San Francisco's largest landlord earlier this week announced it will forgive the uncovered portion of back-rent owed by tenants unable to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With California's eviction moratorium having expired more than two months ago, thousands of renters across the state have been faced with finding the funds to pay back rent incurred during the pandemic or face eviction.
Back in June, Veritas Investments, which owns some 250 residential properties in the city, announced it would voluntarily extend the eviction moratorium for its tenants through the end of the year, in addition to helping them apply for government rent relief funds.
On Tuesday, Veritas announced it would launch a "first-of-its-kind rent relief program," in which Veritas will forgive the uncovered portion of a tenant's back rent as long as they apply for state relief funds by the state's Jan. 31 deadline.
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If applicants are denied state funds to cover their rent debt based on a shortage of funds, then Veritas and its Green Tree Property Management affiliate company would then pay for the up to 18-month maximum coverage period offered by the state rent relief program.
Veritas COO Jeff Jerden said in a statement, "Veritas has been laser focused on helping our residents stay safely housed throughout this unprecedented crisis, including having the farthest-reaching eviction moratorium in the country, and giving residents direct aid in the million of dollars to date."
Both housing advocates and Veritas tenants have been urging the company to negotiate rent debt directly with its tenants.
In September, in an act of defiance, members of the Veritas Tenants Association announced a strike to withhold state rent relief applications to call out "corporate landlords" that intend on using limited government funds to cover rent debt.
The VTA and advocates with the Housing Rights Coalition of San Francisco alleged Veritas had already received nearly $6 million in federal loans during the pandemic, when eviction and rent moratoriums were in place. The advocates urged Veritas to use those funds to cover the amount of back rent collectively owed by Veritas tenants -- about $5.7 million.
In response to Veritas' latest announcement, officials with the Housing Rights Coalition called the new program a "partial but significant" win.
"VTA members have been at the forefront of urging large, corporate landlords like Veritas to minimize their reliance on public money and negotiate with their tenant associations," VTA member and rent striker Juana May said. "We are proud that Veritas has made these commitments."
VTA members on debt strike are continuing to call on Veritas to negotiate rent relief for tenants affected by the pandemic. VTA members on strike will be voting later this month on whether to continue the strike into January.