When California legislators voted last June to again extend eviction protections, they promised the third time would be the charm.
But the state’s rent relief program, which has struggled to reach the neediest tenants and landlords from the start, continues to lag. As of last week, the state has paid $2.4 billion to about 214,000 households — fewer than half of all who have applied for aid.
Those delays — which one study found left the average tenant waiting about three months to get paid — forced legislators’ hands: Last Thursday, the state’s top legislative leaders struck another last-minute deal designed to stave off eviction for another three months for hundreds of thousands of renters who have applied for relief but are still waiting to hear back.
Assembly Bill 2179 was approved today by the Assembly on a 60-0 vote. To pass, it also requires two-thirds majority the state Senate. The current law, set to expire Thursday, says a judge must pause an eviction proceeding if a rent relief application is pending. The new legislation, expected to go into effect by Thursday, would shield tenants through June 30 as the state continues to process their paperwork.
“It is on us to take care of the thousands of Californians — landlords and tenants alike — who reached out to COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs for help and still have their applications pending,” said Assemblymember Tim Grayson, a Concord Democrat who is the bill’s co-author.
“It would be cruel, wasteful and unfair to subject these Californians to eviction or the loss of rental income now, when they have done everything asked of them, and distribution of their emergency rental assistance is imminent,” he said in a statement.
But renters who do not apply to the program by the Thursday deadline will not receive any protections. Landlords will still be able to take those tenants to court over missed rent starting Friday.
California has about $5.4 billion in federal funds to help qualified applicants with 100% of unpaid rent dating back to April 2020, some of which is being distributed by local rent relief programs. Lawmakers last month authorized more state spending if the federal dollars don’t cover the costs.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, endorsed the new bill in a joint statement Thursday, promising it would move quickly through both houses.
Gov. Gavin Newsom appears likely to sign the bill. A spokesperson told CalMatters in an email: “The governor strongly supports an extension that continues to protect tenants well into the summer and ensures that every eligible applicant is protected under this nation-leading rent relief program as it winds down.”
Local protections at risk
On Friday, the California Rental Housing Association, which says it represents more than 20,000 landlords with 575,000 units across the state, issued a statement opposing the bill. The group said that statewide eviction protections are no longer necessary, and it urged the timely payment of rent relief. (Some major provisions of the statewide moratorium expired Sept. 30.)
“Enough is enough,” said Christine Kevane La Marca, CalRHA president. “By halting applications for those in need, and extending the eviction moratorium, rental housing providers are being forced to carry the financial weight of the pandemic and some of them will lose their properties as a result.”
Legislative leaders drove negotiations for the last-minute deal, according to Debra Carlton, executive vice president of the California Apartment Association, which also represents landlords at the state Capitol. As in the most recent extension negotiations last summer, Carlton said neither her group nor tenant advocates were at the table, but their recommendations were taken into account.
The association’s main request was granted: Local jurisdictions won’t be allowed to enact new tenant protections until July 1, and any protections put in place by local governments after Aug. 19, 2020, will also be delayed.
That’s exactly what worries tenant advocates. The bill would postpone hard-fought protections that were set to go into effect on April 1, notably in Los Angeles County, San Francisco and Fresno. A few protections put in place before the cutoff — including in the city of Los Angeles and Alameda County — will remain in place.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal