364,000 California families face eviction due to the economic impact of Covid-19, according to a recent report by Gary Blasi at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
By Ryan Bell
At the moment, California Judicial Council Emergency Rule 1 prevents eviction filings from being processed. Landlords may file an eviction action but no summonses will be issued by the court until Rule 1 is lifted. This is the strongest protection tenants have against eviction in the State of California. However, the Judicial Council has signaled that it intends to repeal Rule 1, and it is calling upon the legislature to take up the matter.
“Our communities are suffering from a gaping wound,” said Elena Popp, executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, a legal aid non-profit representing tenants in Los Angeles County. “The State Judicial Council put a tourniquet on the wound and waited for the executive and legislative branches to pass laws to address the displacement threat. Local elected officials responded by putting band aids on the wound while the State Legislature and Governor stood around watching but failed to act. The Judicial Council plans to suspend Rule 1 as early as August 14.”
Assembly Bill 1436
Enter Assembly Bill 1436 (Chiu, San Francisco). This legislation, which is currently before the Judiciary Committee, would make it illegal to evict a renter for nonpayment of rent accrued during the COVID-19 emergency and 90 days afterward. After the moratorium period, landlords are encouraged to accept rent repayment agreements instead of filing evictions. The legislation also would prevent rent debt accrued due to Covid-19 from negatively affecting a tenant’s credit score.
What this means is that a tenant who owes a landlord back rent for Covid-19 related reasons would still owe this debt, but it would not be grounds for eviction and the tenant would not receive a negative credit report. The usual remedies for unpaid consumer debt would apply.
Additionally, according to a July 28 press release from Assemblymember Chiu’s office, AB 1436 has been amended to include mortgage forbearance provisions for property owners. “Preventing a wave of evictions and foreclosures is critical to stabilizing our economy and keeping our communities healthy,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “These new amendments take a more holistic approach to our COVID-related housing emergency by balancing the needs of tenants, homeowners, and landlords.”
The housing justice community is strongly behind this legislation. Francisco Duenas, executive director of the state level housing justice coalition, Housing NOW!, told ColoradoBoulevard.net that this is an essential first step to make sure families remain housed during this pandemic:
If it passes, this legislation will give us more time to support a full recovery. If you get foreclosed on or get evicted there’s no going back. You can’t undo that.
Housing NOW! and other housing justice organizations are encouraging folks to call their Assemblymember and Senator to urge them to vote yes on AB 1436. The California Apartment Association is opposing the bill.
A full recovery from the current economic devastation requires that the mountain of debt that will be owed by already rent burdened tenants be addressed. Tenants unions around the country, including the Pasadena Tenants Union, have been calling for rent forgiveness. Representative Ilhan Omar introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act in the House of Representatives on April 17, but for three months it has been sitting in the Financial Services Committee without any action being taken.
Meanwhile, keeping people safely housed during the Covid-19 pandemic is a top priority for housing justice organizations, tenants unions, and public health officials.
Ryan Bell is an organizer with Pasadena Tenants Union and a member of the Pasadena Northwest Commission.