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As jobs dry up, bills come due, and millions of unemployed people await aid checks, renters and their landlords are trying to sort out how to muddle through.

"Eviction in our world is 100% the last resort," said Neeld Messler, whose NoogaHomes property management group sent a letter this week to tenants suggesting ways they might earn extra cash to make rent, including filing immediately for unemployment, selling plasma or asking family and friends for help.

"The goal is to come together and work out a payment agreement proposal, a plan that keeps us together," Messler said. "Part of this letter was to hopefully help people think outside the box a little bit. It's not telling them what to do."

Particularly for people in the hard-hit hotel and restaurant industries, the sudden stop to their work has sent their personal finances into a skid. Tybee Rudd, 23, was working three jobs — as a server at P.F. Chang's, as an artist selling her work to tourists in Gatlinburg, and at a jewelry store — when the bottom fell out over the last couple of weeks.

"I had three jobs working six days a week, and none of them are going to be able to stay open," said Rudd, who rents a house with three other people in East Brainerd. She has been able to keep a couple of shifts a week filling takeout orders at P.F. Chang's, but it's not clear how she'll recover her lost income and make the bills, Rudd said.

"We can't afford to keep the house that we're in given our circumstances." said Rudd, who tried on Thursday to get onto the state's website to file for unemployment, but couldn't get the overloaded site to work.

"I will sell my stuff, I will work for people, I'll mow your yard if I have to," she said. "I'm hellbent on living and making the most of what I can, but everyone is struggling, everyone is affected by this."

One local property management group is working to help tenants through this crisis by coordinating with local landlords to defer rent and waive late fees. Second Story manages about a dozen downtown buildings, many of them multi-family residences, said President and CEO Tiffanie Robinson.

"We knew people would lose their jobs in this crisis, and we can't control that, but how can we create relief?" she said. The company has found landlords receptive to their suggestions for how to make this time easier on tenants, Robinson said.

"We've let our tenants know that we're here to be the mediator between them and the landlord," she said. "They're in the middle of a crisis just like the rest of us are."

Aid from the federal government is likely headed to many who have been hit by this crisis after the Senate passed a $2 trillion relief package Wednesday night. The measure still needs to get through the House.

In the meantime, the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed evictions in its order extending the suspension of in-person court proceedings, ordering court officials not to displace people from their homes based on failure to pay rent or loans through the end of April.

But until landlords know the nature of the relief they might expect, they still have bills to pay, Messler wrote in his letter to tenants.

"Unless the government orders a stop of all payments due — such as mortgage payments, loan interest, property taxes and insurance — we still need a housing payment from you to cover our costs," he wrote. "Please understand that while certain services and businesses have been suspended in our area, your contract with us and anyone else has not."

Messler decided to send the note after two tenants came to him last week and told him they had lost their jobs in the restaurant industry, he said.

"We mailed that out this week knowing we're in an uncertain time and let's be in this together and work this out," he said.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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