County Moratorium: New Protection from Eviction for Low-Income Households

The Los Angeles County moratorium protection against eviction for nonpayment of rent is back in effect. As of July 1, 2022 low-income renting households may delay the payment of rent if they are unable to pay rent due to COVID by filing a declaration with the landlord. The landlord must accept the declaration and no documentation is necessary. This will come as a relief to households financially impacted by COVID yet were left out on a limb after City of Beverly Hills sunset our residential tenant moratorium on May 31st. But the county moratorium offers additional protections too. Let’s take a look.

Renting households economically affected by COVID had more to deal with during the pandemic than just making the rent: it has been a full-time job to simply keep track of the various local, county and state moratoriums and the varying protections each offers. Complicating the picture, these moratoriums came and went but information posted online about COVID tenant protections is often is outdated and inaccurate.

What’s a renting household to do? Turn to Renters Alliance. Here we look at the county moratorium (which is codified in the resolution that adopted it) and also the county’s accompanying implementation guidelines to make sense out of these important tenant protections. The county moratorium takes effect tomorrow on July 1, 2022 which makes it a good time to inform Beverly Hills tenants about protections some of us need but most of us never knew we had. Why? Because the Beverly Hills Rent Stabilization Office never informed us about the county moratorium’s protections.

About the County Moratorium

The county enacted its moratorium titled, Amending and Restating The County of Los Angeles COVID–19 Tenant Protections (hereafter “county moratorium”) to protect renting households in the county from eviction due to nonpayment of rent. Nonpayment must be due to financial impacts related to COVID. ‘Financial impact’ is broadly defined in the county moratorium and so is ‘related to COVID–19.’ The county moratorium extends that protection to incorporated cities within the county, including Beverly Hills.

The county moratorium also extends other protections that are not otherwise available to Beverly Hills renting households. For example, the landlord is prohibited from evicting a tenant for keeping “unauthorized” occupants or pets when their presence is related to COVID. Landlords also may not abuse state law’s unit entry provision in a manner that can be construed to constitute harassment.

The protection against eviction for nonpayment due to COVID economic impact is in effect from July 1, 2022 through December (unless extended) and importantly it applies only to low-income households. Low-income is defined as earning 80% or less of area median income (AMI). Other county moratorium protections related to occupants, pets and harassment extend to all renting households regardless of income — and housing type. Single-family and condominium tenants are categorically eligible.

To gain protection against eviction for nonpayment due to COVID under the county moratorium, the tenant must send a Notice to Landlord of Inability to Pay Rent form to the landlord within 7 calendar days of the date that rent is due. There is no minimum partial payment necessary. Rent delayed pursuant to the county moratorium comes due one year after the moratorium expires. Again the landlord must accept the declaration; no proof of COVID impact is required.

The other protections provided by the county moratorium may be invoked in response to a landlord action. For example if the landlord issues a 3-day notice to correct the presence of an unauthorized occupant or pet, a renting household should inform the landlord that the presence of the occupant or pet is related to COVID and refer the landlord to the county moratorium. Harassment related to unit entry is more complicated. Please get in touch with Renters Alliance with any question about your eligibility for these protections.

The county moratorium has established these protections through December 2022 through they may be amended and perhaps extended by the Board of Supervisors. There is also some chance that the state legislature steps in to preempt the county’s moratorium protection against eviction for nonpayment. It did so in April. If that happens then Renters Alliance will keep you informed.

Let’s next look in detail at the provisions. We draw upon the county’s moratorium and the accompanying implementation guidelines posted by the State Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Find annotated versions and more at the end of the post.

County Moratorium Definitions

The county moratorium provides protection against eviction for nonpayment only when the inability to pay rent is related to a negative financial impact related to COVID–19. ‘Financial impact’ is broadly defined, according to county moratorium subsection IV(E). The county’s moratorium implementation guidelines (hereafter “guidelines”) summarizes impact this way:

“Financial Impacts” means a substantial loss of household income caused by the COVID–19 pandemic, loss of revenue or business for Tenants due to business closure, increased costs, reduced revenues, or other similar reasons impacting a Tenant’s ability to pay rent due, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, layoffs, or extraordinary out-of- pocket medical expenses. — Guidelines p. 4

‘Related to COVID’ is also broadly defined in moratorium subsection IV(M) and is summarized in the guidelines this way:

“Related to COVID–19″ means it was a result of any of the following: a suspected or confirmed case of COVID–19, or caring for a household or family member who has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID–19; lay- off, loss of compensable work hours, or other reduction or loss of income or revenue resulting from business closure or other economic or employer impacts of COVID–19; compliance with a recommendation from the County’s Health Officer to stay at home, self-quarantine, or avoid congregating with others during the state of emergency; extraordinary out- of-pocket medical expenses related to diagnosis and testing for and/or treatment of COVID–19; or child care needs arising from school closures related to COVID–19. — Guidelines p. 6

‘Eviction’ is defined broadly to include not only court action but also the serving of a notice (and even harassment in pursuit of a voluntary vacation of the unit). As explained in the guidelines:

“Eviction, or attempting to evict a Tenant”, means serving or attempting to serve a notice that is a prerequisite for terminating a Tenancy (e.g., a notice to pay rent or quit), filing or attempting to file an unlawful detainer summons and complaint, serving the Tenant with a copy of an unlawful detainer summons or complaint whether or not the summons and complaint has been filed, or taking any other action that can reasonably be construed by a Tenant as an attempt to terminate a Tenancy or cause a Tenant to vacate the property. — Guidelines p. 4

Protection From Eviction for Nonpayment

The most important protection offered by the county moratorium is the prohibition against eviction for nonpayment of rent due to financial impact related to COVID. In the absence of the Beverly Hills city moratorium, the county moratorium is the only game in town for low-income households that continue to experience COVID-related hardship. The protection is codified on p. 10:

Tenant shall not be evicted for nonpayment of rent, late charges, interest, or any other fees accrued if the Tenant demonstrates an inability to pay rent and/or such related charges due to Financial Impacts Related to COVID–19, the state of emergency regarding COVID–19, or following government-recommended COVID–19 precautions, and the Tenant has provided notice to the Landlord within seven (7) days after the date that rent and/or such related charges were due, unless extenuating circumstances exist, that the Tenant is unable to pay. — Moratorium subsection VI(A)(1)

Again, the county moratorium limits that protection to low-income households and it allows for self-certification — no documentation necessary:

Residential Tenant whose household income is at 80 percent Area Median Income or below and who is unable to pay rent incurred from June 1, 2022, through the end of the Extension Protections Period is protected from eviction under this Resolution, so long as the reason for nonpayment was Financial Impacts Related to COVID–19, and the Residential Tenant has provided notice to the Landlord to this effect and self-certified their income level and financial hardship within the timeframe specified in this Paragraph VI. — Moratorium subsection VI(A)(1)(ii) p. 11.

The guidelines furthermore explains that the nonpayment protection extends to housing-related fees too. There is also a provision for notice after the seven-day deadline in the event of extenuating circumstances:

A Landlord shall not serve a notice to evict on or otherwise attempt to evict a Tenant…Who fails to pay any amount of rent or other costs or fees, including but not limited to late charges and interest, if the Tenant demonstrates an inability to pay such rent or other costs or fees due to financial impacts related to COVID–19, the state of emergency regarding COVID–19, or following government-recommended COVID–19 precautions, so long as the Tenant has provided the Landlord with notice of an inability to pay within seven (7) calendar days of the date the rent or other costs or fees were due, unless extenuating circumstances exist that prevented the Tenant from providing timely notice, including but not limited to the Tenant’s illness or the illness of a family member for whom the Tenant is providing care. Tenants are encouraged, but are not required, to provide this notice in writing. — Guidelines p. 9

Repayment of Delayed Rent

The repayment period for rent that will be delayed pursuant to the county moratorium is one year after the expiration of the county moratorium:

A Residential Tenant whose household income is at 80 percent Area Median Income and was unable to pay rent incurred from April 1, 2022 through the end of the Protections Period shall have up to twelve (12) months thereafter to repay such rental debt, unless extended further by the Board. — Moratorium subsection VI(C)(1)(c) p. 16.

If a tenant fails to repay the landlord in a timely manner, that is not however sufficient grounds to evict the tenant if the payment of rent was lawfully delayed pursuant to the county moratorium. Moreover the landlord can’t force into any repayment agreement an eviction clause, according to the county moratorium:

Residential Tenant’s inability to pay back unpaid rent during the Extension Protections Period under the terms of a payment plan, or at the end of the repayment period, shall not be cause to evict the Tenant. Any term in a payment plan that allows eviction due to the Tenant’s failure to comply with the terms of the payment plan is void as contrary to public policy. Protections set forth in this subsection shall be an affirmative defense for a Tenant in any unlawful detainer action filed by a Landlord. — Moratorium subsection VI(C)(4) p. 17.

Evictions Prohibited on Other Grounds Such as Harassment

The county moratorium includes several other protections that apply to tenants in Beverly Hills about which our Rent Stabilization Office never informed us.

Unauthorized occupants and pets. The county moratorium prohibits eviction when the grounds for the attempted eviction are presence of an “unauthorized occupant” or unauthorized pet (meaning that the lease doesn’t recognize such occupant(s)):

A Residential Tenant shall not be evicted for nuisance or for unauthorized occupants or pets whose presence is necessitated by or related to the COVID–19 emergency. — Moratorium subsection VI(A)(4) p. 14.

The guidelines go into a little more detail about this protection and includes an example to guide the tenant in challenging an eviction:

Nuisance or Unauthorized Occupants or Pets. A Residential Tenant shall not be evicted for nuisance or for maintaining an unauthorized occupant or pet on the premises, if the occupants or pets are present because of the COVID–19 pandemic. By way of example only, and without exclusion, an unauthorized occupant or pet may be present because of the COVID–19 pandemic if the Residential Tenant is caring for the child or pet of a person who is sick with COVID–19. — Guidelines p. 13

Abuse of unit entry. State law allows landlord entry for only a few well-defined reasons which we enumerated in our explainer, When Can the Landlord Enter My Unit? Yet during the pandemic we saw landlords routinely demand access for a general inspection and the like. Not only is that not legal; it is not prudent during a pandemic.

In January of 2021 the county moratorium incorporated a protection against eviction for denying the landlord entry except for health and safety. Yet Beverly Hills tenants didn’t hear about the county’s new protection because our Rent Stabilization Office never informed us. Moreover, the RSO office took zero interest in instances of unlawful entry brought to the office’s attention.

The current county ordinance has narrowed the entry provision to apply only in instances where abuse of the entry provision becomes harassment which may be intended to pressure a tenant to ‘voluntarily’ vacate. Instances that may constitute harassment include:

…entries, and attempted entries, for inspections that are not related to necessary repairs or services; that are excessive in number; that improperly target certain Residential Tenants; that are used to collect evidence against the occupant; or that are otherwise beyond the scope of a lawful entry. — Moratorium subsection IX(D).

If a tenant denies entry due to such behaviors the county moratorium provides the tenant with an affirmative defense if an eviction action proceeds to court. (Such landlord behavior should always be properly documented by a tenant but it is crucial when invoking the affirmative defense.)

Also when entering a unit the landlord, his worker, or a prospective buyer/tenant must take the proper COVID precautions…or else:

A Landlord who enters the rental unit shall promptly leave the rental unit if the Residential Tenant revokes permission to enter because of the Landlord’s failure to observe appropriate social distancing, cleaning, and sanitization measures. — Moratorium subsection VI(A)(5)(b)(iii) p. 14.

Again, if the tenant refuses entry because precautions aren’t followed, then the county moratorium provides the tenant with an affirmative defense.

Harassment. More broadly, the county moratorium protects tenants from a variety of landlord behaviors that can be construed as harassment, and which may include but are not limited to:

  • Interrupting, terminating, or failing to provide housing services;
  • Failing to repair and maintain — or failing to exercise due diligence in completing repairs;
  • Failing to follow remediation protocols “designed to minimize exposure” to noise, dust, lead, paint, mold, and asbestos;
  • Attempting to influence a tenant to vacate “through fraud, intimidation or coercion” or offer of a cash payment “accompanied with threats or intimidation”;
  • Evicting in bad-faith based upon a pretext or “upon a legal theory which is untenable under the facts known to the Landlord”;
  • Refusing to accept rent, waiting more than 30 days to cash a rent check, and/or refusing to acknowledge receipt of a rent payment;
  • Infringing on tenant’s privacy by (among other things) “entering or photographing portions of a rental unit that are beyond the scope of a lawful entry or inspection”;
  • Threatening a tenant “by word, gesture, or with physical harm” or through private or public written or verbal communication, including online posting, when such speech is “offensive and inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction”; and most broadly,
  • “Other repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace, or quiet of any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of such rental unit and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a rental unit to vacate such rental unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy.”

These additional protections enumerated in county moratorium section IX pp. 18–20 are important because many of these behaviors are relatively common among unscrupulous or unprofessional landlords in Beverly Hills. Yet neither state law, nor our rent stabilization ordinance, explicitly and specifically protect tenants from them.

Remedies

Remedies for violations of the county moratorium fall into three categories: civil liability, criminal liability, and affirmative defense. Landlords are rarely prosecuted for criminal offenses so let’s focus on civil and affirmative defense pursuant to county moratorium section XI.

Civil Liability. Any Tenant, or any other person or entity acting on behalf of the Tenant who will fairly and adequately represent the Tenant’s interests, including the County, may enforce the provisions of Paragraphs V, VI, VII, VIII or IX of this Resolution by means of a civil action seeking civil remedies and/or equitable relief…The maximum civil penalty for violation of Paragraph IX of this Resolution is increased from $1,000 to up to $5,000 per violation for each day the violation continues, and if the aggrieved Tenant is disabled or sixty-five (65) years of age or older, the court may award an additional penalty of up to $5,000 per violation per day. No administrative remedy need be exhausted prior to filing suit to enforce these Protections. — Moratorium section XI(A)

Tenants could look to the County of Los Angeles and perhaps City of Beverly Hills to enforce the county moratorium provisions. Alternately or in addition, a tenant can bring a suit in Superior Court to enforce the provisions by court order and even obtain damages.

Affirmative Defense. Effective March 4, 2020, any Protections, including the Protection pertaining to Personal Guarantees for commercial rental debt, provided under this Resolution shall constitute an affirmative defense for a Tenant in any unlawful detainer action brought pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 1161, as amended, and any other civil action seeking repayment of rental debt. Said affirmative defenses shall survive the termination or expiration of these Protections. — Moratorium section XI(C)

It is up to the tenant to invoke an affirmative defense in an eviction proceeding because the county and city won’t step in on behalf of a tenant.

Our Take

City of Beverly Hills proceeded to sunset our moratorium in part because councilmembers were under the impression that the county moratorium would be a backstop to protect tenants from eviction for nonpayment. But didn’t work out that way: though the county tried to protect tenants, Sacramento undermined that effort by preempting the nonpayment eviction protection. Once the city’s moratorium ended on May 31st there were households that couldn’t pay rent and were vulnerable to eviction.

For low-income households there is the reprieve offered by Phase II of the county moratorium. That’s what we are talking about here. But you will only read about it here because the rent stabilization office should have informed us but didn’t. So we have pulled together the available information into a handy guide. And it wasn’t easy: Los Angeles County online is not exactly user-friendly; and Sacramento’s meddling has rendered some of the posted material outdated and irrelevant.

The rent stabilization office should have separated the wheat from the chaff to provide Beverly Hills residents with a locally-vetted source of up-do-date information like other rent control cities do. No dice. We have spoken to many tenants who were utterly confused and even unaware that the county had a moratorium. We have tried to be there with the correct information. However we are not affiliated with the city and we are not attorneys. So we urge readers to trust but verify!

Got a question about the county moratorium? Please get in touch with Renters Alliance!

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