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Keeping a roof overhead

Keeping a roof over your head takes on greater urgency when your family income drops because of job loss or other emergencies. If you rank your bills in order of priority, chances are housing is at or near the top of the list.

Housing expenses become a bigger challenge than usual when you're under the stress of reduced or lost income. Housing expenses include:

  • Mortgage or rental payments.
  • Homeowner's or rental insurance.
  • Property taxes (for homeowners).
  • Maintenance and repairs.
  • Utility bills.
  • Furnishings.
  • Cleaning supplies.

When family income drops, careful planning can help you avoid eviction from your rental unit or the loss of your house.

Handling rental payments

If you rent, tell your landlord about your situation before rent is due. It costs money for a landlord to change tenants. This is why he or she may be willing to work with you on some of the following strategies:

  • Ask for a temporary postponement of rental payments until your income goes up again.
  • Suggest making smaller payments for a month or two. Then catch up when your income increases again.
  • Offer to provide some service, such as painting, in exchange for rent.

Consider taking on a roommate to help cover rent expenses if your apartment has enough space. Also make sure this would not violate the lease or cause other family problems. Subletting your apartment and finding a less expensive place to live might be another option until your income goes up again.

Your rights as a tenant

According to Minnesota law, a landlord must file and win an "Unlawful Detainer" action in court to evict a tenant. Only a law-enforcement officer can carry out a court-ordered warrant to evict a tenant. A landlord may not take the law into his or her own hands and evict a tenant by use of force or unlawful means. If you're a renter, this means a landlord cannot:

  • Issue threats of violence.
  • Remove your possessions.
  • Lock you out of your apartment.
  • Cut off essential services such as water or heat.

Likewise, after eviction, a landlord cannot keep a tenant's personal belongings or furniture.

You should consult an attorney to protect your legal rights if your landlord seeks possession of your apartment. Never ignore legal papers. For more information, see the Landlords and tenants: Rights and responsibilities web page.

Note: If you think your lower income will continue for more than a few months, you may have to consider moving to lower cost rental housing. Try to make that decision sooner rather than later.

Handling mortgage payments

With reduced or lost income, you quickly feel the stress of a sizable mortgage payment on your finances.

If you expect your loss of income to last only a few months, you may be able to cut back on other expenses to meet your mortgage payments. For more information, see these two webpages in the "Getting through tough times" series.

Important: If you miss a mortgage payment, you have defaulted on your contract and your lender can begin foreclosure on your home. Seek mortgage foreclosure counseling in Minnesota through the Minnesota Homeownership Center.

If meeting your mortgage payment looks impossible, contact your lender before you miss a payment. You may be able to skip a payment or arrange a lower payment. Go in person and take along a new spending plan that fits your reduced income.

Most lenders would rather avoid the time and cost involved in a foreclosure if another alternative can be worked out.

If your family's loss of income looks to be long-lasting or permanent, you will need to consider other options. You don't have to live under the extreme stress and strain of meeting mortgage payments that are too high. Some options you have are:

  • Taking in a renter and using the money toward mortgage payments.
  • Renting your house to someone else and renting less costly housing for yourself. Before doing this, check the effect this will have on your taxes and insurance coverage. You'll also need to meet city housing codes on rental property.
  • Selling your house and buying or renting less costly housing.
  • Moving in with relatives or friends. Offer to share some of the housing costs.
  • Deeding your house back to the lender, instead of going through foreclosure. You may not lose much. For example, if you've been paying on a 30-year mortgage for 10 years, you have not paid for much of the house yet — only about 10 percent. What if you choose this option and the house has decreased in value? You're still responsible for the amount of the loan and must pay the lender the difference.

Also, what if you stay in the house but don't have enough money for food or other necessities? You may find it easier to leave the house and find less expensive housing.

Handling other housing costs

Mortgage and rental payments aren't the only expenses associated with housing. You also need to consider other housing costs, including the following.

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Sharon M. Danes, Extension specialist and professor, emeritus in Family Social Science

This is part of the "Getting through tough times" series.

Reviewed in 2018

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