City Council: No Extension on Moratorium Repayment Deadline

Beverly Hills city council at the February 7th meeting has kept in place the tenant repayment deadline of May 31, 2023 for rent that was delayed using the city’s COVID emergency moratorium. That date was established last spring when council decided that the residential tenant moratorium should expire on May 31, 2022. The one-year rent repayment period is now coming to a close. As other municipalities and the county continue to provide COVID-related tenant protections, we asked city council to consider extending our rent repayment deadline. City council declined. Rent that was delayed under the city’s moratorium is now subject to a 3-day notice (and thereafter eviction proceedings) if not repaid by May 31, 2023.

On the council’s February 7, 2023 evening agenda was a consideration of an ordinance to keep in place COVID-related tenant protections that are already in place. The city is expected to end the COVID state of emergency soon. Without an ordinance to keep them in place, certain emergency measures for businesses and tenants would expire immediately, advised the February 7, 2023 staff report.

Businesses benefit from COVID measures that were established by city council at the start of the pandemic. Expanded outdoor dining allowed under COVID emergency Open BH program has enabled restaurants to extend their dining into the street. The application process was expedited and the application fees were waived. Some restaurants doubled their capacity and they continue to enjoy that perk nearly a year after council proclaimed the city back to business as usual.

Retailers in particular benefit from expanded white-curb loading zones that make customer pickup more convenient. There are also relaxed sign regulations to businesses to use banners and sidewalk sandwich boards to promote their goods and services. Council also enacted a temporary cap on food delivery surcharges to benefit restaurants by effectively reducing the bottom-line cost of taking-out dinner. Now That cap looks more permanent now.

Tenants saw most COVID emergency measures expire long ago. City council for example allowed the residential tenant moratorium to expire on May 31, 2022. That started the clock on a one-year rent repayment period and the due date of May 31, 2023 is fast-approaching. Any rent delayed using the city’s moratorium and not paid by June 1st subject to a 3-day notice to pay and then thereafter is a ground for eviction.

On the Agenda: Extension of Certain COVID Measures

On the council’s agenda was an extension of certain COVID-related business incentives like outdoor dining expansion, permit cost waivers and the cap on food delivery surcharges. The proposed ordinance would also extend two aspects of the residential moratorium currently in effect: the current 3.1% rent increase through June and the May 31st deadline on rent repayment.

We suggested council to give a break to renting households that face an imminent repayment deadline. Delay the deadline by six months or more and also include in the ordinance provisions that would protect tenants who owe rent from a landlord’s harassment. Our challenge was to overcome the ticking clock suggested by the staff report: either council adopts the ordinance as presented (i.e., ‘clean,’ in legislative parlance) or fiddle with it and effectively push back the earliest date that council can declare an end to the city’s state of emergency.

Our Proposed Tenant Protections

We tried for additional tenant protections anyway because we saw the draft ordinance as ‘must-pass’ legislation. If it wasn’t passed, then some COVID-related business assistance measures linked to the emergency would expire immediately. Rent repayment would begin immediately and the rent could rise before July.

As presented, the draft ordinance preserves the business measures, the current rent repayment date and July date for the next rent increase. That seemed like an opportunity to call council’s attention to tenant protections. What we proposed:

Extend the deadline for repaying rent delayed under the city moratorium;

Convert outstanding rent debt to consumer debt rather than let the rent arrears be a ground for eviction; and,

Adopt a provision to shield tenants from landlord harassment.

The deadline for repaying rent delayed under the city’s moratorium could be extended to the end of the year. The argument here is that other municipalities and the county kept protections in place far longer than did Beverly Hills and they extended their repayment deadlines accordingly. The city’s May 31, 2023 deadline comes far earlier and with it the specter of a wave of nonpayment eviction proceedings. Better to provide more of a cushion!

Alternately we suggested that council align the city moratorium’s rent repayment deadline with the county’s deadline. Currently that is March 31, 2024. The argument here is that city council allowed our moratorium to expire knowing that the county had a moratorium in place — and that it covered Beverly Hills tenants. If that was a condition of expiring our moratorium, then why not align our rent repayment deadline with the county’s deadline?

Second, the outstanding rent debt could be converted into consumer debt rather than let those rent arrears be subject to a 3-day notice and subsequent eviction proceedings. That is what the state moratorium did: it treated COVID rent debt as consumer debt that was recoverable by the landlord in small claims court. That avoided a tidal wave of evictions after the state moratorium expired.

Could Beverly Hills do that? Maybe. And it’s worth considering so that rent delayed pursuant to our city’s moratorium does not be a ground for eviction for nonpayment. Consider the potential magnitude of that debt: the city’s moratorium was in effect for 15 months. That could mean considerable rent debt. Plus, the repayment period has coincided with a period of record-high inflation. Why not extend the deadine at least?

Third, we’ve heard from tenants that unscrupulous landlords pressure tenants to repay rent debt even before it is due; and they harass tenants in order to get them to voluntarily vacate the apartment. Anti-harassment measures could shield tenants from landlord pressure. And we suggested an easy way to do it: graft the anti-harassment provisions that are included in the LA County moratorium into this provisional ordinance or even our rent stabilization ordinance.

Harassment as defined by the county as failing to perform repairs and maintenance; failing to provide required housing services; abusing the right of access to the unit for unlawful inspections; using fraud, intimidation or coercion to influence a tenant to vacate; and refusing a lawful rent payment. That will be familiar to some tenants.

Specifically it is familiar to several tenants to spoke up to city council about harassment but asked that they not be named due to fear of continued harassment and retaliation.

Like so many of my neighbors, I suffer COVID economic hardships. I followed all the moratoriums. And here is what’s infuriating and unfair: I know my landlord received the money from COVID relief funds and yet they had been unrelenting when it comes to demanding rent from us tenants. We have been harassed with three-day notices to pay. My landlord went as far as filing with the court when I had proof that I was sick with COVID. The three days pay or quit notice came with a demand for a cashier’s check, but I wasn’t able to get to the bank. I did, however, provide a personal check and it was returned. In order to resolve all of this, I was forced to pay back rent delayed under the moratorium and the court costs. At a time when we should be looking out for our neighbors, our community, and each other, my landlord is only looking out for their own best interest. – Anonymous

During the pandemic I delayed paying some of my rent as I suffered loss of income due to COVID–19. I followed and adhered to the city’s moratorium rules. After the Beverly Hills moratorium ended, I followed the rules for the county’s low-income moratorium protection. I filed all the necessary farms in a timely manner as stated in the protocols. But my landlord has served me with three-day notices in spite of me following all the protection protocols. He insisted there is no county moratorium protection for me and that I needed to pay my rent or move out…and also the landlord has demanded back rent, which I have a year to pay according to the county… Give us more time under the city moratorium and you can protect us from landlord harassment. – Anonymous

I am a disabled woman living with cancer. I imagine all people at some time in life have reached far hand to lift them up. Imagine when doing so a boot keeps kicking you down. That is the dynamic I have with my landlord….They’ve challenged my tenant protections demanding medical evidence under pressure and, in fear of eviction, I compromised my own [medical privacy] but that was insufficient. They wanted a letter from my physician and they gave me a deadline….My hope was that brief period of financial assistance would afford me not just my apartment, but afford me time to heal, sustain health, and meet my career goals [but] instead of being positive and productive it was disempowering and destructive because of my landlord. – Rachel

Anti-harassment provisions as enacted by the county would temper a landlord’s ability to harass and intimidate tenants who have accumulated COVID rent debt. Not surprisingly some landlords spoke up against any further COVID tenant measures.

I lost $150,000 by tenants not paying rent. Some could afford to pay, but did not. It was fraud all around that the city permitted. I’m the an owner, please consider the unfairness of this situation.

I own a small building and have had no rent increases for years. I need to be able to finally raise the rents at the state’s minimum as I have bills to pay. Please do not continue the rent protections as it’s hurting the small landlords.

As a landlord I face rising cost pressures every day to maintain my units in a livable dignified condition from my tenants, whom I care for. And to remove the current rentals and allow those like myself the strength to continue to provide good housing that affects the quality of living.

City Council Says No Need for Additional Tenant Protections

City council chose not to extend the rent debt repayment deadline or to include an anti-harassment provision in the ordinance before adopting it unanimously. However outdoor dining extension will continue (and even be made permanent); loading zones will stay for the most part; and the cap on delivery service surcharges will remain for now too. Watch the video for the full council discussion.

At the February 7th city council meeting, Mayor Lili Bosse latches on to the potential for landlord harassment.
Mayor Lili Bosse takes an interest in the potential for landlord harassment of tenants burdened by COVID rent debt.

There simply wasn’t sufficient support for anti-harassment protections. Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember John Mirisch did signal an interest and the mayor said it will come back for more discussion. However there was no sense of urgency. So we will wait and see.

At least two members of city council — Julian Gold and Les Friedman — aren’t inclined to step up with any additional pro-tenant measures. Repeatedly they suggested their sympathies remain with landlords. Council Les Friedman in particular signaled disinclination to enact any anti-harassment provision. “Who’s going to enforce it?”

Sharona Nazarian equivocated. She wants to protect tenants, she said. “But in the interest of fairness, a lot of our landlords are small mom and pop landlords, and I have heard over and over again that people are suffering, that there’s an increase in water, trash, general maintenance, loans, taxes.” She was not signing on to either the deadline extension or the anti-harassment provision.

The reality is that tenants don’t have three votes on city council. We may not even have two votes.

More About Los Angeles County Anti-Harassment Protections

The county’s January 24, 2023 resolution that extends and amends the moratorium reads, “Landlords, and those acting on their behalf or direction, are prohibited from harassing, intimidating, or retaliating against tenants.” The resolution goes on in detail to define exactly what is harassment in the eyes of the county supervisors. According to Section IX harassment is defined to include:

  • Failing to perform repairs and maintenance required by a rental agreement or by federal, State or local housing, health, or safety laws;
  • Failing to provide housing services as required or removing a Housing Service for the purpose of causing a tenant to vacate;
  • Abusing the right of access to a rental unit such as entries, and attempted entries, for inspections that are not related to necessary repairs or services, or that are excessive in number, or that improperly target certain tenants;
  • Influencing or attempting to influence a Tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion or threatening a Tenant, by word, gesture, or with physical harm;
  • Refusing to acknowledge receipt of a lawful rent payment or refusing to cash a rent check for over thirty days;
  • Interfering with a Residential Tenant’s right to privacy including, but not limited to, entering or photographing portions of a rental unit that are beyond the scope of a lawful entry or inspection; and
  • Service of any notice to quit or notice to bring any action to recover possession of a rental unit based upon facts which the Landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true.

We think that is a great place to begin to define harassment in our own rent stabilization ordinance and to begin to think about how to protect tenants from such behavior. Will city council seriously consider it? We may know at an upcoming meeting. In the meantime, please get in touch with Renters Alliance if you experience such harassment from your landlord.
[Pictured at the top is Councilmember Julian Gold who always seems to “have some questions” whenever tenant-friendly measures are discussed at the dais.]