Statewide eviction protections for tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 are set to expire in February; however, a pair of bills introduced Monday by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would extend those protections through the end of 2021 as well as create a rental assistance program to provide financial relief to small landlords.
“California is staring down an eviction cliff come Jan. 31,” Chiu told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. “Tens of thousands of people being forced from their homes will not only mean skyrocketing homelessness, but it also means COVID-19 will be more likely to spread, and that impacts everyone."
California Renters to Owe $1.67 Billion in Unpaid Rent by Christmas
By the end of December, it’s estimated 239,619 California households will be behind in their rent, owing a total of $1.67 billion, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Across the country, nearly 12 million Americans are estimated to have fallen behind on their rent by an average of nearly $6,000.
Chiu authored California's original eviction ban, AB 3088, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in August. That legislation effectively halted evictions for renters suffering a financial hardship related to the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was a stop-gap to get us through new year," Chiu said. "We always said it needed to be revisited."
Let's Break Down the Current Eviction Protections
The law prohibits landlords from evicting renters for any lack of payments due between March 1 and Aug. 31, 2020. While the lack of payment cannot be used as a basis for an eviction, landlords are permitted to sue their tenants in small claims court to collect what is owed but must wait to file those cases until March 1, 2021.
Evictions, according to AB3088, are permitted to resume in February for those tenants who fail to pay at least 25% of their owed rent dating back to September.
Chiu's latest bill, however, would delay the eviction start date until Dec. 31, 2021 so long as tenants continue to pay at least a quarter of their monthly rent.
"Without a change in the law, we are starring down an intense eviction cliff and we could see an enormous eviction tsunami," Chiu warned. “Evicting people during COVID-19 will spread COVID-19."
Tenant advocates say requiring tenants to pay even a quarter of their back rent is overly burdensome and, instead, continue to push for legislation that would absolve tenants of all unpaid rent during the pandemic and provide financial assistance to small property owners.
“The moratoriums have been working, but if they stop working, if we stop having them, if people really are forced to only be protected if they’re able to pay that 25%, we’re going to just have refugee camps all over,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, Legal Director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in Oakland.
Simon-Weisberg said without government intervention, the state could see a crisis akin to a natural disaster.
“There’s three asks that the tenant community is asking for -- that’s rent forgiveness, it’s a fund to ensure that non-profits and small landlords make it out of the crisis, and we also need to make sure that we’re doing mortgage forgiveness as well," she said.
Extending Eviction Ban Could Harm 'Mom & Pop Landlords,' Some Warn
The California Apartment Association, which represents more than 60,000 property owners across the state, said Chiu’s bill goes too far in extending the eviction moratorium through the end of 2021.
“Rental property owners, especially the small owners, are not going to make it that long,” said Debra Carlton, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for the California Apartment Association.
Carlton, who notes that 75% of her members own less than 10 rental units, said that without rent payments coming in, many landlords have had to take out loans to cover their expenses.
“It really comes down to will the state or federal government provide some assistance," Carlton said. "That’s the only way the tenants and owners are going to make it out of this."