As California’s Eviction Protections Wane, Renters Grow Uneasy

New bill would offer limited extension of eviction moratorium

Melissa Lopez struggled through unemployment, homelessness and illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The single mother finally secured a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose for her young boy and adult daughter with help from nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe.

But Lopez left her job as a security guard to take care of her son and her health and owed $9,000 in rent. She applied in October for California’s emergency rental assistance program. While she waited months to get approved, her landlord served her multiple eviction notices. State renter protections allowed her to fend off displacement.

On April 1, those protections are due to expire. Lopez is waiting on a second aid application, and might not be able to pay next month’s rent. “It’s been concerning,” she said.

A new bill could offer a reprieve for Lopez and tens of thousands of Bay Area renters still waiting for the state to review their applications for help. But millions of other tenants not covered under the new bill face uncertainty, upheaval, and even displacement as state courts open more broadly to eviction suits for unpaid rent.

For months, tenant advocates have warned of an “eviction tsunami” when state protections end. Landlords generally were prohibited from displacing tenants for failing to pay rent during the pandemic as long as tenants had applied to the state or another local government program for aid.

But the state program, Housing is Key, has been overwhelmed by applications. Tenants and landlords say the process is confusing, slow and often unresponsive to the needs of non-native English speakers. More than half of applicants are still waiting for their files to be reviewed, according to an analysis by the National Equity Atlas.

The gradual end of renter protections could put many California renters in peril – if they haven’t sought assistance and don’t pay April rent. Housing experts now expect a flood of evictions to hit courtrooms around the state in mid-April.

The new bill, AB 2179, backed by legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom, could offer three more months of an eviction moratorium for a fraction of at-risk renters: the estimated 366,000 California tenants who, like Lopez, are waiting for their requests for back rent and utilities to be processed.

At least 44,000 Bay Area renter families are still waiting on the emergency assistance program, according to the National Equity Atlas. Researchers estimate 740,000 California tenants – out of the state’s 17 million renters – were behind in rent in February.

The $5.6 billion state relief effort, funded by federal pandemic assistance, has distributed about $2.5 billion in the last 12 months. Separate, smaller city and county programs, along with private charities, have also handed out millions in aid.

The bill would mark California’s fourth extension of eviction protections, and is expected to be considered in committee Monday. It would extend the eviction moratorium through June 30 – but only for tenants with active applications in the state relief program. The bill would also pre-empt local efforts to impose new moratoriums in cities and counties, a provision broadly favored by landlords. Local restrictions being considered in San Jose and San Francisco, for example, would be illegal. Local protections in Oakland and Alameda County are already being challenged in court.

“We need to protect eligible renters who have applied for relief funds but haven’t received them yet, or who will apply before the March 31 deadline,” Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said in a joint statement. “We made a commitment to those who are in line and they shouldn’t be harmed because of how long the process is taking.”

Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association said the proposal would allow landlords to get rid of tenants who have a history of non-payment and who haven’t applied for the state program.  “The time has come,” she said. “We’re coming out of the pandemic.”

The proposed, limited extension is a let-down for tenant advocates. A coalition of nonprofits lobbied lawmakers to extend the relief program and accept new applicants until August and add state funding to the pot. An extension would help more families, they argued, while the pandemic threat still disrupts many workers. The statewide unemployment rate in February was 5.4%, above pre-pandemic levels.

“There’s still a lot of need,” said Francisco Duenas of Housing Now!, a nonprofit coalition of tenant advocates.

San Jose-based property manager Jeff Zell said the rental assistance program has been slow and cumbersome, but he’s been able to secure about $2 million in back rent for landlords. Zell, who manages about 2,100 units, said landlords are anxious to break ties with tenants who haven’t paid full rent for months.

Click here to read the full article at the Mercury News

Comments

  1. Move to the Gov’s house. He’ll take care of you!!

  2. At some point reality has to be faced. To put the burden on the landlords is to show the true face of government that cares little for those forced to subsidize a totally mismanaged programs. When the government does come up with the money, who is it actually coming from? The word is “US”. Where is responsibility in this system?

  3. Really??? says

    I am one of the landlords. I have had it with the Socialist State of Kalif.

    I am selling. The resultant long term increase in rents faced with a Democrat inflation will be significant.

    It is too bad, since if I was not faced with nasty rent control or eviction laws that are totally unfair I would not sell.

    Family business in renting goes back over 100 year, current property over 70 years,,,,,

    Thanks to the Socialist / Communists the renters will be hurt……….

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