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What If I’m Too Far Behind on My Rent?

In a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” you have much more time to get current on your residential lease agreement than under Chapter 7. 

The Challenge under Chapter 7

Our last blog post showed how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can help you keep your home or apartment lease. Mostly it clears away other debts so that you can better afford your rent payments. Hopefully, if you’re already behind on those payments, it’s easier to catch up when you no longer have other debts.

But the disadvantage with Chapter 7 is that, if you are behind, you have very little time to catch up. Most of the time you need to get current within a month or two after filing the case. That’s because Chapter 7 cases are completed very quickly, giving you only brief protection against your landlord.

This short timetable presents a major challenge because usually you’re cash poor when you file bankruptcy. Often you’re pushed into bankruptcy because of a cash-depleting event like is a paycheck or bank account garnishment. You may be behind not only on rent but also on other obligations like utilities or rental insurance. That could additionally put you in breach of your lease agreement. Plus you may also be behind on other very important obligations like your vehicle loan or child support.

The short break you get from collections under Chapter 7 is often just not long enough to catch up on rent. That’s particularly true if some of your debts are of the type that Chapter 7 doesn’t discharge (legally write off).

The Chapter 13 Solution

The broad overall advantage of Chapter 13 is that it buys time. And that’s true with a residential lease agreement on which you owe late rent payments. Instead of having only a couple months to catch up, under Chapter 13 you have many months, or even possibly a couple years, to do so.

That’s potentially reason enough to file a Chapter 13 case, even though it takes several years instead of several months. The longer length gives you the advantage of more time to catch up on the rent.

An Example

The difference between Chapter 7 and 13 here is best shown by an example.

Imagine that you are two months behind on a home rental of $1,500 per month, or $3,000 behind. You also owe the IRS income taxes for 2014 in the amount of $10,000. Your paycheck was just garnished by the IRS, leaving you worse than broke. You’re also 5 months behind on your $500 monthly child support. Your ex-spouse just turned you over to the support enforcement agency to force you to pay up. And your landlord just informed you it’s about to file an eviction proceeding.

In spite of all this you desperately want to stay in your rental. It’s in a great location for your work and your kids’ schools. Besides, you’d have no way to come up with the first and last month’s rent for a new place. Your bad overall credit record and now your bad rental record would make qualifying for a new place very doubtful. So you understandably want to keep yourself and your family where you are now if at all possible.

If You Didn’t File Bankruptcy

Without filing bankruptcy, assuming you have no way of coming up with the $3,000 back rent, you would likely be evicted within a few weeks. In the meantime, the support enforcement agency can take very aggressive collection actions against you. That could include the suspension of your driver’s license, as well as any occupational or professional license. You could maybe work out a monthly payment plan with the IRS. But given the other extreme financial pressures on you it’s highly doubtful that you could reliably stick to any commitment.

You’d be evicted and continue to overwhelmed by debt. This is not a pretty picture.

Under Chapter 7…  

A “straight bankruptcy” would not likely help enough to save your home.

You’d get a 3-4 month break from the IRS’s collections. But you would not discharge (legally write off) that $10,000 tax debt because it’s not old enough to qualify. So very quickly you’d be back in their crosshairs.

The Chapter 7 filing wouldn’t give you ANY break from the support enforcement agency’s garnishments and potential license suspensions.

Somehow in the midst of all that you’d need to have quick access to the $3,000 in back rent. Maybe you have so much in other debts that not paying them would free up tons of money every month. But most people filing bankruptcy have already stopped paying a lot of their debts, so that likely wouldn’t help enough.

Chapter 7 simply doesn’t help most people in these kinds of situations enough.

Under Chapter 13…

Filing instead an “adjustment of debts” case would much more likely let you to stay in the home.

Your Chapter 13 filing would immediately stop all collections by the IRS, the support enforcement agency, and the landlord. And that stopping would likely last for the full 3-to-5-year length of the case. Your budget would determine how much you would realistically pay to ALL of your creditors each month. That monthly “Chapter 13 plan payment” would be divided among your creditors. It would pay the IRS, support enforcement, and the back rent before and instead of paying any other debts.

As a result, you would eventually completely catch up on the rent, likely within a year or two. (And you’d pay each new month’s rent on time as well, as provided in your budget). In the same way you’d also eventually bring your child support current, and pay off the income tax debt. To the extent that you’d have any “disposable income” beyond that, it would go to your remaining debts.

So, at the end of your Chapter 13 case you’d be current on your rental and child support, and you’d have paid off the income taxes. To whatever extent you didn’t have enough “disposable income” for the other debts, they would be discharged.

You would have succeeded in staying in your home, and be debt-free.


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