California’s ban on evictions would last through 2021 under new extension proposal

Hannah Wiley

Hannah Wiley

The Sacramento Bee

California tenants struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 would have until the end of 2021 to avoid eviction under a moratorium extension a San Francisco lawmaker plans to introduce Monday.

At the end of August, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3088 into law, which requires tenants to pay at least 25% of their rent from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, 2021 to avoid eviction. Tenants weren’t obligated to immediately back-fill payments missed from the start of the emergency in March through the summer, as long as they proved economic hardship, but landlords are entitled to eventually recoup all rent lost.

The law’s protections are scheduled to expire Feb. 1, and landlords can start collecting missed rent in civil court by March.

But as COVID-19 continues spreading through every corner of the country, with most Californians under new regional stay-at-home orders due to diminishing intensive care unit resources, Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said another law is needed to prevent a wave of evictions.

“People are still struggling, still unemployed,” Chiu said. “We are staring down an eviction cliff if action is not taken.”

The new proposal extends the moratorium through Dec. 31 of next year. Tenants would still have to pay at least 25% of their total rent by that deadline, but landlords cannot begin evictions until 2022 without “just cause” unrelated to pandemic-related financial duress.

The legislation would also impose additional regulations on landlords, like increasing penalties for illegal lockouts or imposing late fees and interest on struggling tenants. Landlords also could not retaliate against or harass renters or add certain language to a “pay or quit” notice to force payments.

Given the state of emergency in California, Chiu said he will introduce the bill as “urgency” legislation, meaning it will need two-thirds majority approval in the Legislature to take effect before 2022.

Chiu’s plan is sure to excite tenants rights activists left disappointed this year with AB 3088’s limitations. The ongoing economic emergency has only added to their frustration that more help is immediately needed.

While the state’s unemployment rate fell from 11.1% in September to 9.3% in October, millions of Californians at one point during the pandemic have faced eviction.

“All of us deserve to have shelter from the storm, a permanent home, and food and medicine to keep us healthy. Now more than ever, our collective well-being depends on it,” the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment has recently included in emails to legislators and Newsom. “And yet, at a time when housing security is recognized as paramount, we face a massive eviction and foreclosure crisis beyond anything we have seen before, unless government steps in to stabilize the housing market, and thus the economy.”

Mass evictions may also “accelerate” the spread of COVID-19, a Nov. 30 study by researchers from UCLA, Johns Hopkins and other top universities says, because they lead to “household crowding” and reduce “individuals’ ability to comply with social distancing directives.”

Opposition from landlords and realtors is likely. Throughout the 2020 session, negotiations over the current eviction moratorium remained contentious. During the process, the California Apartment Association said a plan had to prioritize financially burdened property owners.

“Our goal has been to provide both help for tenants who are truly affected by COVID-19,” the association included in an August statement, “as well a compensation for landlords at risk of foreclosure after several months without rent payments.”

Chiu said he also plans to unveil legislation that would address this issue by providing long-term economic relief for both tenants and their landlords.

That idea is still considered an “intent” measure, meaning details will be drafted later. But the legislation is currently written to include a “framework for distributing financial support to ensure long-term stability for renters, small landlords, and affordable housing providers.”

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