California renters owe $400 million in unpaid rent during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“We've seen the devastation on the ground in terms of how many folks have lost their jobs, how many women can't return to work because their children are still doing virtual learning,” says LA City Council President Nury Martinez.
However, rent relief is on its way for Golden State tenants and landlords.
A statewide rental assistance program is now open,and some large cities like LA have created their own rental relief funds. This week, LA officials unveiled a $259 million relief fund with priority for low-income residents.
Here’s what you need to know about applying for rent relief in LA and California.
What are the programs?
The city of Los Angeles has partnered with the State of California and the federal government to create the 2021 COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The goal is to assist renters who have been able to pay their rent as a result of the pandemic.
This program is the second round of rent relief that the city has established, according to Martinez. “This round of rent relief will focus on fully funding the past due rent that is due during the last — almost — a year.”
She says more than 49,000 families got help from that program. “This time around, we actually are going to double that amount. We have available $259 million to help folks pay for their past due rent … we see the average of folks owing rent anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000.”
California’s rent relief fund is similar. The goal is to help low-income Californians pay unpaid rent to landlords.
Both programs will reimburse landlords 80% of a tenant’s past due rent for the period of April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. However, that amount only applies if a landlord agrees to waive the remaining 20%. If a landlord refuses, the tenant can still get enough funding to cover 25% of their rent.
Where is the money from?
Funding for both programs come from the $2.6 billion in federal rental assistance. Governor Gavin Newsom approved a bill in January that earmarks some of the federal stimulus funds for unpaid rent. That funding could increase significantly because of the federal stimulus plan signed earlier this month.
Who qualifies for the city and state’s rent relief programs?
Both landlords and renters can apply for both these programs. They’re meant for low-income residents, regardless of immigration status. Additionally, renters must have at least one person in their household who has experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak. That could include qualifying for unemployment benefits or losing income.
Under the state program, Californians can be eligible if their income is less than 80% of the local median income. That amount will vary depending on what county you live in. If you want to check where you stand, this list has information on state income limits broken down by county. Here is a checklist from the state for tenants to see if they are eligible to apply.
To qualify for LA’s, you need to be a resident of the city of LA. You can find out if you live in the city at neighborhoodinfo.lacity.org.
Los Angeles’ income limit is more restricted than the state’s. “The priority will be given to renters at 30% of area median income. And then we're going to follow that up by renters who meet the 50% of area median income,” says Martinez.
How can I apply?
Both tenants and landlords who are eligible city of Los Angeles residents can apply at hcidla.la.city.org starting March 30, 2021. The portal closes April 30, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. You can also call the LA ERAP hotline at 844-844-1868 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
If you are not a city of LA resident, you can apply for the state program at housingiskey.com. Those without a smartphone or computer access can call 833-430-2122
Who does the money go to?
The money will go directly to landlords who agree to participate in the program. “The majority of the folks who live in the city of Los Angeles are renters, and so when you think about the mom and pop landlords who have also been struggling to pay for their mortgages because they haven't gotten any rent, this is also going to go a long way to helping them as well,” says Martinez.
The funds will not be paid out unless the tenant has been qualified by providing documentation, according to Martinez. “Whether it's the landlord who applies on behalf of the tenant or the tenant [themself], you have to have the paperwork attached to where you're renting ... who the property owner is, or who you send your check to once a month when you pay your rent.”
Does my landlord need to apply?
No, your landlord does not need to apply. However, the state is urging them to get ahead and sign up.
However, if your landlord agrees to participate, they will need to comply with local and state laws by providing documentation. That includes proof of identification, a completed W-9, proof of the tenant’s past due rent, and a completed LA City ERAP Landlord participation agreement.
How much relief will I get?
It depends. Qualifying low-income renters could see all of their rental debt racked up from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 forgiven. “We hope to fulfill that full amount of whatever that family owes,” says Martinez.
If your landlord doesn’t sign off on the program, only 25% would be covered. California eviction protection rules say landlords can’t evict tenants for unpaid rent as long as they pay 25% of what they owe from September 2020 to June 2021 by June 30, 2021.
What if I need help with my application?
California has a network of trusted community based partners. You can find local assistance based on your county here.