After 13 months and two extensions, the state eviction moratorium will expire in a few days on September 30th.
This means that if a tenant does not pay the rent owed from October, landlords can initiate eviction proceedings.
As long as tenants have submitted monthly forms for “COVID-19-related financial emergencies”, they can never be evicted for rent owed between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. After the moratorium has expired, however, landlords can decide to pursue this additional payment as a consumer debt before a minor court.
While fears have been voiced that the moratorium expiry will cause an eviction tsunami, strong tenant protection and an abundance of rent relief funds suggest that failure to pay for rent evictions in Santa Monica is much more like a drop than a flood.
Currently, all households earning 80 percent or less of the median income in the region are entitled to have their rent and utility bills paid by the state. In Santa Monica, the qualifying income is $ 66,250 for a one-person household, $ 75,700 for a two-person household, $ 85,150 for a three-person household, and $ 94,600 for a four-person household.
To date, 1,806 Santa Monica households have taken advantage of this option and applied for a total of $ 28.9 million in rental relief funds. Of these claimants, 867 have been served and $ 14.33 million disbursed, with households receiving an average grant of $ 16,526.
“For Santa Monicans who are struggling to pay their rent or utility bills and are eligible for income due to the effects of COVID-19, they should definitely apply for rent allowance,” said Eda Suh, city assistant prosecutor. “It could be the key to house them.”
Applying for rental aid funds has the added benefit of averting eviction proceedings, as a tenant who has applied for allowance can apply to the court to suspend their eviction proceedings until funding has been approved or refused. If the financing enables the tenant to pay his rent, the proceedings are closed.
The rental assistance program is also intended to support the landlords’ financial needs. While a previous version of the program asked landlords to waive 20 percent of the subsequent rent in order to get help, the current version covers 100 percent of the rent. Landlords can file and submit a discharge request on behalf of their tenant, who must then respond and prove their eligibility in order to receive funding.
“I think Governor Newsom did a great job of providing grants to landlords whose renters couldn’t pay,” said local landlord Jay Johnson. “A temporary eviction moratorium was the logical thing to do in the face of the virus because it protected tenants, and then it came back to support both landlords and tenants.”
Johnson has been part of a family-run home rental company since 1987 and currently manages a dozen Santa Monica properties with approximately 100 units along with his wife, son-in-law, stepson, and stepdaughter.
Johnson said his tenants almost always paid their rent on time before the pandemic, but some got into financial trouble after the Covid-19 outbreak.
“As the virus progressed, we had more and more tenants who said, ‘I’ve lost my job, I’m going to clear the apartment and move out,'” said Johnson. “We have had a number of them saying, ‘my business has been reduced and restricted for one reason or another,’ and requested temporary rent reductions that we granted in a number of situations.”
In total, about 20 of Johnson’s tenants either moved out, paid a reduced rent, or were unable to pay the rent during the pandemic. Two of his tenants have applied for the state rent assistance program and have already received their money. Overall, Johnson was not significantly adversely affected financially by the eviction moratorium.
Local landlord Evan Wilkes shared a similar experience. He’s a mom-and-pop landlord who owns five small buildings in Santa Monica with 14 other partners. Around five of his tenants got into a short-term financial emergency due to Covid-19 and one has applied for the state rent relief program.
Wilkes had a tenant evacuated an apartment without notice and without paying an additional $ 20,000, but he has decided not to try to track down the person who left no further information.
“I would think whatever happened to that person, they are probably pretty devastated anyway, so why make life harder?” Wilkes said, adding that attorney fees for enforcing his tenant’s debt would likely offset or minimize potential financial gains.
The Wilkes property management company has no mortgages to pay and was still able to cover insurance, utilities, and repairs during the pandemic, but acknowledged that not all property owners were so lucky.
“It’s a huge hurdle for many of these owners, and unfortunately I’m sure some of them have gone into receivership and been unable to pay mortgages,” said Wilkes. “But I think for some of these tenants it is far the same, if not worse.”
The City of Santa Monica has gone to great lengths to ensure that tenants are aware of their rights and the resources available to them. It has launched a pilot right to legal assistance program offering free legal advice to tenants exposed to eviction, and is running an outreach program to help tenants apply for a rent reduction.
“The outreach plan focuses on providing the most vulnerable parishioners with equal access to rental support, and is aimed at those who are unfamiliar with the program and those who do not, due to lack of access to technology, disabilities, or language barriers apply, and other challenges, ”said Suh.
Tenants who are still in financial distress due to Covid-19 are encouraged to apply for discharge immediately, as an application will help them pause the eviction process once the moratorium is lifted.
Of the households that have applied so far, slightly more than half were at or below 30 percent of the median area income (AMI). Around 30 percent of the applicants have 50 percent AMI, 7 percent of the applicants 60 percent AMI and another 7 percent 80 percent AMI.
White residents make up 55 percent of applicants, Latinos make up 15 percent, black residents represent 13 percent, and Asian residents represent 6 percent.