(CALMATTERS) – Just days before courts resumed processing eviction filings after a five-month freeze, California this week enacted statewide protections through next year for tenants struggling to pay rent amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 8 million Californians have filed for unemployment since mid-March and advocates fear a massive eviction wave as both tenants and landlords have lost income.
Here’s what you need to know about the new rules, according to the state, lawyers and housing advocates.
Q: What protections do tenants have under the state rule?
A: The new state measure bans evictions based on unpaid rent between March and August and requires tenants to pay 25 percent of their rents between Sept. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021 to prevent court-ordered evictions.
Q: I’m a landlord. Does the state measure offer any protections for me?
A: The law does not wipe out unpaid rent and landlords can pursue that debt in civil court starting March 1, 2021.
In addition, California’s new law might offer some relief to homeowners and landlords with less than five properties who are struggling to pay their mortgages because of the pandemic.
Those with a federally insured mortgage can request under the CARES Act that repossession of their property be delayed. If your mortgage isn’t backed federally, you can contact your lender to request the extension. If they deny your request, they must provide an explanation detailing the reasons, after which you’ll have 21 days to correct any issues brought up that aren’t related to the pandemic. Homeowners and landlords may also contest a denial notice. If you believe your lender has violated the law, the statewide eviction ban might give you standing to file a lawsuit and you may want to consult legal services.
The measure also temporarily expanded the powers of small claims courts to allow landlords to pursue any amount owed to them starting March 1, 2021.
Q: So can I still be evicted?
A: Yes and no. You can’t be evicted for having failed to pay rent since March as long as you pay 25 percent of your rent from September to January and provide a declaration under penalty of perjury that the pandemic has caused you a significant loss of income. Tenants have 15 days to provide the declaration from the moment a landlord hands them a notice to pay rent or vacate. The law also requires landlords to give tenants written instructions about their rights, including materials in the tenant’s native language. Payments don’t have to be monthly, but by Jan. 31, tenants must have paid 25 percent of the rent due from September to January. Tenants who have a declaration and pay a quarter of their rent are protected through Jan. 31, regardless of their immigration status.
However, the statewide measure does not offer protection from evictions due to other causes, such as health and safety. If you believe a landlord may be violating your rights under state or local bans, you may want to contact legal resources.
Q: What happens if I can’t pay 25% of my rent from September to January?
A: Under the state’s rules, you would not be protected from eviction. Tenant advocates suggest you gather documentation showing pandemic-related hardship and try to negotiate directly with your landlord. Some local eviction bans may offer added protections if they are still in effect.
Q: What happens to local eviction moratoriums?
A: The new state rules allow local eviction bans to remain in place until they expire, but prohibit further protections that contradict the state’s rules. In addition, local provisions that extend repayment of rent or offer a more lenient repayment schedule may have to be amended to conform to the state law. Multiple counties are in the process of reviewing their regulations.
Q: My landlords say I need to leave because they want to remove my unit from the rental market. Can they do that?
A: Yes, under the Ellis Act, landlords may evict tenants to remove a unit from the rental market. Landlords need to notify tenants at least 120 days in advance. The City of Richmond’s moratorium prohibits Ellis Act evictions, as do Alameda and Santa Clara County’s rules with some exceptions.
Q: My landlord says there is a health and safety issue. Is that grounds for eviction?
A: Yes, all moratoriums allow evictions based on a health and safety risk.
This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.
BY LAURENCE DU SAULT | CALmatters