With state and local eviction bans set to expire Thursday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 28, used the remaining authority it has under new state legislation to pull together a mixed bag of commercial and residential renter protections.
The latest effort to fend off a widely feared flood of evictions was far from the full-fledged protection launched back in March 2020 as the pandemic raged across L.A. County. And yet so much is still at stake, with more than 744,000 households in the county behind on rent, said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion with Sheila Kuehl.
Supervisors used their authority to extend protections to commercial and business renters for non-payment of rent. But the county could offer only limited protections to residential renters, because of new state laws. In both cases, the extensions will last until Jan. 31, 2022.
The vote was 4-0 with Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstaining.
“These protections don’t prohibit evictions. I think that’s important for people to understand,” said Kuehl. “They essentially provide both residential and commercial tenants with a defense if your landlord files an eviction with the courts — an affirmative defense.”
Tenants would still have have to answer to an eviction notice — but could steer clear of actual eviction if they can display evidence of hardship that convinces a court they should not be displaced.
Officials expect that state officials will not extend California’s moratorium, which also ends on Sept. 30.
That would clear the way for landlords to start removing tenants for failing to pay rent during the pandemic. About 7% of California tenants are behind on rent, accounting for an estimated $3.5 billion in debt, according to an analysis released in August by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Under the state’s related legislation, removing a tenant during the still volatile and evolving pandemic will be much more complicated, costly and time-consuming than during pre-COVID times. Landlords will regain rights to kick out tenants for nonpayment, but renters can also avail themselves of limited protections through March by applying for rent relief from the state.
Since the Judicial Council of California lifted the prohibition on eviction filings in September 2020, property owners have been able to resume eviction filings with the courts. But tenants can use the state and local protections as affirmative defenses against these fillings.
Advocacy agencies, state housing officials and nonprofit social agencies have been bracing for a wave of requests for aid and for help navigating the renter-landlord relationship under new state law.
And locally, officials have sounded the alarm, too, signaling to renters who have delayed payments that there is still time to find support.
“I hope that L.A. County residents who fell behind on their rent during the pandemic act quickly to apply for the state’s Housing Is Key rent relief program in order to secure protection from eviction while the state processes the applications,” Kuehl added later in a statement.
“This is urgent, we must protect renters now as California recovers from COVID-19. The shield that keeps the eviction sword away is applying for rent relief,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, in a statement.
“Rent relief pays 100% of back rent for many COVID-19 impacted tenants but not enough LA county residents are applying,” Santiago added. “That’s why we’re sounding the alarm, helping set up application workshops and knocking on doors to let folks know that the money is available. There’s no time to delay. Apply. Apply. Apply. ”
Indeed, county officials said there are still hundreds of millions of dollars in the pipeline, from state and federal sources, that could be tapped to assist people in paying rent.
LAPD officers who won’t get COVID-19 vaccines ‘endanger’ residents, police commission president says
Employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all
Hospital issues panic buttons after COVID-related attacks on staff
Seeking ‘transparency,’ LA County supervisors launch coroner’s inquests into deaths of 3 men
LA County COVID-19 numbers improve, but vaccinations continue to lag
Under the board’s action on Tuesday, the county will extend previously enacted county protections against tenant harassment and retaliation.
The effort prohibits rent increases on rent-stabilized units in unincorporated L.A. County.
And it expands permissible owner movie-ins — owners who want to move in to a property they own, but which would displace tenants. That protection came with strict eligibility criteria to ensure that tenants suffering financial hardships were not left without a place to live. And it expanded such move-ins beyond single-family homes to include duplexes and triplexes.
Much of the board’s discussion on Tuesday centered on striking an appropriate “balance” between tenants and landlords, both of whom offered testimony during public comment.
Discussion ranged from the prospect of being evicted and what the impact would be for residential renters and small-business owners, hit hard by the economic toll of the pandemic. Landlords, too, spoke emotionally about the difficulties of not being able to collect rent and the impact on their livelihoods.
Many were in favor of extension, just hoping to gain some breathing room as the pandemic rages on. But others were not, including longtime landlords who rely on the rent to pay their own bills.
It was clear, as Kuehl noted, the action marked a “deliberate” phase-out the county’s moratorium, while still finding a way to do it gradually and in a way that wouldn’t create mass evictions.
Nonetheless, officials expect thousands of eviction notices to be filed in the coming days.
Evictions begin for 1,000 LA County renters with pre-COVID judgments
With oversight shift to state, L.A. rent-aid program will expand to help more in need
California’s eviction ban is ending, what’s next for tenants, landlords?
Barger, who as chair of the board last year signed the initial moratorium, sought “further analysis and thought” on the best way to do phase out the program once the pandemic wanes.
“We are using our best judgment to take actions to meet the needs of our constituents. However, this can and should be a more informed and a deliberative process,” Barger said. “The continued extension of the county’s moratorium should be re-evaluated to determine whether the tenant protections extended are meeting the needs that exist today.”
The board approved Barger’s amendment to require county staff to create a phase-out plan, based on stronger data.
“If we are going to move away from the moratorium we should have a road map going forward that’s going to benefit the tenant and landlord,” she said.