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Facing Eviction? No Heat? What Services Are Available To Help?

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Suppose you've fallen behind on your rent payments, and may be scrambling to find a way to get quick cash to stave off your landlord. You don't know if you can make it, but you certainly can't afford the costs of eviction or moving. What should you do?

Or perhaps you've just entered one of the coldest winters on record, and your furnace breaks. Your phone calls to your landlord remain unanswered, and your lease prohibits you from contracting any repairs yourself or using a portable heater. What should you do?

Although these situations are very different, in both cases there may be a local resource that can provide you with assistance in resolving your problem. Read on to learn more about tenant service organizations and what you should do if you find yourself in need of outside assistance while renting.

What tenant services are available?

Most cities and even some small towns have a government-funded tenant services organization. Although the exact services offered can vary depending on local funding and need, these organizations usually deal in the following areas:

  • Emergency rent assistance
  • Legal assistance if facing discrimination or unlawful activity while renting
  • Utility assistance
  • Advice and assistance if you have a dispute with your landlord

So whether your problem deals with a personal financial situation or outside activities of your landlord (or even neighbors), you may be able to find assistance until you can get back on your feet.

What are some scenarios in which you should seek the assistance of a tenant services organization?

These scenarios generally fall into two categories -- personal and external.

  • Personal

Tenant services organizations may offer financial assistance when you've fallen behind on rent or are in danger of having your utilities cut off. The federal government has established a utility assistance program that can provide certain low-income homeowners with funds to pay utility bills as these funds are made available. Because this assistance is on a first-come, first-served basis, you won't need to pay this money back.

In other situations, and particularly with rent assistance, this money may be made as part of a loan, and collection proceedings can begin if you don't pay back the funds according to the loan terms. However, you're usually given a bit more leeway in these types of loans than you would be with a loan made through a bank.

Because of this, if you're facing a situation in which your financial problems are unable to be quickly resolved (for example, you were laid off and your employment prospects aren't good, or you suffered a death in the family that has cut your income) you may want to consider downsizing or moving in with roommates rather than digging deeper into debt. However, if you believe your situation is temporary, obtaining a loan or grant from a tenant services organization can provide a much better interest rate and repayment term than a personal loan at a bank or a cash advance or credit card.

  • External

In other cases, the tenant services organization is able to assist you in fighting for your rights. Whether you're dealing with a landlord who won't make timely repairs and renders your apartment uninhabitable, or are facing discrimination while trying to rent, you can receive legal advice and assistance. You may be able to get help filling out the documentation to file a case against your landlord in small claims court, or force an apartment rental agency or landlord to pay fines after discriminating against potential renters. In most cases, this assistance is available at no cost to you and is funded by federal and state tax dollars.