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Trouble Paying Rent

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 11, 2009

If I cannot afford my rent this month, what can I do?

Do not ignore the problem. Some approaches to consider include:

  • Talk to staff at the housing authority. Sometimes housing authorities will let you work out a payment plan to get back on track. Let your housing authority know that you are having a hard time, but that you take your rent seriously and are working hard to fix the problem.
  • Figure out whether your rent was calculated correctly. Figure out with housing authority staff whether your rent was calculated correctly. For example, you may be able to get a hardship waiver and not have to pay the minimum rent for a certain period of time. See If I have no income can I be charged for rent? Or you may be eligible for a rent freeze. See If I work and my rent increased a lot what can I do? Or the housing authority may not have lowered your rent after you reported a decrease in income. See Question 21.
  • Look to your community. If you are having a hard time paying your rent for a particular month, you should try to contact local and community agencies that might be able to help you. Charitable, religious, and community organizations sometimes have funds that help people who are having financial difficulties. Also check your city or town’s human services department because it may have funds to help residents in the community. Resources are often one-time-only or on a first-come-first-served basis, so these sources should not be depended upon. Calling these organizations, even if you are not a member or affiliated with their group, can sometimes get you the help you need or a referral to an agency that can help.
  • Check your eligibility for government resources. If you or a member of your household is a veteran, you may qualify for government assistance. You should contact your local veterans association for more details and eligibility requirements. Also, the state sometimes has money in a program called RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition). RAFT is designed to help tenants pay back rent and utility bills. You should check with your local nonprofit housing agency to see if there is any money in the RAFT account. To find the RAFT agency near you, go to:

What if I pay my rent late?

State public housing

If you live in state public housing and your rent is more than 30 days late, a housing authority must charge a late fee of $25.63


If you pay only the next month's rent and not the late fee, the housing authority will apply it to the prior month and you will be charged another $25 late fee. Late fees may accumulate quickly.

A housing authority may also charge you interest on the late payment.You may request that the housing authority waive (not charge) the fee if there is a good reason that you were late.

Federal public housing

If you live in federal public housing, the housing authority may charge a late fee, but it must be listed in your lease. Massachusetts law, however, prohibits the imposition of a late fee unless your rent is more than 30 days late.64

Late fees in federal public housing, like other extra charges, cannot be charged until 2 weeks after the housing authority gives you written notice.65 Typically there will be a process to waive (not charge) the fee, especially if the reason is something out of your control, like you are not receiving a benefit check in time.

63 G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 6.04(3)(b EOHLC Public Housing Notice 2003-06.

64 G.L. c. 186, § 15B(1)(c).

65 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(b)(3), (4).

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