Ask a Lawyer: Do I Still Owe My Landlord for COVID-19 Back Rent?

(StatePoint) As life begins to return to normal, those who suffered financial problems during the COVID-19 pandemic will need to address them, including renters.

Lawyers at JustAnswer, the leading online provider of expert advice, recently answered some common tenant questions.

Question: We currently owe past rent because COVID-19 affected our income. We didn't receive any stimulus money yet. We were just approved for a new apartment and plan to move. In our building we were protected under the eviction moratorium. The manager said anything we haven't paid would go to collections. If this isn't paid before we move out, would this affect our new apartment when we sign the new lease? –Jesse R.

Lawyer: You are responsible for the past due rent once the moratorium ends. What will happen is the current landlord will file for eviction against you, even if you have vacated the property. An eviction is not just removal of a tenant, but also the lawsuit a landlord files to obtain a monetary judgment against a former tenant for unpaid rent. If you do not pay your unpaid rent, a monetary judgment will be issued against you.

At that point, it will be up to your new landlord as to whether this affects honoring your new lease. It should not, unless there is a provision in the contract you signed that allows the new landlord to cancel the contract. The new apartment will not be notified. They will only find out if you tell them or if they run a background check. If you have already moved in then you will not have to move out. This could only happen if the landlord wants to cancel before you move in. In addition to the unpaid rent, you could also be ordered to pay the court filing fees and attorney’s fees. It usually comes to a couple hundred more.

Question: Must I pay an unreasonable rent increase? –Cindy H.

Lawyer: In short, yes, it is within your landlord’s right to legally raise your rent. However, there are a few stipulations surrounding rent increases, and they can vary by state. Unless otherwise stated in your lease agreement, your landlord cannot raise your rent before your lease is up. So, if you have signed a year-long lease, your landlord is only allowed to increase your rent once that period is up. On the other hand, if you have a month-to-month lease, your landlord is allowed to increase it every month, given that they provide you ample notice (usually 30 days).

If you are wondering how much a landlord can increase your rent, you might not like this answer. In many states, there is no maximum amount. This means that, unless you are in a rent-controlled city or building, your landlord can raise the rent by as much as they want per year or month, depending on your lease duration. Check your local laws to see if there is a set amount or maximum. Most states require your landlord to serve you the rent increase notice in writing. If it is given verbally, look up your specific state’s law to see if that is the legal way to do it. The rent increase must not be done in a discriminatory or retaliatory manner. For example, if you have complained about habitability conditions to an outside organization, your landlord cannot retaliate by raising your rent.

Need affordable advice on a legal problem with your home? Chat live with a tenant lawyer at Just Answer. JustAnswer has over 12,000 experts available to answer questions 24/7. Visit justanswer.com to get started.

As eviction moratoriums begin to lift nationwide, protect yourself by understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Affordable legal resources can help.

Photo Credit: (c) AndreyPopov / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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