Some renters will be allowed to delay paying their landlords after the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of an emergency ordinance that blocks certain evictions in hopes of keeping people in their homes while the local economy remains paralyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new ordinance, which went into effect at midnight, renters who prove they’ve been economically affected by the coronavirus can delay paying all or any of their monthly rent for up to six months. The full accrued balance for eligible renters would be due at the end of November.

“This is not rent relief; the tenant will have to bring rent current,” Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony said. 

Regular rent payments are to resume after May 31 under the ordinance, which also blocks landlords from assessing late fees to qualifying tenants. If rent payments are not made after May 31, any previously missed or partial payments would become due immediately.

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Anthony explained that the ordinance is retroactive and applies to any eviction that was served after March 4, the date that Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California.

If served with a notice to pay or quit, tenants must to notify the landlord of their inability to pay and show documentation that they’ve been affected by the coronavirus.

While the documentation that could be used as proof wasn’t immediately defined, it could include pay stubs, notices of termination and doctors’ notes. Decreases in income and coronavirus-related medical expenses are listed as reasons that could qualify a tenant for the rent-deferral program. For the moment, proving medical expenses are related to coronavirus could be hard as the city has struggled to acquire tests needed to confirm the true number of people who have been infected with the virus.

The council’s vote came on the day that the city saw its positive COVID-19 cases climb to 28. Long Beach saw its first fatal case of the virus Monday.

While the vote to approve the ordinance was unanimous, there was some last-minute maneuvering to try to define what constitutes a “substantial loss” of employment. An amendment to the ordinance was eventually left out but language was changed to state that renters could make partial payments leading up to the Nov. 30 sunset date, at which point the balance of the previous six months of rent would be due.

“Whether it’s a 20% reduction or a 100% reduction it might impact the ability to pay,” Councilwoman Suzie Price said.

Price added that she would encourage renters to make partial payments but said she didn’t want to make partial payments a mandate.

The ordinance is the first element of the City Council’s economic package introduced last week in an attempt to prop up the local economy during the pandemic.

The council is still seeking loan programs to help small businesses and a tax-sharing plan to assist hotels during the statewide stay-at-home order, which has forced most sectors of the economy to cease normal business activity.

While renters received a lifeline from the City Council Tuesday night, property owners could be in line for some relief at the federal level. Councilman Rex Richardson noted that mortgage forbearance was outside the scope of the City Council’s power, but he pointed to efforts in Congress, which is working with lenders to potentially extend or amend mortgage-collection dates.

Passing the temporary eviction moratorium was an act of compassion, according to multiple members of the council. But it was also an act of urgency as cities across the state try to keep people home to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“You can’t shelter in place if you don’t have shelter,” Richardson said.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.