Beverly Hills city council has unanimously agreed to impose a moratorium on residential evictions for non-payment of rent when coronavirus (aka COVID-19) circumstances cause tenants a loss of income. Symbolically the moratorium puts Beverly Hills in good company: Santa Monica and Los Angeles have also adopted a moratorium. Practically this measure will keep some tenants housed. The moratorium represents the city’s continuing commitment to protect the more than half of city households in rental housing.
We thank Mayor John Mirisch for making sure that the moratorium on evictions was included among the emergency measures considered by city council in an extraordinary Monday March 16th meeting. Over seven hours councilmembers debated whether to close businesses and how the city can put a stop to utility shut-offs. But the most significant measure to protect the welfare of the public may be the emergency measure to keep tenants housed.
The moratorium will put on hold evictions for non-payment of rent by residential tenants if they are affected by COVID-19, which includes illness, care-giving for somebody who is ill, or a loss of income related to COVID-19 including public health measures. The moratorium provides protection against eviction not only for non-payment of rent but also for no-fault evictions ordinarily allowed by law. It is a sweeping temporary policy to keep people housed for the duration of the local emergency.
Details to be Finalized
For now we do know a few important aspects of the emergency measure as agreed unanimously by city council this afternoon. (At 8pm the package of COVID-19 emergency measures was still being discussed — six hours later.)
- The moratorium only covers for-cause evictions for non-payment of rent and only when there is an inability to pay AND it is demonstrably related to COVID–19;
- The moratorium does not relieve the tenant of any obligation to pay rent, so any deferred rent obligation will be payable at a later date (perhaps according to a payment schedule and six months was suggested);
- Landlords cannot collect late charges from any household to which the moratorium applies (those late fees will not be incurred at all);
- Once the moratorium expires the landlord could not then move to collect back rent by (for example) filing an unlawful detainer action as leverage;
- The process for adjudicating material impact and its relevance to COVID–19 is yet to be determined.
Two caveats about the moratorium must be understood. The moratorium will not prevent for-cause termination for, say, damage to the unit, breaching the terms of the rental agreement, illegal uses, or unapproved subtenants. And the moratorium does not address no-fault just-cause terminations which are lawful in instances of redevelopment, major remodeling or landlord use of a unit. (Reasons for termination are listed on the rent stabilization office website.)
The moratorium takes immediate effect but we don’t yet know some key aspects of the policy.
Will the moratorium apply to a household already in the process of eviction? If a household has missed a rent payment due to COVID-19 measures and has already been served for unlawful detainer, will the moratorium keep that household in place? (Contact Renters Alliance if that is the case so that we can connect you with the proper city official.)
How will the city determine whether or not a tenant’s inability to pay arises from a material impact related to COVID–19? The moratorium would not apply if there is no demonstrable inability to pay the rent, or if the inability to pay is not related to COVID–19 private-sector (employer) or public sector directives or policies. Who decides and through what process? At present a two-member city council committee decides. Will that decision ultimately go to the Rent Stabilization Commission?
Will a tenant benefit from the presumption that COVID–19 has materially affected her ability to pay the rent? If the tenant’s claim is considered a rebuttable presumption, then the claim would stand unless and until the landlord successfully rebuts the presumption. If the burden of proof falls on the tenant then the tenant would have to demonstrate to a decision-maker that the impact of COVID–19 is both material and relevant to non-payment of rent.
How long will the moratorium be in effect? The longer the term the potentially greater the rent backlog — with consequences for both the tenants (who are responsible for rent arrears) and landlords (who suffer harm). At present it will last through the period of the local state of emergency.
Will landlords get help too? If COVID–19 measures materially impact a substantial proportion of tenants in a smaller property, which then results in the non-payment of rent but no eviction for those tenants, there is the prospect of cascading harm to landlords. Should the city extend some consideration to ‘mom and pop’ owners?
The eviction moratorium takes effect immediately but those issues will come back to city council for more discussion at the next scheduled meeting on March 31st. Rest assured that Renters Alliance will be involved in shaping the final moratorium!
To sum up, the moratorium is intended as a backstop in instances where a tenant and landlord cannot come to a private accommodation to defer or delay the payment of full rent when COVID-19 is a factor. According to the council’s preliminary council discussion the criteria for eligibility under the temporary eviction moratorium would include:
- “Being sick with COVID–19” or caring for a household or family member who is sick with COVID–19;
- Layoff or loss of hours or other income reduction resulting from employer impacts related to COVID–19;
- Compliance with a recommendations from a public health authority to stay home or self-quarantine;
- “Extraordinary” out of pocket medical expenses incurred as a result of COVID–19;
- Expenses related to childcare needs arising from school closures related to COVID–19.