If you owe unpaid rent to your landlord, you’re in the right place! Did you know that tenants across the country owe over 10 billion dollars in rent debt? Over 5 million households across the United States are behind on rent. That’s right! If you owe back rent, you are not alone! As tenants we are stronger if we respond to this situation together.

First things first:

If you owe unpaid rent to your landlord and you live anywhere in the United States, please fill out our Rent Debt Questionnaire. At this stage, we’re very much learning together. Fill out this form to help us better understand what’s going on with rent debt across the country so we can organize to fight it.

Let’s talk about rent debt:

What is it?

Rent debt or back rent debt is the amount of money tenants owe their landlords in unpaid rent from previous months. Usually, if tenants can’t pay rent, they get evicted pretty quickly. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many people lost income, elected officials passed policies saying landlords couldn’t evict their tenants immediately for unpaid rent. Some tenants got to stay in their homes, but that rent debt has also stayed with them. Today, tenants across the country owe over $10 billion in back rent debt AND are facing eviction. (Want to learn more about rent debt? Check out National Equity Atlas’ Rent Debt Dashboard.)

How can we fight it?

That’s what we’re trying to figure out and that’s why we launched the Rent Debt Questionnaire! We want to know what folks who owe rent debt are going through, where they are located, and who their landlords are so that we can develop collective strategies and campaigns. To give just one example, California tenants of the corporate landlord giant Equity Residential who have used our Eviction Defense tool together owe nearly $3 million dollars to that landlord! Now that’s some collective leverage! Imagine what we could do if we could find all the Equity tenants across the country and organize them into a debtors union!

I just filled out the Rent Debt Questionnaire. What happens next?

Great job! Thanks for taking the time to do that! To start, we are going to have monthly Zoom calls with rent debtors from all over the country. We want to meet each other, learn from each other, and brainstorm next steps together. Our first meeting will be Wednesday, May 1st at 5 PM Pacific / 8 PM Eastern. Join us!

Sounds like those campaigns might take a long time. What can I do in the meantime if I owe rent debt?

Here are some things to know and some resources to get you started:

  1. If you are struggling to pay rent, your mortgage, or your utility bills, contact 211. They can link you to resources in your area.

  2. Debt collectors - including your landlord or your landlord’s lawyer - can’t use unfair or deceptive practices to try and collect a debt. This means if a debt collector harasses you or makes false or misleading statements to collect rental debt, they may be breaking federal law. If you believe that a debt collector or your landlord or their lawyer is using an unfair practice when collecting a debt, you can submit a federal complaint or call (855) 411-2372.

  3. If your debt has been sold or assigned to a debt collector, it might appear on your credit reports. You can check your credit reports for free once per week at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you believe the reporting is inaccurate, you can dispute it. There are also special credit reports for tenant issues, called tenant screening reports. The same credit reporting rules apply to these, too. If you are denied for an apartment due to a past eviction or rental debt, the landlord who denied you should give you a statement in writing telling you what report they looked at and how you can get a copy. You can check to make sure the information in that report is accurate, and dispute it if necessary.

  4. Is your landlord or your landlord’s lawyer trying to take you to small claims court for your rent debt? The procedures for defending yourself — and the possible legal defenses that might apply — can vary based on where you are. Here are some resources made for Californians, but they include defenses that may apply more broadly. Come to our monthly rent debt meeting if you have more questions!

  5. Tenants and debtors are always stronger when we fight together. Do you know other tenants who might owe this same landlord money? Definitely worth knocking on their door or putting a call out on social media. Definitely send them to our Rent Debt Questionnaire too! You can learn from one another, support one another, and even potentially try to bargain together. (Veritas Tenants did it!) Or, is there a tenants union near you? If so, reach out! Join a meeting! If not, here are some great resources from the Los Angeles Tenants Union that can help you get one started near you!

  6. Put your landlord on blast! Let other tenants know we have power together! The Debt Collective is going to introduce Tenant Tuesdays starting in early 2024. Make sure to @ us on Twitter with your own #RentDebtStory!

If you are in California:

If you are facing eviction use our Eviction Defense tool.