California lawmakers extend eviction ban for some renters

Tens of thousands of Californians facing eviction on Friday for not paying their rent will get to stay in their homes for at least another three months after Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis signed a law to extend protections just hours before they were scheduled to expire.

California will pay off people’s unpaid rent if they fell behind on their payments because of the pandemic. People must apply to get the money and state law says they cannot be evicted while their application is pending.

That law was scheduled to expire at midnight Thursday. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of households still have pending applications as of Tuesday. It would have been impossible for the state to process all of those before the deadline, meaning households still waiting to get the money could have been evicted beginning Friday.

Lawmakers voted Thursday to ban evictions for anyone with a pending application until June 30. Kounalakis signed the bill into law Thursday afternoon because Gov. Gavin Newsom has left the state for vacation with his family, becoming the first woman to ever sign a law in state history.

"We’re not going to allow for Californians to suffer, to lose their homes or even their income because of application processing times," said Assemblymember Tim Grayson, a Democrat from Concord who wrote the bill.

While the bill will stop evictions for people who have applied for assistance, it will not give renters more time to apply for help. California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program will stop accepting new applications at midnight on Thursday. The program has been open for more than a year. But housing advocates say many people have still not applied because they don’t speak English or have had trouble gathering the necessary documents to determine their eligibility.

Carmen Rivera, 54, said she lived in her car for six years with her young daughter before getting an apartment in Sacramento. But she wasn’t able to work much during the pandemic as a caregiver for the elderly because she was worried about bringing the virus home to her daughter, who she said has chronic asthma.

She received assistance from March through April last year. She got another job, but said she "lost it right away" because of being exposed to COVID. Rivera said she hasn’t paid her rent since August. She owes her landlord at least $10,000.

She applied for assistance again, but this time she wasn’t approved. She didn’t have Wi-Fi at her home, so she had to check out a device from the library that let her connect to the internet. She sent in her application in February, but said she was rejected because she could not find the necessary documents in time.

She has since applied again, and that application is still pending. She’s also waiting on a background check to start another job. The bill lawmakers approved Thursday will likely keep her in her home while her application is pending. In the meantime, Rivera is nervously waiting for news.

"I’m fighting all the way as much as I can to keep my apartment because being six years in the street with my daughter, I can tell you that it’s not easy," she said.

Some local governments have tried to pass their own laws to protect people from eviction. But state lawmakers have mostly stopped them from doing that at the request of landlords, who say they want consistency across the state instead of a patchwork of local laws. State lawmakers imposed statewide eviction protections, and in exchange local governments were prevented from doing so.

But local leaders say what’s happening now breaks that promise. The bill lawmakers approved Thursday only protects people who have applied by Thursday, and it doesn’t give renters more time to apply. Starting Friday, anyone who has not applied for assistance can be evicted for unpaid rent.

In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors passed a law that would have banned evictions for unpaid rent beginning April 1. But the bill lawmakers approved on Thursday bans them from doing that through at least June 30.

"It’s completely outrageous," said Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored the San Francisco measure. "The state should be helping us here and not tying our hands. It’s really just the worst example of special interest politics."

Tenants are not the only ones who have been suffering. Some landlords have gone more than a year without receiving rent. The California Apartment Association, which says most of its members are small "mom and pop" landlords, said the state needs consistency with a statewide law.

"It’s been two years. There is no need for any local laws that give tenants another year of free rent," said Debra Carlton, executive vice president for state public affairs for the California Apartment Association. "(The) unemployment rate is back to ‘normal’ so what’s the issue? Why does San Francisco want its own law?"