Our Take: Extend the Moratorium and Scratch Lost Rent Increases

City Council today will discuss whether and when to wind down the city’s COVID-era moratoria on evictions and rent increases. Council will also discuss whether and how to allow landlords to recapture rent increases denied by the moratorium. From our perspective this is not a tough call: extend the moratoria to at least May 31st in order to align our policy with certain state and county timelines and close the door on lost rent increases. The benefit to COVID-affected tenants is significant and while the impact on landlords appears marginal.

City Council has moved with all deliberate speed during the pandemic. In March of 2020 we were among the first localities to impose a moratorium on eviction for the nonpayment of rent and Council followed quickly thereafter with moratoria on no-fault evictions and rent increases. At the same time, City Council has moved cautiously on relaxing pandemic health measures with an ear always tuned to county and state officials’ pronouncements.

COVID remains an unpredictable and wily foe, and councilmembers have taken the cautious approach to unwinding pandemic measures. Our tenant protections have endured longer than most localities. In fact Beverly Hills is one of the few in California to continue to ban evictions and rent increases). After the legislature declined to renew the state moratorium, our local moratorium offered households that rent the only protection against eviction for nonpayment if they were affected by COVID.

We can see no reason for City Council to take a different approach at this time. Despite a decline in Omicron cases, Los Angeles County has extended its moratorium protections through the end of year. There is also a county indoor mask mandate still in place.

Moreover a variety of conditions makes it a perilous time for households that are economically affected by COVID. Eviction for nonpayment or for any no-fault cause will send those households into a local housing market where rents are up and the vacancy rate is down. Inflation puts the squeeze on household budgets and all rent-stabilized tenants in Beverly Hills will face larger rent increases in the years ahead.

Reasons to Extend the Moratorium

We believe City Council should extend the residential tenant moratoria on eviction and rent increases to May 31st at least and for a few reasons.

First, an extension would neatly align the timeframes of rent repayment under our local moratorium and the latest date for rent repayment as established by the state: May 31, 2023. Our moratorium allows a one-year rent-repayment grace period after our local emergency ends. Extending the moratorium to May 31st would mandate rent repayment under our moratorium on the same date.

Second, Los Angeles County has extended its moratorium on eviction for nonpayment for all county residential tenants through May 31st. (That is phase I of the county extension; phase II extends that protection through December only for means-tested lower-income households.) Extending our local moratorium on eviction for nonpayment to that date aligns the local and county timeframes.

Third, the CA COVID rent relief program continues to disburse rent relief money, according to a recent rent stabilization division communication to tenants, but applications deemed complete are not yet getting funded. Calls to the COVID relief program produce only general information. “It is under review,” said one agent last week about an application deemed complete in October. No other information is available. Extending our local moratorium would provide tenants who have used the city’s process to delay the payment of rent with some solid protection against eviction while we wait for the state to cover rent arrears.

Finally, moving the tentative sunset date out two months would afford City Council additional time to evaluate county and state COVID measures — and time to assess the economic implications of ending tenant protections and the inevitable displacement it will bring.

Pushing back the sunset date on moratorium tenant protections would benefit tenants while presenting only marginal impact on landlords. Industry reports suggest that landlords are receiving most of the rent they are due and 90% of tenants are reported to pay on time or early in the month. Tellingly we don’t have a single datum that would indicate that landlords, collectively or individually, are suffering hardship due to the moratorium.

While conditions are precarious for some tenants, and some landlords may suffer too, it is clear that as a whole landlords are doing just fine. Asset prices are at record highs. Multifamily properties are selling. Real estate hucksters are even rolling out schemes to bring more of those multifamily properties to market. That is not the sign of a rental industry on its heels.

Maybe we’re biased here at Renters Alliance, but it’s not a close call. Extend the moratoria and the tenant protections they provide and forget about those rent increases prohibited during the local emergency.