The second and third stimulus packages--the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Act) and the March 2021 American Rescue Plan--together include over $46 billion ($25 plus $21.55 billion respectively) in nationwide rent relief assistance for residential tenants and (by extension) landlords impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. States, counties and other local governments with 200,000 or more residents will receive the funds directly.
Households suffering COVID-19 related financial hardships can use the rent relief funds for past-due and future rent, as well as utility bills like gas, water, sewer and trash. Utilities paid by the landlord will be treated as rent. Rent relief funds cannot be used to cover telecommunication services like phone, cable and internet.
Although tenants must first use funds to cover past-due rent before paying any future rent or other expenses, they don't need to be behind in rent to qualify to receive funds. Tenants can use the funds for the sole purpose of paying utilities.
You might qualify for assistance if all of the following apply:
"Household income" means either your 2020 household income as verified by tax forms, or your household income on the date you apply for assistance as verified by other documentation. Priority will be given to households with 50% or less of the area median household income, and/or where one or more household member(s) is/are unemployed and has/have been so for at least 90 days.
A tenant can apply directly, or a landlord or property owner may apply on behalf of a tenant with that tenant's permission. If a landlord or property owner refuses to participate in the program, the money may be paid directly to the tenant.
The Act does not set dollar limits, but generally provides for up to 12 months of assistance (with the possibility of an extra three months if funds are available and additional assistance is necessary to stabilize the recipient's housing). The administering agency will ultimately determine how much each household receives.
Distributing $46.55 billion to millions of recipients is a Herculean task. On January 5, 2021 the U.S. Treasury launched the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to split the initial $25 billion among existing and newly created regional tenant assistance programs.These programs in turn take recipient applications and distribute the funds.
Your location determines how and where you should apply for the rent relief funds. The National Low Income Housing Coalition maintains a Rental Assistance Database of agencies you can contact that may have received ERAP funds. You can also check the U.S. Treasury's Eligible Units of Local Governments to see who might be distributing the funds in your area. In addition, Lawyers.com has a list of tenant resources you can contact for more information.