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The Tenant, Homeowner and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act protects small landlords while protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID-19 related nonpayment of rent. File photo
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California enacts new eviction protections for tenants, landlords

REGION — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an eviction law on Monday aiming to accommodate tenants, homeowners and landlords negatively impacted by COVID-19.

The Tenant, Homeowner and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act protects small landlords while prohibiting tenants from being evicted for COVID-19 related nonpayment of rent until Feb. 1, 2021.

Tenants affected by a COVID-19 hardship occurring any time from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31 are required to pay at least 25% of their cumulatively owed rent to avoid eviction come February.

Statewide, about 43% of total households face a risk of eviction as they struggle to pay rent, according to the global advisory firm, Stout Risius Ross. Stout estimates 11,697,000 eviction filings over the next four months — a number exacerbated by the lack of local moratoriums and the Judicial Council’s vote to resume court proceedings for evictions starting today.

The legislation is more restrictive than previous state relief, but Newsom is urging the federal government to fill in the gaps.

“California is stepping up to protect those most at-risk because of COVID-related nonpayment, but it’s just a bridge to a more permanent solution once the federal government finally recognizes its role in stabilizing the housing market,” Newsom said. “We need a real, federal commitment of significant new funding to assist struggling tenants and homeowners in California and across the nation.”

Unless further support comes, residents may continue relying on local protections. Local eviction moratoriums are still valid through their set expirations, but any extension or creation of a measure enacted on Aug. 19 or later can’t take effect under the new law.

Residential and commercial eviction moratoriums have already been provided by cities such as Encinitas, Escondido, San Marcos, Oceanside, Chula Vista, San Diego and more across the state. Some cities instead relied on the Judicial Council’s halt of evictions — a layer of protection no longer available to residents.

“Many [city councils] have not acted, leaving tenants vulnerable to immediate eviction in court once court proceedings resume on September 1st,” Tenants Together Spokeswoman Shanti Singh said. “Cities [could’ve passed] their own moratoriums … but if they haven’t already done so already, it’s going to be too little, too late.”

For Carlsbad, a commercial eviction moratorium from April will continue to protect businesses unable to pay rent due to a COVID-related decrease in business income. The city’s chance to enact further protections for residents is now gone.

David Graham, Carlsbad’s chief innovation officer, points to one factor that may be making cities hesitant: the trend of lawsuits against the Judicial Council’s eviction moratorium and moratoriums in cities such as San Francisco. Now without the Judicial Council’s stay on evictions, local jurisdictions may be more vulnerable to lawsuits, but Graham says the legal context is for council members to consider.

“Across the state, there is legal turmoil on both local and state actions on eviction moratoriums,” Graham said. “Especially when we’re dealing with private property, when cities enact legislation that may harm another and may harm the value of private property, the city can become liable for attorney fees. So when it comes to taxpayer dollars, there is an exposure there.”

Still, one Carlsbad family is already facing the effects of local inaction.

The family is facing a no-fault eviction, where their landlord chose to end the tenancy without citing any fault of the tenant as a reason. The family is a mother who’s on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients and a father who’s fighting the eviction while helping their grade-school daughter with distance learning.

Before the new legislation was in place, Newsom’s Executive Order N-28-20 authorized cities to enact eviction moratoriums due to a tenant’s inability to pay rent, which Carlsbad never implemented for residents. Graham says this order didn’t authorize cities to protect residents from evictions due to any reason other than nonpayment of rent.

Yet the executive order laid out that “local jurisdictions based on their particular needs may therefore determine that additional measures to promote housing security and stability are necessary to protect public health or to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19.” Several cities, including Beverly Hill and Los Angeles, have taken advantage of the authority and initiated protections against no-fault evictions during COVID-19, though qualifications vary across cities.

As the Hogan Lovells law firm put it, “if a local moratorium provides greater protections, the local moratorium applies.”

“They’re just assuming that if you’re paying your rent that you’re not gonna be evicted, but that’s not the case,” the Carlsbad father said. “We need relief from the government. We need them to step up. We need to have a stable environment for [our daughter], and we definitely don’t have that.”

Moving forward, groups such as Tenants Together urge Newsom to enact a statewide moratorium to fully protect residents before California sees serious consequences.

“It’s hard sometimes to find the right word to describe what this means for Californians,” Singh said. “It’s a cataclysmic scenario and we will be feeling the effects for decades to come.”