Apartment Renters Call On Landlords To Accept Substitutes For Pay Stubs
Apartment landlords require prospective tenants to submit proof of income to help determine if they’ll be an asset or liability. Such scrutiny is reasonable, as they don’t want their real estate to suffer because a renter’s been missing their payments. Pay stubs are the most preferred way, as they allow a glimpse into an applicant’s income and taxes.
But as of late, renters—potential and current—have been calling on landlords not to limit their checks on pay stubs by submitting other documents. Leading the call are people who don’t get pay stubs at all: freelancers, independent contractors, and individuals receiving benefits, to name a few. The substitutes range from tax forms to freelancing contracts.
If your employer does not provide a pay stub then information is readily available on what to do.
While some landlords have been lenient, many others aren’t as easily convinced. The ongoing COVID crisis has only aggravated the tense relationship between landlords and their tenants. Would anything other than pay stubs be acceptable? Are landlords obligated to accept them?
Why Pay Stubs?
Getting to the root of this issue warrants an understanding of pay stubs and reasons landlords prefer this proof of income. For their small size, pay stubs contain information landlords can quickly peruse, namely these three figures:
Gross Earnings – the total income before deducting taxes and other deductions, as agreed upon between employer and employee
Year-To-Date (YTD) Gross – the total earnings a person has earned for the year, which can include commissions and other payments
Net Pay – the amount received after taking out taxes and other deductions
These details speak a lot about a prospective or current tenant’s finances. Gross earnings tell how much they earn at work, YTD gross can show if their gross income might not be enough, and net pay shows how much they’re taking home.
More importantly, pay stubs are used to confirm if a person meets the income requirements, known as the rent-to-income ratio. Landlords can calculate this based on the person’s gross annual income or their property’s monthly rent rate. Either way, the formula hinges on the standard of spending no more than 30% of one’s income on housing (of course, not everyone sticks to this rate).
Pay stubs are also too common, with only nine states not requiring employers to produce them (though they can opt otherwise). Among the pay stub states, 26 are ‘access states,’ requiring employers to grant employees access to their pay details in any form. Eleven are ‘access/print states’ that require a written, printed, or electronic pay stub.
It’s worth noting that there’s currently no federal law requiring the issuance of pay stubs. The most relevant legislation, the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, is still pending reading in Congress since being introduced in 2019.
Overall, their detailed information and accessibility make pay stubs the best proof of income to present. So, what’s behind the call for landlords to agree to pay stub alternatives?
Changes in Employment Nature
People who don’t work for a specific employer, namely freelancers and independent contractors, typically don’t get pay stubs. Naturally, those currently unemployed or who have lost their jobs also don’t get them. These situations are worth considering, being prevalent in the first year of the pandemic.
One study estimated that close to 10 million working Americans ages 16 to 64 were rendered unemployed, based on averages of the first to third quarters of 2019 and 2020. Lockdowns and quarantine measures meant most of them were unable to report for work for months. They took the brunt of layoffs, if not company closures.
Cut off from their sources of income, millions of tenants found themselves behind rent payments. Analytics last year estimated the average unpaid rent to be nearly USD$6,000 among 12 million tenants. Even with the CARES Act and other relief packages, millions were still being evicted or facing eviction, and more will be denied a new rent space due to a lack of updated pay stubs.
Meanwhile, this downward spiral has fueled the growth of the self-employed demographic. One survey in 2020 stated that the representation of freelancers in the American working population has increased to 36% from 28% in 2019. Their contribution to the federal economy has also gone up by 22% from 2019.
Their income from freelancing is more or less the same as from their previous office-based work. The same survey reported that three out of four respondents said they’re earning as much from freelancing as from traditional employment. To help them keep within the income requirement, freelancers take more jobs.
In both instances, pay stubs won’t be as applicable. The irregularity of income from government benefits or independent contractor work means reporting gross income will be more challenging. The lack of a specific employer means the workers themselves will be responsible for declaring their income and taxes for the landlord’s scrutiny.
As mentioned previously, landlords can be lenient enough to accept alternatives but not all of them. Providing proof of income other than pay stubs boils down to how much they can detail the three important figures: gross income, YTD gross, and net pay.
Below are some of the best available options.
With more people going freelancing, there’s bound to be an increase in the number of 1099 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They’re similar to W2 forms but designed for those earning outside a W2 or traditional employment setup.
The IRS handles dozens of types of 1099 forms, the most common being 1099-MISC (for any earnings not from a W2 employer, such as a side business) and 1099-NEC (for any income coming from self-employed setups like freelancing). Those receiving government benefits under laws like the CARES Act receive a 1099-G form.
Form 1040, known as the tax returns form, is another suitable IRS document to serve as a pay stub alternative. It’s a collective look into an individual’s income tax return, from the gross income to applicable taxes. Regardless of employment status, every American has a 1040 form in their name, making it viable.
CPA Official Statement
Sometimes, providing proof of income from multiple sources can be cumbersome, which is why landlords ask for an official statement from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or any qualified financial manager. This document provides the self-employed individual’s income in the previous year and projected earnings in the following year.
Those operating a small business can present pertinent business records instead of pay stubs. These can include sales records, accounts receivable and payable, profit and loss statements, receipts and invoices, and banking statements. Having these documents on hand not only helps with tenant checks but also filing business taxes.
For people receiving benefits under either private or government programs, they can submit a benefits statement. One common example is the Benefit Verification Letter, issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This document provides proof on whether or not an individual’s receiving benefits.
Workers’ Compensation Letter
If a prospective or current tenant has suffered an injury at work that resulted in lost wages, a workers’ compensation letter can report those details. Lost wages can be reported as valid income, especially if the tenant will resume regular work soon.
Freelancers working with clients in the long term can produce a duly accomplished client contract. Like a conventional employment contract, this document explains the terms of payment for a freelancer’s services over a given time. It’s an excellent way to show proof of income stability to landlords.
Not Stable Enough
The abundance of alternatives shows that tenants don’t necessarily have to produce pay stubs if circumstances prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, even with these credentials, landlords turn away people if they don’t get the proof they want. Most don’t consider any form of income outside of traditional employment as stable.
The American Bar Association refers to such incidents as ’source-of-income discrimination,’ refusing tenants regardless of the legality of their source of income. The issue becomes uglier when race, gender, and poverty enter the equation. Despite some state and local laws outlawing such behavior, enforcement hasn’t been strong enough.
As of this writing, protection against source-of-income discrimination extends to 16 states and 90 cities and municipalities. Knowing where your locality of choice stands on the issue is important, especially for using Section 8 vouchers (Housing Choice Voucher Program) as proof.
Keep in mind that landlords still have the right to deny people that don’t make the 30% industry standard for income. Earning enough is a different issue from earning lawfully.
Pay stubs are no less valid in the landlord’s eyes, as they provide a wealth of information. Their struggle to remain afloat in an economy badly hit by the worst health crisis since the Spanish flu is also understandable. A steady stream of rent is the only way they’ll be able to pay their taxes, among other obligations.
But it also pays to remember the tenants themselves are in a similar struggle. Circumstances beyond their control will force them to cut costs wherever they can, namely moving to a more affordable space. It would do tenants a considerable favor if landlords became more open to credentials beyond pay stubs.