Millions of California renters are at risk of eviction as tenant protections soon expire, raising fears of a mass surge in homelessness during the deadliest phase of the pandemic so far.
The state’s emergency rules to pause evictions amid the Covid-19 crisis are scheduled to terminate at the end of January, which could result in landlords across California going to court to remove residents behind on rent. But amid a new stay-at-home order and shutdowns due to rapidly rising Covid infections, tenant groups and some lawmakers are pushing for an extension of protections and broader measures to preserve housing.
California’s housing crisis was already dire before Covid. Despite being the world’s fifth largest economy and the home of some of America’s richest zip codes, the state’s affordable housing shortage has long forced hundreds of thousands of households to spend the vast majority of their income on rent. Last year, the state’s homeless population increased to 151,000.
That means the mass unemployment of 2020 has turned the state’s housing problem into a large-scale emergency. A US census survey in November found that more than 2m households in California have “little to no confidence” they can pay next month’s rent – a figure expected to increase with new shelter-in-place orders.
The state government’s response so far has been a patchwork of regulations that have had mixed success.
AB 3088 passed on August 31, 2020.
Under the legislation, no tenant can be evicted before February 1, 2021 as a result of rent owed due to a COVID-19 related hardship accrued between March 4 – August 31, 2020, if the tenant provides a declaration of hardship according to the legislation’s timelines. For a COVID-19 related hardship that accrues between September 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021, tenants must also pay at least 25 percent of the rent due to avoid eviction.
Tenants are still responsible for paying unpaid amounts to landlords, but those unpaid amounts cannot be the basis for an eviction. Landlords may begin to recover this debt on March 1, 2021, and small claims court jurisdiction is temporarily expanded to allow landlords to recover these amounts. Landlords who do not follow the court evictions process will face increased penalties under the Act.
The legislation also extends anti-foreclosure protections in the Homeowner Bill of Rights to small landlords; provides new accountability and transparency provisions to protect small landlord borrowers who request CARES-compliant forbearance; and provides the borrower who is harmed by a material violation with a cause of action.
Additional legal and financial protections for tenants include:
-Extending the notice period for nonpayment of rent from 3 to 15 days to provide tenant additional time to respond to landlord’s notice to pay rent or quit.
-Requiring landlords to provide hardship declaration forms in a different language if rental agreement was negotiated in a different language.
-Providing tenants a backstop if they have a good reason for failing to return the hardship declaration within 15 days.
-Requiring landlords to provide tenants a notice detailing their rights under the Act.
-Limiting public disclosure of eviction cases involving nonpayment of rent between March 4, 2020 – January 31, 2021.
-Protecting tenants against being evicted for “just cause” if the landlord is shown to be really evicting the tenant for COVID-19-related nonpayment of rent.
If you are a landlord or a tenant and need assistance with evictions in California, please contact us today for a free consultation.