OR
- Had other financial hardships
- Your household income is below a certain amount, based on where you live
- At least one member of your household is experiencing housing instability, which means they are at risk of becoming homeless or would have trouble finding a stable place to live
Eligibility is based on a renter household’s financial situation and housing needs. If you’re a landlord, eligibility is based on your tenant’s household needs. For details, start with the rental assistance program for your state, tribe, or local area.
Federal rules allow local rental assistance programs to cover rent or utilities for low-income families. This generally includes renter households with income up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), with adjustments for family size. Use this Area Median Income Lookup Tool from Fannie Mae to find the AMI in your area.
Local emergency rental assistance programs must prioritize applications for renter households with income below 50% of the AMI and households with a worker who has been unemployed for at least 90 days before applying. This means that your local program can set lower income limits to make sure the neediest households get help first. Your local program should let you know how their system for prioritizing applications works.
Money from the federal ERA Program is for renters only. But money from the Homeowner Assistance Fund created under the American Rescue Plan Act may also be available. If you’re experiencing hardship as a homeowner, visit our Help for homeowners page to learn about your options.
How can I show that I am eligible?
Eligibility is based on a renter household’s financial situation and housing needs.
When you apply for emergency rental help, you will be asked to show that your income is eligible and that you’re experiencing housing instability. If you’re a landlord, eligibility is based on your tenant’s household needs, and you’ll be asked to show that your tenant’s household is eligible for assistance.
You must sign a written statement that the information in your application is correct and complete, and that you will use the emergency rental assistance for the costs it is meant to cover.
Local programs have different requirements. They may ask you for a written statement. Or they can ask you to show your income with other documents (for example, unemployment benefits documents, pay stubs, tax documents, a statement from an employer, etc.).
Check with your local program for details
If it’s hard for you to show income or job loss, or if you have a special situation, local programs may let you write out your own statement about your income.
- If your household has no income, or if your employer’s offices have closed, it may be difficult to prove your household income.
- If you have a disability, don’t have access to technology, or have other special needs, a local program may be flexible about the proof they require.
If they do rely on your written statement, the program you apply to needs to review your household income again every three months to make sure you remain eligible.
- Local programs might also rely on a caseworker or other professional who knows about your situation to certify that your income qualifies for emergency rental assistance.
- Programs have to make sure they are complying with their own eligibility policies and procedures.
- They must also have reasonable procedures in place to prevent fraud.
To show housing instability, you may need to sign a written statement. You might also be asked to show:
- A past due utility or rent bill or eviction notice
- Proof that you live in unsafe or unhealthy living conditions, or
- Other proof that the program asks you for
Programs can make their own rules for determining if you’re living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions and what proof to accept. Talk to your local program to find out more.
When you apply for emergency rental help, be ready to show an agreement signed by you and your landlord that shows where you live and your rental payment amount.
If you don’t have a signed rental agreement or lease, local programs may accept proof of your address and a written statement about your rent, such as:
- Proof that you paid utilities for your home or apartment unit (like a water bill)
- A statement from your landlord, or
- Other reasonable proof as requested
You may also be able to show your rental payment amount with:
- Bank statements
- Check stubs
- Other paperwork that shows regular rent payments, or
- Other reasonable proof as requested
If you give a written statement, local programs may require you to certify that you did not receive – and don’t expect to get – help from a different source to cover the same rental costs. For instance, if your rent is subsidized by a federal agency like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), you can’t get help from your local program to cover the federally subsidized portion of your rent. But you can get help to cover the part of the rent that you are responsible for.
Local programs have different requirements, so check with your local program for details.
If you apply for help with utilities, be ready to show a bill, invoice, or proof of payment to the utility company or home energy service provider. Rental assistance can’t be used to cover any utilities and home energy costs that your landlord normally pays for.
Will my local program send the rental assistance to me or to my landlord or utility provider?
It depends on how your local program works.
In some cases, the program may contact your landlord or utility provider and ask them to accept emergency rental assistance to pay off what you owe. If they do not agree, or if they do not respond within seven days (or within five days, if the program contacts your landlord by phone, text, or e-mail), your local program may be able to give the money to you. Then you must use the money to pay the landlord or utility yourself.
In other cases, your local program might give you the money right away, without first contacting your landlord. Either way, you must then use the money to pay what you owe.
Check with your local program for details
Starting May 7, 2021, landlords who accept direct payments of future rent are not allowed to evict you for not paying rent during the period covered by the rental assistance. When programs make direct payments to landlords to cover back rent, guidance strongly encourages them to prohibit eviction for 30 to 90 days after the period covered by rental assistance.
Special living situations
Find out if emergency rental assistance applies to your special situation.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been living in your current rental home. If you meet the requirements, emergency rental assistance is available to help you with housing costs that you cannot afford as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If your income has changed, you might qualify for lower rent. Or, you might qualify for a hardship exemption that allows you to skip one or more rent payments. Ask for "income recertification" through your Public Housing Agency (PHA) or landlord. Do this as soon as possible. The change in rent could apply to unpaid rent.
If you receive a federal rent subsidy, such as a Housing Choice Voucher, Project-Based Rental Assistance, or Public Housing, you may still qualify for assistance with the rent or utilities that you are responsible for paying.
If you live in a manufactured home or mobile home, you can get rental help. You can also get help with rent for the lot that your home sits on, even if you own your manufactured home. Like other renters, you may also qualify for help with utilities or other housing-related expenses.
A Tribal member living outside Tribal lands can receive emergency rental help funds from their Tribe or Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE), as long as you are not already receiving assistance from another Tribe or TDHE, or from a state or local government.
Nontribal members living on Tribal lands can receive emergency rental help from a Tribe or Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE), as long as you are not already getting assistance from another Tribe or TDHE, or from a state or local government.
You can get emergency rental help even if you have a “rent-to-own” agreement with your landlord, as long as:
- You haven’t signed or co-signed a mortgage for the property that you are renting-to-own
- You haven’t exercised an option to purchase the property
Rental assistance can also be used to cover mooring fees.
The questions and answers above are based on the Department of the Treasury’s revised Frequently Asked Questions on emergency rental assistance (ERA) . Program requirements may differ at the local level. It’s always a good idea to talk with your local program.