County COVID Rent Relief is Available…With Caveats

Los Angeles County is providing another $68 million in rent relief to qualified LA County landlords for COVID–19 rent arrears. Funds will cover up to $30k in back rent if that debt was incurred after April 1, 2022. The caveats: the landlord must apply; and priority will go to geographic areas in the county that are deemed high or highest need. The application window closes June 4th.

Update Pandemic-era tenant protections at the local, county and state level have expired. The city’s moratorium on rent increases specifically was sunset in May of 2023. We maintain this post and other COVID-related posts for historical interest.

The county’s new program to pay certain COVID-related rent debt reflects the overall evolution of these programs from tenant-oriented to landlord-oriented assistance. Beverly Hills for example created a limited rent assistance program in 2020 that helped too few tenants. In 2023 there was talk of a successor program but it would be targeted toward landlords. However no program ever came forward.

The county has a much better track record when it comes to supporting tenants with COVID-related rent debt. The moratorium for example helped many thousands of low-income households to stay housed with direct assistance. Tenants applied and the landlord was paid. This program is different: landlords must apply. Still $68M is substantial assistance.

The general guidelines for applying for assistance:

  • The landlord applies for assistance – not the tenant;
  • Landlord provides proof of ownership;
  • Unit is currently occupied by the tenant, so a former tenant with outstanding rent debt is not eligible;
  • Cash assistance would exclude any money already received from the county’s Rental Housing Supports and Services program and/or the county Mortgage Relief Program.

The Los Angeles County Rent Relief Program would appear to cast a wide net. That’s where the priority criteria come in. “While any eligible landlord can apply, those who meet certain criteria as outlined below will be given priority,” says the county rent relief portal website.

LA County rent relief application portal screenshot
The new rent relief portal will look familiar to households that previously applied for county help with rent debt.

While Beverly Hills landlords are eligible for an assistance award, the priority criteria may, in practice, limit assistance to few landlords in the city. The Rent Relief Program PRIORITY criteria:

  • Eligible tenants and landlords reside in the high and highest-need geographies;
  • Eligible recipients earn 80% or less of the median household income (AMI) in LA County;
  • Eligible landlords must agree to discharge the tenants’ rent debt for the eligible period upon receipt of relief; and,
  • Eligible landlord owns no more than four rental units.

That last two criteria ensures that the program targets so-called mom-and-pop owners who are struggled to make ends meet during COVID.

One question suggested by these criteria is how many eligible applicants would meet that high bar for neediness after a period when evictions for rent debt are at a high. There is a reported THREE MONTH wait for a sheriff to enforce a court’s lockout order. That suggests many households that would have benefitted from the assistance may already be effectively out the door.

More specifically, would this program offer anything to Beverly Hills tenants with rent debt? It is difficult to know. The priority criteria would appear to screen-out all Beverly Hills households because Beverly Hills is a ’‘low’ or ‘lowest’ priority area according to the county’s online LA County Equity Explorer Tool.

LA County explorer tool Beverly Hills
The county shows Beverly Hills to be ‘low’ or ‘lowest’ on the priority ladder for assistance. But that does not mean that applicants are categorically excluded.

On the other hand, we expect that the county’s screening process will be opaque and politically-driven. That may not be a bad thing for Beverly Hills households! Some may slip under the radar despite the priority criteria if the available assistance is not exhausted by higher-priority applicants.

A Thin Lifeline for Needy Households

City of Beverly Hills closed the door on renting households back in May of 2023. That was the deadline for repayment of all the rent debt that was incurred under the city’s moratorium. City council declined to extend that deadline then; and since then has not offered additional assistance (as some surrounding cities have done).

So that makes the county the last lifeline for households that owe rent. Unfortunately the real last line of defense — help from Bet Tzedek with an eviction defense — has not held. The city’s legal services provider is telling Beverly Hills tenants that they cannot take any new eviction defense cases.