California renters are mere days away from seeing protections that have shielded them from eviction due to non-payment of rent over the past 15 months disappearing unless state officials vote to extend them in the coming week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and state leaders reached a deal in August to allow renters who lost income during the pandemic to stay in their homes so long as they paid 25% of their cumulative back rent.
In January, lawmakers approved a plan to use $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money to pay up to 80% of renters’ unpaid rent if landlords agreed to forgive the remaining 20% and extended the expiration date for those protections through June 30.
Renter advocate groups and property owners are now odds over when the protections should come to an end.
A statewide extension?
Newsom and legislative leaders are meeting privately to determine what will be done about the June 30 deadline, with a potential extension of the state’s ban on non-payment evictions on the table, according to the Associated Press.
The AP, citing a senior counselor to Newsom, said that the state’s $5.2 billion in federal aid it has set aside appears to be enough to pay for all unpaid rent in the state.
Both the state’s and federal protections for renters expire at the end of the month, and it could leave renters with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from unpaid rent. When the protections expire, renters would be required to pay a lump sum of 25% of the money owed after the June 30 date, as well as all of their monthly rents going forward.
Josh Christian, an eviction lawyer with Legal Aid Foundation Los Angeles, said that the combination of a balloon payment in addition to ongoing rents could contribute to a spike in evictions. Christian explained that the law only protected tenants who could not pay their rents due to the pandemic and had that properly certified with their landlords.
Those who have made verbal contracts with landlords can be evicted. He added that there has been a rise in “at-fault” evictions with landlords claiming that tenants have breached their leases or are nuisances in order to get around protections afforded to those economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The term moratorium suggests they were halted across the board,” Christian said. “That’s not the case.”
Lawmakers have until the end of the month to announce a potential extension.
LA County extension?
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on an eviction moratorium extension through September at its Tuesday meeting, and any changes would apply to Long Beach.
LA County supervisors Shiela Kuehl and Hilda Solis are asking the five-member board to support a motion that would extend the county’s eviction moratorium through the end of September.
Kuehl and Solis’ motion creates some “limited carve outs” for owners to move in family members into units occupied by persons who haven’t been economically affected by the pandemic, but keeps in place protections for those who have not paid rent due to financial hardships.
“Given that the State may not extend its eviction protections past June, this Board should take action to extend eviction protections during this crucial time as programs to assist tenants and property owners impacted by the pandemic continue to develop,” the motion said.
The motion would also block tenants from being evicted for failure to comply with a payment plan, and would prevent landlords from applying a rental payment to any accrued rental debt. It would, however, allow landlords to move in family members into a unit of a tenant who has been able to pay rent and the person being moved in is “similarly situated” to the tenant.
That would mean the two tenants would have to be similar in age, have the same accessibility requirements, similar health conditions and socioeconomic standing.
Those landlords would have to issue a 60-day notice to the tenant and it could be extended if someone in the unit tests positive for COVID-19 within two weeks of the move-out date. Tenants moved out of their units in these situations could also be eligible for relocation benefits paid by the landlord.
The supervisors are also requesting a report from the county’s legal team on the feasibility of requiring property owners to apply for rent assistance programs before seeking legal action against tenants to recover unpaid rents.
The board of supervisors is scheduled to meet virtually at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting can be streamed on the county’s website.
Long Beach has largely followed the state and county with its pandemic response policies. With the City Council not scheduled to meet until July 6, the body would have to call a special meeting to enact any kind of emergency protections that extend beyond June 30 for Long Beach renters.
The council has faced calls from the public for weeks to take action on the soon-to-expire protections, but the city has instead focused on pushing its rental assistance program, which the city said earlier this month would be extended through July 11.
The city has $51.4 million in rental aid it can offer tenants and landlords, but it requires both parties to apply for or accept the aid that was sourced from state and federal relief. Both landlords and tenants rights groups have lobbed complaints at the program over its arduous application process and the possibility that the qualifications spelled out for the program could leave many people who need help on the outside looking in.
Mike Murchison, a lobbyist who represents the Small Property Owner’s Alliance, said that the 80% area median income requirement—about $70,300 in LA County—has unfairly limited who can access the funds to pay their unpaid rents.
“If you were making $100,000 a year and you got laid off and you can’t pay your rent does it really make a difference?” Murchison said.
While he expects evictions to happen whenever the protections do expire, Murchison said that his clients’ first priority is to work out a deal with existing tenants to keep them in the building and get compensated from the state.
Murchison said that some of his clients are owed up to $40,000 per tenant and in some cases the tenants have not been able to complete the city’s application because they lack the necessary tax documents. As of two weeks ago Murchison said the city had only received a few thousand applications and estimated that there are potentially over 100,000 renter households in the city.
Roughly 60% of residents in Long Beach are renters.
Murchison said that the rules should be loosened to allow for property owners to apply on the tenants’ behalf. If the state chooses to extend its protections again, Murchison said that his clients would be on board if it meant that 100% of the rent would be paid by the state, instead of 80%.