The clock never stopped for many eviction cases

As emergency orders expire, evictions set to increase

While California officials scramble to enact emergency eviction protections before the current ones expire, San Francisco tenant advocates warn that cases are already piling up.

The state’s Judicial Council on Thursday rescinded emergency rules that have stopped most eviction proceedings since April; the rules are now set to expire on Sept. 1. That has triggered a race against time in the California Legislature to pass competing eviction bills with two-thirds of the vote.

“We’re all fearing the worst,” said Ryan Murphy, supervising attorney at the Eviction Defense Collaborative. “There’s going to be a flood of cases that have been saved up for months and months. The courts are totally ill-equipped to deal with cases.”

That spells even worse news for the people facing the types of evictions that never stopped completely. Landlords were still allowed to bring or continue cases to do with nuisance, public health, and some pre-coronavirus grievances.

From March 17 to June 30, at least 158 cases have come through the doors of EDC, which manages The City-funded legal counsel program for tenants facing evictions.

About 37 percent were due to non-payment, 35 percent were attributed to nuisance, and eight percent listed no cause. Latinx residents made up 30 percent of the new intakes, Black residents made up 21 percent, 25 percent were from white residents, and 6 percent were Asian Pacific Islander.

Those numbers don’t include tenants who didn’t seek legal help or cases where a landlord has argued that a settlement agreement reached from a previous dispute has been breached, Murphy said. And many of those cases they do know about — about 32 percent — occur in supportive housing.

Landlord representatives argued the Judicial Council rules prevented them from keeping tenants safe.

“What we need is the ability to move out tenants who have created a hostile environment for the other tenants,” said Debra Carleton, executive vice president of state public affairs at the California Apartment Association. “This has truly not been possible under [the council rules].”

State action notwithstanding, San Francisco tenants able to remain in their homes are protected by a local permanent eviction ban. Nonpayment of rent during the emergeny due to coronavirus won’t ever be grounds for the landlord to evict them, state action notwithstanding.

But the courts will still be overwhelmed with cases without the emergency court rules, which could divert critical resources from the neediest tenants, Murphy said. Though the Judicial Council emergency rules didn’t stop some types of cases from continuing, their revocation spells trouble for their experience in the courts moving forward.

The rules didn’t just prevent evictions from non-payment, but tripled the limit for a trial to 60 days. That gave tenants precious time to seek counsel and lawyers to better prepare the cases.

With more cases, the number of people covered by San Francisco’s right to counsel ordinance could go down, said EDC Director of Litigation and Policy Cary Gold. Murphy also noted that they were bracing for more tenants unable to pay rent due to the expiration of bonus federal unemployment benefits.

“Due to capacity reasons, we can’t help every tenant who just calls in,” Murphy said. “Not only do you have more cases, you’re going to have all the cases moving exponentially quicker. Now our attention is going to have to be diverted from [supportive housing cases.]

“Nobody’s optimistic,” Murphy added.

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