KTVU - With many people out of work permanently or temporarily due to coronavirus’ impact on their industry or their health, some Bay Area cities and counties are offering modest relief to renters with a moratorium on no-pay evictions.
But these orders amount to temporary consolation; many questions, such as when and under what circumstances people will be evicted for an inability to make payments, have been deferred, rather than answered.
Closed, back-logged courts in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties, paired with the constitutional protection and priority of criminal cases, means that even without official protections, renters are probably temporarily protected from eviction if they can’t pay their rent.
In both San Francisco and Alameda County, sheriff’s offices, which are the final authority to execute evictions and demand that people leave their homes, have stated that they will postpone executing evictions temporarily.
“I think the main criticism right now is that, just merely pausing the court doesn't do anything other than basically pause evictions, because the rent’s still gonna be owed,” said Joe Colangelo, Managing Attorney at the Eviction Defense Center.
He said that as soon as the moratorium is lifted and the courts reopen, landlords could rush right into mass evictions. He added that “a lot of the people that are getting evicted are probably the people that are not able to work right now.”
If you live in San Francisco or San Jose and cannot come up with money for rent this month, you must notify your landlord immediately and with proof that the non-payment is due to coronavirus. In those cities, mayors have ordered a moratorium on no-pay evictions, with San Jose also bolstering protections for all rental properties via Just Cause eviction protections, which formerly applied to only certain renters.
Just Cause protections mean that a landlord cannot evict a tenant without a legally sound reason, such as illegal activity, or a breach of contract, like having a pet when you’re not supposed to.
As of Tuesday evening, residents of all cities in Santa Clara County, Marin County and Alameda County have also been granted a moratorium on no-pay, coronavirus-related evictions. Marin County also approved a $1 million relief fund to assist vulnerable populations with essential needs, including rent.
Jaqueline Ravenscroft, a tenant’s rights attorney at Tobener Ravenscroft LLP in San Francisco, said that the biggest change in tenant protections during the pandemic are the moratoriums on evictions for non-payment of rent. Still, with this protection, the burden is on renters to prove that coronavirus impacted them concretely and negatively, and following certain, specific procedures.
“You are required to notify your landlord within 30 days of the missed payment and notify your landlord that you're specifically unable to pay because of the current coronavirus,” Ravenscroft said. “Now, there is no detail on what exactly needs to be included...I would urge tenants to give as much proof as they can, instead of just saying I can't pay because of coronavirus.”
In San Francisco, “within one week of this notice, the tenant must provide documentation or other objective information that they cannot pay rent,” a press release from Mayor London Breed states. “Tenants will have up to six months after the termination of the emergency declaration to repay any back due rent.” Ravenscroft noted that every time renters will miss a payment, they must repeat this written notification process.
Mayor London Breed also ordered a moratorium on small and medium-sized businesses in San Francisco. In Berkeley, all evictions, including evictions of businesses, are forbidden.
Experts say that recent state and federal orders addressing housing and coronavirus will have limited material impact on housing security.
Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 16 which authorizes local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners and slow foreclosures. This order defers authority to local governments and stops short of providing any concrete protections. And on March 18, President Trump said that his administration is “suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April”, but due to strict parameters, few people will see relief from this.
“I don't think a lot of outlets were clear that that only applies to public housing,” Ravenscroft said of Trump’s order. “So if you are in HUD (Housing and Urban Development) housing, or you're a homeowner in a single family home with an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) insured mortgage, then you are temporarily protected from foreclosure or eviction.”
Colangelo said that he is urging renters to advocate for themselves and their communities to their local city councils, which have substantial power as of now over tenant’s rights during the pandemic.
He added that evictions and rent control are governed by state law, but that city councils can lobby or pressure the courthouses in their in the counties in which they sit to make emergency proclamations or take emergency measures.
Existing moratoriums on evictions do not include rent forgiveness, which leaves many poor and working-class people unsure when and how they can pay their rent.
Marty Friedman, CEO and Owner of Friedman Investment Management Corp, who rents apartments in San Francisco, said that he supports no late fees, no evictions, and thinks tenants should be allowed a 12 month amortized payment plan. He also said that he doesn’t support rent forgiveness unless he could receive the same forgiveness on his properties, because he still has to pay mortgages whether or not tenants pay rent.
Isabel Madias, a San Francisco resident who works as a housecleaner, said that she has been out of work for the past three weeks, and is currently unemployed. She said that she is worried about her family’s ability to afford their current housing with only her husband’s income.
Madias said that she does not have sufficient funds available to be able to stay at home and follow the shelter in place order for long, and that she isn’t sure how her family will be able to afford housing.
As far as the six-month repayment period, Madias said that that is helpful, but maybe not enough, because she is so unsure about when she’ll next have steady income.
Patricia Galicia, a Daly City resident who is also a housecleaner, lives with her husband, who has a compromised immune system and does not work due to a disability. She said that if she has the opportunity to work in the near future, she might have to, which is a decision many people in industries that can work from home don’t have to make.
Kenia Perez, an Housing Rights Organizer and Counselor at Causa Justa :: Just Cause, said that she hopes she and Causa Justa can use this period of time, when housing is at the forefront of conversations about politics, to reach people through organizing, and to emphasize that housing is a human right. She said that Causa Justa is predominantly partnering with working class people who either have not been able to work from home, which can put families’ health at risk, or people who have lost work indefinitely.
As the sole source of income in her household, Galicia said she is worried about being able to afford rent, and what might happen if she doesn’t.
Galicia said that she wakes up every day hoping that it’s all a bad dream.
“The future isn’t very promising."