Debt advice for tenants with unpaid rent

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Trained providers offer tenants with unpaid rent advice to address their debts, often supporting establishment of debt repayment plans, budgets, and tools to keep track of income, debts, and spending. Advice can be limited to overdue rent payments or address debt more broadly, as many tenants with unpaid, overdue rent also hold other debts. Debt advice can be offered face-to-face or via telephone1; advice is also frequently offered through formal rental housing counseling services. Such services can include broader efforts to navigate complex systems and assistance programs, such as help for residents applying for funds to assist with unpaid and overdue rent; mediation for issues between tenants and landlords; assistance building and protecting assets through counseling on credit, renters’ insurance, and emergency preparedness; assistance with long-term financial goals and planning; and education about maintaining healthy homes2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced debt

  • Reduced evictions

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced stress

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that providing debt advice to tenants with unpaid, overdue rent can reduce debt levels1, 3 and evictions due to unpaid rent4. Debt advice alone is not sufficient to address the complex financial, social, and health issues facing tenants with low incomes, including significant rent burdens, sudden income loss, and financial emergencies; however, as part of a broad, multi-component program, debt advice counseling may improve housing stability outcomes4. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects, especially over the long-term.

Debt advice appears to reduce levels of overdue rent when provided face-to-face and via telephone1. European case studies suggest debt advice as a component of housing advisory and counseling services may prevent evictions5. Debt advice can be part of a housing plus approach to addressing poverty, and may be especially beneficial for young people living in poverty by preventing evictions and homelessness6.

An evaluation of the Money House, a UK-based program that includes debt advice, suggests such programs improve financial confidence and reduce stress among 16-24 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds3. Debt advice to support residents in debt is also a suggested strategy to reduce the costs of health care and social services, as debt burdens are strongly associated with increased stress and mental health issues1.

Debt advice may be more effective when provided early, before levels of unpaid, overdue rent are substantial or residents are facing eviction. Experts suggest landlords and public housing agencies establish effective pre-emptive referral mechanisms that track rent-related debt and encourage residents to take up debt advice to prevent unpaid rent accumulating to substantial levels. Holistic debt advice may be more effective than advice that focuses only on rent-related debt1.

Overall, providing debt advice for tenants with unpaid, overdue rent appears to be cost-effective; a UK-based study estimates a 22% return on investment for landlords through reduced debt and associated costs1.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD) supports housing counseling agencies around the country that offer free or low cost advice on housing issues, including renting, debt advice, and credit issues7. U.S. HUD also offers a guide to expanding housing counseling services, particularly to reach rural and underserved communities and to expand rental and homeless counseling programs8.

The Homebase program in New York City is an example of a program that includes financial counseling and money management advice for tenants with low incomes, at risk of losing their homes and entering the homeless shelter system9.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is one non-profit organization that provides credit and debt advice services, including housing and money management counseling. It has locations in all 50 states10.

Implementation Resources

US HUD-Rental counseling toolkit 2018 - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD), Office of Housing Counseling. Rental assistance housing counseling toolkit. 2018.

CFPB-Toolkit - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Your money, your goals toolkit: Includes dealing with debt.


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1 Evans 2011 - Evans G, McAteer M. Does debt advice pay? A business case for social landlords. The Financial Inclusion Centre; 2011.

2 US HUD-Rental counseling toolkit 2018 - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD), Office of Housing Counseling. Rental assistance housing counseling toolkit. 2018.

3 Hyde Group 2016 - Hyde Group. The Money House - Sharing success. 2016.

4 Holl 2016 - Holl M, van den Dries L, Wolf JRLM. Interventions to prevent tenant evictions: A systematic review. Health and Social Care in the Community. 2016;24(5):532-546.

5 Gerull 2014 - Gerull S. Evictions due to rent arrears: A comparative analysis of evictions in fourteen countries. European Journal of Homelessness. 2014;8(2):137-155.

6 Morris 2015 - Morris S, Clarke A, Hamilton C, Jones M, Oxley M. The role of housing and housing providers in tackling poverty experienced by young people in the UK: A review of the literature. Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research; 2015.

7 US HUD-Housing counselor - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD). Talk to a housing counselor.

8 US HUD-Expanding housing counseling - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD), Office of Housing Counseling. Best practices for expanding housing counseling services.

9 NYC-Homebase - City of New York (NYC), Human Resources Administration. Homebase: Resources and services.

10 NFCC-Debt counseling - National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Connect with an NFCC certified credit counselor: Services include credit and debt counseling.