Emergency Rental Assistance Program Frequently Asked Questions

Vea esta página en español.

General Program Information

1. What is the Emergency Rental Assistance Program?

Through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, Pinellas County received a direct payment of $21.4 million to establish a local Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program supporting individuals and families who have lost their jobs or have had a significant reduction in income due to COVID-19. The City of St. Petersburg, the only other Pinellas County jurisdiction eligible for a direct payment, received about $8 million for St. Petersburg residents. 

This program is available to help renter households in which at least one or more individuals meet the following criteria: 

  1. Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19; 
  1. Is behind on rent payments or at risk of missing a rent payment; and 
  1. Has a household income at or below 80% the area median income (AMI). 

For more information, read about the program’s policies and procedures here.


2. How can I get updates about the program?

Updates will be posted to the County’s Where to Get Help page. You can sign up for text message alerts about the program, such as deadlines and changes to program procedures, by texting pinellasrent to 888777. Please note that these text alerts do not include updates about the status of specific applications.  

Coverage

3. How much rental assistance can I receive? Will it cover missed payments?

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program allows for up to 12 months of assistance. Rental assistance funds may cover missed rent payments, future rent costs, or a combination of both. Eligible recipients’ past rent payments back to March 13, 2020, must be paid first, before receiving additional rental assistance to cover up to 12 months of total assistance. After the first three months of assistance, the household may be required to provide updated documents to continue to be income-qualified in order to continue receiving assistance.


4. Will the rental assistance cover late fees associated with unpaid rent? 

Yes, late fees related to housing and incurred due to COVID-19 are an eligible expense and will be included with the rent amount due.


5. Can I get my mortgage payment paid?

No. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 requires that Emergency Rental Assistance be provided only to eligible households, which is defined to include only households that are obligated to pay rent on a residential dwelling.


6. Can I get my utilities paid?

Utilities are eligible only in cases where a utility shut off notice has been issued. Although utilities are an eligible use of funds generally, the County has designed the Emergency Rental Assistance program to maximize the use of the funding for assistance with rent payments and to assist as many eligible households as possible with rent.


7. Will this cover hotel costs if I am currently living in a hotel?

The Pinellas County Emergency Rental Assistance Program does not cover hotel costs at this time.

Eligibility

8. Who is eligible to apply?

Renters as well as landlords and property managers can apply via a secure online application portal through the Neighborly Software system. The application process requires input from both the tenant and the landlord. The Pinellas County Emergency Rental Assistance Program is available to help renter households in which one or more individuals meet the following criteria:  

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see below for examples of COVID-19 financial impact);  
  • Is behind on rent payments or at risk of missing a rent payment; and  
  • Has a household income at or below 80% the area median income (AMI). To check your household’s AMI eligibility, visit: www.bit.ly/rental-amiPlease note that new area median income limits are in place as of April 1, 2021. These are updated annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

9. What counts as being financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Your household may be eligible for rental assistance if any of the following conditions apply to one or more members of your household as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  • Have been laid off temporarily or permanently  
  • Have had work hours reduced  
  • Were about to start a new job but could not start, or were terminated from a new job before establishing sufficient work history to be eligible for regular benefits 
  • Are self-employed, and their business is no longer supplying them with income or such income has been reduced 
  • Are independent contractors or gig workers who have not been able to earn fees, or whose fees have been reduced 
  • Have become sick or have been advised by a governmental or medical professional to self-quarantine 
  • Have had to leave a job or reduce hours in order to care for a person who is sick with COVID-19 and/or awaiting COVID-19 test results 
  • Have had to leave a job or reduce hours to care for dependents whose ordinary situations (such as school or daycare) have been disrupted 
  • Have had to leave a job or reduce work hours due to reasonable concern over the risk of infection at work, for themselves or someone in their household (Examples include individuals who are — or live with someone who is ­— elderly, immunocompromised, or more vulnerable due to underlying conditions).  
  • Had an unexpected COVID-related medical or funeral expense 
  • Have other conditions resulting in loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic 

10. Are seasonal residents eligible for rental assistance? 

Seasonal residents may be eligible if they have a lease for a home in Pinellas County and meet the other requirements of the program.


11. Can I qualify if I have a verbal/informal lease? 

In the absence of a signed rental agreement, evidence of the amount of a rental payment may include bank statements, check stubs, or other documentation that reasonably establishes a pattern of paying rent, a written attestation by a landlord who can be verified as the legitimate owner or management agent of the unit, or other reasonable documentation as defined by Pinellas County. 


12. If I lost my job due to the pandemic for a few months but regained employment and am still trying to get caught up, am I eligible to apply?

Yes, you may qualify if you meet the other eligibility requirements of the program, such as the income requirement.

Application Process

13. How do I apply?

Renters as well as landlords and property managers can apply via a secure online application portal through the Neighborly Software system. This program is intended for renter households who meet certain eligibility criteria (see Eligibility section above). The application process requires input from both the tenant and the landlord. Create an account and apply here. 

NOTE: Much of the correspondence for this Program is via EMAIL, so please check your Spam email folder if you have not received any emails from Neighborly Software or from erap.pinellascounty.fl@tetratech.com. 

You can read more about the program’s policies and procedures here

For help with the renter application process, view our Tenant Application video tutorial:


Pinellas County also has several community partners that are available to assist residents who are having trouble applying due to technology barriers (such as a lack of computer knowledge or internet access) or language barriers (i.e. difficulty understanding the application because English is not your first language). These services are provided free of charge to eligible applicants. Click here to view the list of community organizations that are available to assist.


14. What documents will tenants need to submit?

The list that follows may be revised based on additional federal guidance.

The tenant must fill out the Tenant Application and provide the following documentation as part of the application: 

  • First name, last name, and social security number of household members  
  • Copy of driver’s license or other government-issued ID for all household members 18 or older 
  • Social Security card, tax returns, school records or birth certificate for minor household members  
  • Signed lease agreement  
  • Letter of unemployment benefits, if applicable  
  • Proof of income documentation for each household member 18 years or older OR Determination letter from a government agency verifying the household income is at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI).  

Examples of income documentation may include:  

  • W-2 tax form or other wage statements 
  • 2020 tax filing 
  • paystubs 
  • unemployment award letter 
  • Social Security award letter 
  • savings and checking account statements (two months) 
  • attestation letter from an employer 
  • profit/loss statements (for self-employed individuals) 
  • child support documentation, if applicable 
  • For rental assistance, an eviction notice or late payment notice  
  • For utility assistance, a shut-off notice is required. The bill must include the household address and one household member’s name. 
  • Documents for prior rental assistance received (if applicable)  
  • Additional documentation not listed above to demonstrate household income, economic impact, risk of homelessness, and other assistance received that is relevant to your application 

Waivers or exceptions to these documentation requirements may be granted to accommodate disabilities, extenuating circumstances related to the pandemic, or a lack of technological access.


15. What documents will landlords and property managers need to submit in the landlord application?

The application process requires input from both the tenant and the landlord. Landlords need to submit a brief landlord application and provide the following documentation: 

  • A valid W-9 for payment to the landlord or property manager 
  • Lease agreement and rent ledger for each tenant you would like to participate in the rental assistance program 

Landlords can upload documentation for their tenants directly in the landlord application portal. If you have more than 10 tenants, there is an option to upload tenant information in bulk. 


16. Are federal stimulus payments counted as income? 

No, federal stimulus payments are not counted as income for the application.


17. How do I submit the documents required?

All submission, review and processing of applications will be done electronically through our secure online application portal in Neighborly. Tenants will submit documents through the tenant application, and landlords will submit their documents through the landlord application.

For help with the renter application process, view our Tenant Application video tutorial.


18. What happens after I submit my documents?

Once your application is submitted, your case will be reviewed for eligibility. If any required documents are missing from your application, you will be contacted through the Neighborly application portal. 

Applications are reviewed based on priority and the order which they were received.  The review and approval process begins with application intake, then initial review, quality assurance review, payment recommendation compliance review and, finally, payment approval. 

The program received a large volume of applications and is working to process them as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The process from application to payment takes around three weeks but may take longer if additional documents are needed. The best way to ensure a faster turnaround is to take your time when filling out the application and make sure that all of the required information and documentation is included. This will help your application to be processed with minimal delays. 

About half of applications processed to date have required additional information from either the tenant or the landlord. Program staff will reach out to the tenant and/or landlord directly if additional information or documentation is needed to verify eligibility and payment information. Thank you for your continued cooperation and timely response to these requests so that rental assistance payments can be processed promptly. 

NOTE: Much of the correspondence for this Program is via EMAIL, so please check your Spam email folder if you have not received any emails from Neighborly Software or from erap.pinellascounty.fl@tetratech.com.


19. How can I check the status of my application?  

You can check the status of your application at any time by logging into the Neighborly application portal. Our Tenant Application tutorial video explains where to see the status of your application.

The following list provides definitions for each stage of the case file in the tenant application portal. Most statuses will also have a “PC” or “SP” designation indicating whether the case is a Pinellas County or City of St. Petersburg applicant, respectively. 

  • Application in Progress – The applicant is in the process of completing the application and has not submitted it yet.
  • Application Submitted – The applicant has completed the application.
  • Application Under Review – An Eligibility Specialist has started reviewing the application files for eligibility. The application will then undergo multiple checks for completeness. Applicants with incomplete information will receive a request to provide the missing information. 
  • Pending Applicant Information – The application has missing, illegible, or incorrect information. The applicant has been notified to provide the additional information but has not yet responded.
  • Pending Landlord Information – The tenant application has been reviewed, and the reviewer is waiting for the landlord to submit information.
  • Applicant Non-Responsive – The applicant has been contacted three times either by phone and/or email within 21 days and the applicant has not responded.
  • Payment Pending Audit – The initial review, quality assurance/quality control review, and client review are complete, and the case is ready for final audit prior to payment.  
  • Paid – The case has been paid.
  • Withdrawn – The application has been withdrawn by the applicant.
  • Denials Under Review – Application recommended for denial pending review.
  • Denied – The application has been denied by the review team.  The applicant will receive an email with the reason(s) for denial.
  • Void Duplicate Application – The application was duplicated, and the duplicate application has been voided.
  • Recertification Submitted – The applicant has submitted a recertification for additional assistance after initial assistance has been received.

20. How do I apply if I don’t have access to the internet at home? 

Applications must be completed online. The application portal can be accessed via a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. If you do not have internet access, the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative offers free computer access to Pinellas County residents. To find a library near you, visit https://pplc.us/public-libraries

Pinellas County also has several community partners that are available to assist residents who are having trouble applying due to technology barriers, such as a lack of computer knowledge or internet access. These services are provided free of charge to eligible applicants. Click here to view the list of community organizations that are available to assist.  


21. How are applications prioritized? 

Applications submitted through the application portal will be assigned a score based on cumulative points awarded. These points are based on the priorities of the program: 

  • 5 points for households that include an individual who is currently unemployed and has been unemployed for the 90 days prior to application 
  • 5 points for households with income at or below 50 percent of the area median income 
  • 0 point for all other applications 

Once submitted, applications are sorted for review in order of cumulative points awarded, then in order of date submitted. 


22. My landlord has not responded to me about participating in this program. What do I do? 

The Emergency Rental Assistance program relies on participation from both the landlord and the tenant. As part of the tenant application, you will be asked to provide contact information for your landlord or property management company. During application review, staff will make reasonable efforts to contact your landlord concerning participation in the program. 

After all reasonable efforts have failed to obtain cooperation of the landlord, or the landlord does not wish to participate, Pinellas County may make payments directly to the household. 


23. How will my rent get paid?

The funds will be paid directly to the applicant’s landlord or property manager in the form of a check that will be mailed to the landlord address on file.


24. What if my case gets denied?

There are two significant reasons why cases may get denied:

  • You do not meet eligibility criteria.
  • The documentation submitted is not appropriate or clear and, after several attempts, Pinellas County was not able to determine eligibility.

The denial letter you receive if your application is rejected will also explain how to appeal the denial if you believe you are eligible.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program is being coordinated with local housing stability service providers that may be able to provide additional help.  If you do not qualify for Emergency Rental Assistance, you may be referred to one of these providers for assistance.


25. What will happen to my information after it’s submitted? 

All applicant information and documentation will be managed and maintained through a software system called Neighborly, which keeps tenant and landlord data secure and confidential. Pinellas County Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program personnel, including contractors, subcontractors, and partnering agency personnel, will not disclose applicant data outside of the program processes and procedures. 

The application data must be kept secure per federal requirements and in accordance with the “Pinellas County Policy to Safeguard Personally Identifiable Information”. All applicant information and documentation will be obtained, managed, and maintained through the program software system, which is stored in U.S. FedRAMP-certified Microsoft data centers to maintain the security of applicants’ data.  


26. What assistance is available if I already received an eviction notice and/or a court summons? 

Tenants facing eviction may have options through the Centers for Disease Control’s Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions order.  Under this order, tenants must provide a copy of the Eviction Protection Declaration (Español aquí) to their landlord, owner of the residential property where they live, or other person who has a right to have the tenant evicted or removed from their home.   

Please contact the agencies below for free legal aid regarding eviction notices or assistance in completing the Eviction Protection Declaration.:

Gulf Coast Legal: 727-821-0726    

Pinellas County Community Law Program: 727-582-7475   

Bay Area Legal Services: 800-625-2257

Questions for Landlords and Property Managers

27. Why do I need to participate in the application process as a landlord? 

The Emergency Rental Assistance application is a two-part process with a tenant application and landlord application. In order for you (the landlord) to receive your rent payments, you must complete the landlord application through the secure online application portal. This should take no more than 30 minutes of your time.  
 
The landlord application allows the information you provide to remain confidential and separate from the tenant application portal. The information will ensure that the payments are made to the correct person or organization. 

Landlords need to submit a brief landlord application and provide the following documentation: 

  • A valid W-9 for payment 
  • Lease agreement and rent ledger for each tenant you would like to participate in the ERA program 

Landlords can upload documentation for their tenants’ directly in the landlord application portal.  If you have more than 10 tenants. there is an option to upload tenant information in bulk. 


28. Can landlords and property managers apply on behalf of a tenant? How can a landlord assist a tenant with applying?

While landlords cannot apply on behalf their tenants, the Emergency Rental Assistance application is a two-part process with a tenant application portion and landlord application portion. In order to receive rent payments, the landlord or property manager will need to complete the brief landlord application, which should take no more than 30 minutes. 

Landlords and property managers also have the ability to invite tenants to apply (via email address) from the application portal. Landlords and property managers can assist by providing the required documents, including W-9’s and lease agreements, through the secure landlord application portal.
 
Landlords may also wish to assist by providing their tenants with computer resources or scanning the needed documents for the online application. 


29. Will landlords and property managers be able to check the status of their tenants’ applications?

Yes, landlords will be able to check the status of applications and payments on behalf of tenants once they have registered and applied through the Landlord portal. Landlords will also have the ability to invite tenants (via email address) from the Landlord Application portal.   

Upon submission of the Landlord Application, all the tenants listed will receive an email invitation to participate in the ERA program.  If you have 10+ tenants, there is an option to upload tenant information in bulk. 


30. My tenant was impacted last year by the pandemic and owes back rent but has moved out. Does my tenant have to be currently living at my property to qualify for rental assistance?  

Yes. The rental assistance application requires, if available, a current rental agreement, signed by the applicant and the landlord or sublessor, that identifies the unit where the applicant currently resides and establishes the rental payment amount.

Tax Questions

31. I’m a renter, and I received emergency rental assistance to cover my rent or utilities. Do those payments count toward my gross income when I file my taxes?

No, emergency rental assistance payments made to eligible households are not considered income for members of the renter household.


32. I’m a landlord, and I received rental assistance payments on my tenant’s behalf. Are these payments includible in my gross income when I file my taxes? 

Yes, emergency rental assistance payments, whether from the tenant or from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program on your tenant’s behalf, are includible in the landlord’s gross income.

Additional Questions

33. What if I have additional questions about the program?

You can read more about the program’s policies and procedures here.

If your question is not answered on our FAQ page or in our policies and procedures document, you can call 855-379-3515 or email erap.pinellascounty.fl@tetratech.com. Call center hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.


34. Where can I get help with applying?

Pinellas County has several community partners that are available to assist residents who are having trouble applying due to technology barriers (such as a lack of computer knowledge or internet access) or language barriers (i.e. difficulty understanding the application because English is not your first language). These services are provided free of charge to eligible applicants. Click here to view the list of community organizations that are available to assist.

For help with the renter application process, you can also view our Tenant Application video tutorial:

For general information and updates about the Pinellas County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, visit our Where to Get Help page