I can't pay my rent. What help is available to me?

Are you struggling to afford your rental payments? Here’s what you can do to give yourself more time and recover from your current situation.

Australia’s in the midst of a small rental crisis that’s been ticking along since the pandemic began and has only intensified in the last 12 months. It’s why many people are spending so much on rent, and others are struggling to find a home for their families and pets. It’s also why you might live in fear of annoying your landlord.

Going on the latest data from the ABS, there are thought to be around 2.1 million people currently renting their homes from a landlord in Australia. And, with rents on the up, there’s one question on the mind of a lot of people: 

With the cost of living increasing – along with my rent – how will I pay it if something goes wrong? And what happens if I can’t?

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You’re not alone in your situation, even though it might feel like it. Maybe you’ve recently copped a hefty rent increase – or you lost your job and couldn’t work. It could even be a mix of things.

Whatever the reason, being unable to pay rent is no laughing matter. It’s normal to be worried, but it doesn’t mean you’re helpless. If you’re not sure what to do, this guide will help you get started with a plan.

Here’s what you need to know.

TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)

  • Don’t ignore your situation. Get advice straight away. Not paying your rent could lead to eviction and difficulty renting properties in the future;
  • Speak to your landlord about your issue as soon as possible. It’s not in your interest to miss payments or keep them in the dark; and
  • To safeguard your lease agreement, prioritise paying off your rent arrears before any other non-priority debts.

What to do if you can’t pay your rent

If you’re struggling financially and worried you won’t be able to pay rent, stay calm. Speak to your landlord or property manager as a matter of urgency. Your landlord may be willing to help, especially if you have a history of paying on time.

Speaking to your landlord or property manager as soon as possible is the best way to kickstart a plan of action, as they may be willing to agree to a repayment plan. You should discuss a workable agreement where any arrears are cleared later, but make sure it’s realistic for you and always get evidence of what’s been agreed in writing.

But how do I talk to my landlord about the issue? I don’t know where to start!

Tact and good communication go a long way. The best way to approach your landlord about your rent issue is in writing. Be apologetic and explain, in detail, why you can’t afford rent this week/fortnight/month. Emphasise that your struggle is temporary (if it is), and if it isn’t, offer to pay them what you can afford right now.

Your landlord is a human, and they get that renting isn’t easy. They probably also don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a new tenant. Tell them you’re willing to work out an arrangement as soon as possible, and you might be surprised how well things work out.

Should I consider not telling them?

Generally speaking, if you can find a way to make ends meet, there’s no need to raise your landlord’s concern. But if this isn’t the case, you need to talk to them and alert them about your situation.

Can I use my rental bond to cover my rent?

Most likely, this won’t be an option. Landlords and property managers don’t like using this deposit unless it’s for repairs or part of an eviction process. Rental bonds are very rarely used as payments.

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Explore some free options

  • Take whatever help you can get. Applying for assistance or grants may take time, but it will be worth it. 
  • Ask for help from family or friends. Loved ones may be willing to help. If you don’t ask, no one knows you need help.
  • Change your living arrangements. Move in with a loved one and help each other out by divvying up your rent. Moving comes with expenses, and if you’re under a fixed-term lease, you’ll have to weigh up the cost of breaking your lease. Talk to your landlord about what’s negotiable.
  • Can you pick up a roommate? A roommate will give you a little financial cushioning to pay rent on time. Not all agreements will allow you to add a new person to your lease, but now’s a good time to consider it if you have that option.
  • Can you pick up extra work? Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to work when you’re facing financial issues. If you’re able to work, you might be able to pick up a quick gig to pay for any money you’re lacking.

You’re legally responsible for paying rent once you’ve signed a lease agreement. So the next step is to reevaluate your budget and try to ‘find’ money where you can. Consider the following ideas to make life easier:

How to access emergency relief if you need it

If you’re struggling with debt and stretching to afford essential payments like housing, emergency assistance (or emergency relief) from the government and charities can help.

Emergency relief typically provides help on a one-off or short-term basis until your circumstances become more manageable and you get long-term support. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking relief – these organisations help people from all walks of life.

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