Tenants Things You Should Know: A Beverly Hills Community Education Workshop

On February 24th staff from Beverly Hills housing rights legal services provider Bet Tzedek and from the rent stabilization division presented the fifth and latest in a series of community education workshops. This virtual workshop focused on the local and state protection from eviction due to nonpayment of rent which is available to households affected by COVID–19; and the new State Rent Assistance Program. Here’s our recap.

The title itself is an understatement because ‘Tenants Things You Should Know’ presents important information that Beverly Hills tenants should have known since the state enacted statewide protection against eviction due to COVID–19 back in August.

The state legislation added another layer of protection to the city’s own local moratorium on eviction for nonpayment that has been effective as of March 15, 2020. The processes are broadly similar — a tenant who must delay the payment of rent due to COVID–19 can’t be evicted now — but the steps are different and the repayment of rental debt differs too. Read more in our explainer: How the COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act Affects You.

The format of the webinar was a loose “informational and conversational” presentation punctuated by caller questions. We break out the video into five chapters chapters to help viewers find to information they need. We also note and link to the approximate times in the webinar video.

A Story in Five Chapters

‘Tenants Things You Should Know’ kicked off with a presentation on the unlawful detainer process from Michael Green, the Bet Tzedek attorney working primarily with Beverly Hills residents. During the pandemic, local and/or state protections keep tenants housed if they follow the proper process to declare financial hardship related to COVID–19. Find this discussion starting at 7m38s on the video.

Green then discussed the Beverly Hills local moratorium. Specifically, the required steps in the city’s process: notify the landlord, attest to hardship due to COVID–19, and provide documentation to the landlord. Find this discussion starting at 14m30s on the video.

Hanna Kommel discussed the state’s COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act (SB 91). This is the meat of the webinar! The Bet Tzedek staff attorney for the Preventing Homelessness covered the procedural steps for tenants who want the state protection including how to respond to the 15-day notice, making the required 25% partial payment (by June 30th), and, most important, what it means to convert rental debt into consumer debt. Find this discussion starting at 29m 43s on the video.

The implications for tenants who have delayed rent under the local moratorium, or may delay payment under the local moratorium, are discussed at two particular points during Kommel’s state protections discussion: at 37m39s on the video begins to discuss state-local interaction and 1hr 2m 54s on the video addresses repayment differences.

Kommel then continues on to the State Rental Assistance Program. The program channels federal COVID money to pay rent arrears, utility bills and some other housing costs for qualifying COVID–19 affected households. The key qualification criterion is that households can earn no more than 80% of area median income but the benefit is focused on lower-income households. Find this discussion starting at 1hr 10m 10s on the video.

Nearing the end is a brief discussion of federal protections against eviction issued by the CDC last year. This protection will likely not benefit most renting households in Beverly Hills who can access protection under the local and state moratoriums. Find this discussion starting at 1hr 23m 27s on the video.

The webinar wraps up with general questions fielded by Helen Morales, deputy director of the rent stabilization program. Find this discussion starting at 1hr 29m 40s on the video.

Our Take

At one Bet point Tzedek attorney Hanna Kommel cautioned, “The worst thing you can do when you have a legal question is wait.” That is true. But we would add that the worst thing our rent stabilization division can do is wait too long to inform tenants about the evolving tenant protections in the era of COVID-19.

On one hand, the webinar presented a useful overview of the complex local and state protections available to tenants. We finally learn about the state’s protection against eviction for non-payment of rent due to COVID-19. And we learn about the new State Rental Assistance Program.

On the other hand, this webinar is the only substantial outreach to tenants about the state protections since they were established last August. The bilingual PowerPoint (English & Spanish) doesn’t reflect our city’s needs. We have few native Spanish speakers but many native Farsi speakers, many of them older and in need of assistance.

Tenants Things You Should Know PowerPoint slide

Those quibbles aside, we can certainly gripe about the city’s continuing communication failures. Six days after the webinar was aired it is mentioned on the rent stabilization division website in the future tense; there is no link to the video. (We found it the Rent Stabilization Commission video archive where nobody will look.)

Update:After a query to the city over the weekend, the video link was posted to the rent stabilization division website and upcoming BHTV channel 10 times were posted too. Progress!

We took the initiative to make the ‘Tenants Things You Should Know’ video more widely available and we also indexed it by topic. We have also compiled some SB 91 resources and have posted them below. Do you have a question about SB 91 or protection against eviction generally? Get in touch with Renters Alliance.

Resources

Renters Alliance explainer: How the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act Affects You.

COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act eviction moratorium update from our rent stabilization division.

City attorney memo on the COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act.

Sample COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act required notice to tenants.

COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act (SB 91) bill text

Bet Tzedek: Call (323) 939–0506 extension 499 (the extension is important) with any legal question about the local moratorium and the COVID–19 Tenant Relief Act. The attorney handling Beverly Hills tenant issues is Michael Green. Be warned: you may have to wait 24–48 hours for a reply.