California courts resume eviction negotiations this week, but a series of new safeguards could ensure financially troubled renters don't lose their homes, at least later in the year.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an urgent law on Monday to prevent landlords from throwing out tenants who have been financially affected by the novel coronavirus. And on Tuesday, citing the risk of increased homelessness, overcrowding and the possible spread of COVID-19, the Trump administration announced a moratorium on all nationwide evictions related to pandemics by the end of 2020.
The new rules apply to an estimated 17 million renters in California and 40 million across the country. Due to their wide application, the measures offer basic protection for all tenants who previously had to decipher an uneven patchwork of rules that regulate who was allowed to be evicted and when.
However, enforcement of the new rules remains complex and leaves significant gaps. None of the new efforts are foregoing rent payments, which could result in huge tenant debt that will ultimately need to be caught up. Landlords for their part receive a slim relief for their own installation costs. And the government program could require the completion of a burdensome legal process to qualify for relief, worrying tenant lawyers, who point to studies showing that more than 90% of tenants in eviction cases do not have lawyers.
In this way, tenants and landlords can navigate through the new rules.
What should a tenant do if he has not paid rent or is unable to do so for the rest of the year?
The simplest answer: tell your landlord.
The new federal rules offer the simplest option. To qualify, renters must expect to earn less than $ 99,000 this year. Affected tenants must inform their landlord in writing that they have suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19 and have unstable living if they lose their apartment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published the form that tenants are required to fill out and it is accessible through the federal register.
As soon as the tenant does this, he is protected from eviction until January 1st, although then all unpaid rents would be due.
While the federal program is simple, the new state and some existing local government protections in California are more generous to renters.
What additional protection do tenants get under the new state rules?
According to the new state law, landlords cannot vacate tenants if they have not paid their rent between March and August. It is important that these rental debts do not disappear, as with the federal program. But unlike federal regulations, landlords can never vacate tenants for this overdue rent. Instead, landlords can take their tenants to a small claims court as early as March 2021 to collect the amounts owed.
Government regulations are a little more complicated when renting until the end of January. They require the tenants to pay at least a quarter of the rent owed during this period. However, the money is not due until the end of January. In other words, tenants can avoid being evicted for missed rental payments in the next five months as long as they pay a quarter of the amounts owed by January 31 – even if the payment is made in a lump sum that day.
In theory, this means that landlords couldn't begin evicting tenants until February for unpaid rent related to the pandemic.
Even if the tenant is able to pay a quarter of the rent necessary to prevent the eviction, landlords could continue to seek to collect the remaining debt in a small claims court.
What's the catch?
Although landlords are banned from pandemic evictions, they can now initiate eviction procedures – even for unpaid rents – that they believe have nothing to do with COVID-19. To protect themselves, tenants must respond to formal eviction notices.
In court, landlords must give tenants 15 working days to respond with a letter confirming their financial plight due to COVID-19. Renting households earning more than $ 100,000 – or even more in counties with higher median incomes such as the Bay Area – may need to provide additional documentation to demonstrate that they are economically affected by the pandemic.
It is possible that landlords will submit an eviction notice every month in the future if a tenant does not pay rent. In this case, a tenant would have to respond every time to make sure they are protected.
On Wednesday, the Newsom administration announced a new information campaign and website called Housing Is Key to educate tenants and landlords of their rights under the new government program.
So which evacuation cases can proceed?
Landlords can take legal action against tenants if they fail to pay the rent. Landlords were frustrated with not being able to displace tenants for property damage, criminal activity, and other rental agreement violations. You can do this now unless a city has issued additional prohibitions against other forms of eviction.
In the past few weeks, it has taken frantic negotiations before Newsom, lawmakers, landlords and tenant groups reached an agreement to stave off a wave of evictions that is estimated to seduce 5.4 million California renters.
However, all sides in the effort called the new bill a stopgap solution that could allow lawmakers to come up with a broader proposal once they start debating the legislation again in January. The governor and lawmakers are hoping for more financial support from the federal government by then.
"As significant as these new safeguards are, we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic will still result in foreclosures and evictions, which will cause great pain for the families who are experiencing them," said Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego) and Congregation Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) in a statement announcing the eviction contract last week.