California halts evictions until June. What this means for renters and landlords

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

Protesters surrounded LA Superior Court, calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to pass an eviction moratorium amid the global outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 21, 2020. In January 2021, Newsom extended California’s eviction moratorium through June. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Today Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law an extension of California’s eviction moratorium through June. The moratorium was set to expire this Sunday. SB-91 allows the state to use more than $2 billion in federal stimulus money to cover 80% of missed rents from low-income tenants dating back to April. To get that money, landlords must forgive the remaining balance not covered by the state, and can't evict tenants.

Newsom says he hopes to roll out this program by mid-March, and tenant and landlord advocates compromised to make it happen. 

The renters’ view

Stephano Medina is a staff attorney at the Eviction Defense Network in LA, which works with low-income communities of color against gentrification and displacement.

He says despite providing financial relief, tenants are afraid of how SB-91 works because landlords get to choose who could benefit from the program. 

“The governor's proposal basically empowers landlords to pick and choose which tenants are going to benefit from this program. It's a recipe for disaster or unmitigated discrimination,” Medina says. “Landlords are going to use this bill as an opportunity to evict low-income rent-controlled tenants across California.” 

He points out that SB-91 won’t provide protections after July, and before it passed, tenant advocates were negotiating with California legislators over a plan to extend renter protections through the end of 2021.   

“The governor swooped in at the 11th hour, shut out tenant advocates from the conversation and clinched this ‘deal’ that we were powerless to try to improve because there really wasn't any more time,” he says.

He notes one win for tenants: If landlords refuse to cover 80% of back rent owed, tenants can apply for the state to pay the 25% of rent needed to stay housed. 

The landlords’ view

Ari Chazanas is president of Lotus West Properties in Brentwood and manages more than 500 units mostly in West LA.  

Due to the pandemic, he’s seen higher vacancy rates, and has dropped his rent 15-20%. He doesn’t see SB-91 as a win for landlords.

“It's better than nothing. But ultimately, I don't know if it's right for us to take a 20% discount. At times, I wonder why we’re the backstop for the city,” he says. “I don’t know if I want to take a 20% discount for [a] tenant that hasn't paid rent for, let's say, 18 months. It really adds up.”

Chazanas says he doesn’t want to evict tenants, and he’s willing to make a deal with renters without government intervention. 

“We're not in the business of having vacant units. And especially now with all the vacancies that we currently have, we would like to just be able to work out some sort of plan with each tenant on a case by case basis … and hopefully come to some sort of solution that doesn't involve the City of Los Angeles or the state telling us what we can and cannot do,” he says. 

Credits

Guests:
Stephano Medina - staff attorney at the Eviction Defense Network, Ari Chazanas - President of Lotus West Properties

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Angie Perrin, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Bennett Purser