Letter to the Editor | Some Clarifications on the Eviction Moratorium

By John Srebalus, cofounder of South Pasadena Tenant's Union

Letters to the Editor | SouthPasadenan.com News

Our City Council is to be commended for passing an eviction moratorium as part of its COVID-19 emergency resolution (No. 7646) issued March 18th. This is the second action taken in six months to protect renters. City Manager DeWolfe tried to postpone the vote on the moratorium and buy the propertied interests more time to batter it, but the Council pushed ahead and passed it 4-1. Diana Mahmud, a rental property owner herself, cast the dissenting vote. Our Council is becoming more responsive to the needs of those lower on the income scale, and that’s progress.

But we’re not yet in a world where what’s right is freely given, so I hope all of us renters and small business owners will proceed with maximum goodwill. Extension of these protections beyond the initial 60 days will depend on it. While we recently saw owners of South Pas properties try to circumvent the January 1 statewide rent cap by evicting long-term residents mere days before Christmas, such moral unfortunates are thankfully few. Most of us know our landlords as people of at least standard decency. In any case, let’s recognize our common cause in this crisis economy.

If you can’t pay rent because COVID-19 has hurt your cash flow, please, don’t just stop paying rent, and don’t tell your landlord you’re not paying anything. Put together what you can.

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The city posted FAQs about the eviction moratorium. In places there are efforts both to exaggerate administrative barriers to these tenant protections, and to telegraph that property rights remain at the top of the heap. The task of tenants is less daunting than it looks. If you qualify for protection, you hold the cards. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, but let’s not abuse it.

Policy protections mostly require enforcement, and that’s a problem for this City Council. They say it’s too costly. This unwillingness to spend has been selective along class lines, but let’s leave it there. The eviction moratorium passed largely because it’s not the city that has to enforce it. The Los Angeles County Superior Court will do that if your landlord evicts you while the moratorium is in effect.

In the FAQs the city wants it both ways. It’s not enforcing this, but it wants you to think it is.

The reality: If you lose income because of COVID-19, your process involves communicating with your landlord, referencing the moratorium, and preferably offering the most generous payment plan you can afford. Any payment plan should bring you completely current by six months following the end of the local emergency (that’s on or about November 18th at the earliest). Showing documentation of your income loss is a good-faith courtesy. And wise. Your goal is to stop an illegal eviction before it starts.

But you’re not asking, you’re politely informing. You don’t need approval from your landlord or the city to move ahead. Resolution No. 7646 gives neither any such powers.

Where you need to show documentation and good faith is in the courtroom you’ll be standing in if your landlord makes the mistake of evicting you either during the moratorium or the six months following. The resolution is your defense in an eviction proceeding filed in the state Superior Court. Any such proceeding will be doomed if your ducks are in a row.

The moratorium applies to nonpayment of rent and “no-fault” circumstances. It does not apply to other “at-fault” circumstances, such as violating other terms of your lease. So be good. Be extra good.

I’m not a lawyer, and none of the above should be taken as legal advice. Please read Resolution 7646 for yourself and call the city if you have any questions. Be sure to note what constitutes “Financial impacts related to COVID-19.” The FAQs list them as: job loss; reduction in hours of work; store, restaurant or office closure; unpaid furlough or layoff; unpaid leave from work to provide care for a child or the elderly; state or local emergency actions that prevent the tenant from working.






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