By Christopher B. Dolan and Katelyn P. Dembowski
Gina from San Francisco asks: What is going to happen now that Congress failed to extend the eviction moratorium? What is California doing to protect tenants?
Dear Gina: These are really pressing questions. On Sept. 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a nationwide temporary federal moratorium on residential evictions for the nonpayment of rent. Legislatures in California had done this on a state level a few days prior, protecting California residents from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC federal eviction moratorium was set to expire on July 31, 2021. Congress failed to extend it, leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to evictions starting as early as Aug. 1.
Ultimately, House Democrats did not have the votes they needed to extend the moratorium, and Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess (it is expected to return to Sept. 20). The Biden administration is unable to extend the moratorium through executive action, citing a recent court ruling for lack of power. In a case filed by landlords against the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the CDC’s eviction moratorium was beyond its scope of authority as a federal agency.
Unfortunately, the end of the eviction moratorium will leave roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. on the brink of eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
On June 28, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 832 to extend the state’s eviction moratorium through Sept. 30, 2021, for the third, and likely final, time.
In addition to extending the moratorium, the legislation cleared rent debt for low-income Californians who have suffered hardships during the pandemic. AB 832 will also cover 100% of past-due and prospective rent payments, as well as utility bills, for income-qualified tenants from April 2020 through September 2021.
There are ways you can protect yourself as the eviction moratorium comes to an end:
If your landlord gives you a notice to “pay or quit,” you cannot be evicted if you return a Declaration of COVID-19 Related Financial Distress. You must return the declaration to your landlord within 15 business days of receiving the notice. If you do not provide the signed declaration within 15 business days, an eviction proceeding may be filed against you. If you are unable to provide the declaration to your landlord within 15 business days, you still may submit the declaration to the court, provided you have good reasons for not providing it in time. These include, but are not limited to: mistakes, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect under the California Code of Civil Procedure.
Under AB 832, to be eligible for cleared rent debt, tenants must earn 80% or less of the area median income, which varies in each county. To put that into perspective, San Francisco’s median income in 2019 was $96,265. You would need to earn $77,012 or less to qualify for the additional assistance through AB 832.
If you make more than the median income and are ineligible for rent debt clearance, you are still protected from eviction if you pay at least 25% of what you owe your landlord by Sept. 30.
If your household income is more than 130% of the median household income in your county or more than $100,000, your landlord may demand proof of your COVID-19 related hardships to support your declaration. Proof may include tax returns, pay stubs or statements from your employer.
Until Oct. 1, a landlord may only evict a tenant for a legally valid reason. You could be evicted during the moratorium if you break your lease agreement, do something illegal on the property, or the landlord must do necessary renovations. The moratorium is only for past-due rent payments.
The extension of the eviction moratorium in California should give tenants some breathing room as the pandemic goes on and uncertainties surrounding the surge in the COVID-19 delta variant continue, somewhat resembling the situation at the start of the pandemic.
While these guidelines are in place now, changes are happening every week, day and hour, as we have seen throughout the pandemic. Stay safe and keep informed as we continue to navigate the public health crisis together.
Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm, PC. Katelyn P. Dembowski is an associate attorney in our San Francisco office. We serve clients throughout the Bay Area and California from offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions for future articles to: email@example.com. Each situation is different and this column does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with an experienced trial attorney to fully understand your rights.