FAQ: Paying bills in the time of coronavirus

Here is what to know about rent, mortgages and utility bills during the coronavirus. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Here is what to know about rent, mortgages and utility bills during the coronavirus. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Here is what to know about rent, mortgages and utility bills during the coronavirus. (Courtesy Fotolia)

With many residents in the Greater Houston area facing rent payment, mortgage payment and utility bill due dates in the coming days, here is what to know about possible ways to get relief and what happens if a bill is not paid.

Do I still have to pay rent?

Rent payments are still going to be due around April 3 throughout the state of Texas. However, the Texas Supreme Court has stopped most evictions from moving forward through April 19, including evictions related to nonpayment of rent.

The Texas Apartment Association, which advocates on behalf of the Texas rental housing industry, warns that residents who do not pay rent can still be issued a notice to vacate, which means the property manager intends to eventually pursue an eviction in court after the Supreme Court order is lifted if rent is not paid.

The association advises residents who cannot make their rent payments to reach out to their property managers immediately to ask about possibly waiving late fees or setting up a payment plan.


Do I still have to pay my mortgage?

Many homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments have opportunities for relief. On March 18, the Trump Administration announced it was halting all foreclosures and suspending all evictions on properties backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Homeowners with government-backed loans who are affected by the coronavirus are eligible for a mortgage forbearance plan for up to one year that would reduce or suspend mortgage payments, waive late fees and suspend reports to credit bureaus. Fannie Mae is offering relief through its Disaster Response Network, and Freddie Mac is offering relief through its My Home by Freddie Mac program.

For loans that are not backed by the federal government, homeowners will have to get in touch with their mortgage servicers. Some banks, such as Wells Fargo, have also announced they are suspending foreclosures and evictions.

Will my water, electric or Internet service be cut off?

Residents should check directly with their utility providers on how they are handling the coronavirus pandemic, but most major providers have announced plans to suspend disconnections of services, and some are also waiving late fees.

The city of Houston still expects water bills to be paid. However, Mayor Sylvester Turner issued an executive order March 12 to suspend disconnections of water service within the city through April 30, emphasizing the importance of residents having clean water throughout the pandemic. Late payments will still result in late fees.

Residents in unincorporated Harris County pay water bills through utility districts. Each utility district varies in how it is responding to the coronavirus outbreak. For example, officials with Harris County Municipal Utility District 81, which covers parts of west Harris County and Katy, have announced they will not disconnect service until further notice.

Some gas and electric companies are pausing disconnections, and many are directing customers to payment assistance programs. Officials with CenterPoint said they have temporarily suspended natural gas disconnections for nonpayment. Electricity customers who cannot pay are being directed to payment assistance programs or being asked to file a payment extension request.

Reliant is pausing payment-related disconnections to residences and small commercial customers. The company is providing payment extensions, waiving late fees, and offering deferred payment plans and bill assistance through its Reliant CARE program.

As more people rely on the Internet to work and attend classes, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have all pledged not to disconnect customers or charge them late fees for missed payments. The companies are asking customers to reach out if they think they will have trouble paying a bill and provide information on their situation to avoid late fees or account termination.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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