Statement from DSA-LA on Governor Newsom’s Proposed Rent ReliefDrafted by DSA-LA Housing and Homelessness Committee
From the beginning of the pandemic, advocates warned the State that tenants across California, already rent burdened, could not pay their rent because of shutdowns. Our legislature has spent the last year doing everything that it can to avoid actually canceling the rent. The COVID-19 Tenant Protect Act promised to protect tenants from eviction for unpaid rent, provided that tenants filled out the proper forms and followed the correct procedures. The forms are in English, and most resources to support tenants are remote, far across the digital divide. Tenants who did not properly fill out these forms have still been evicted apace, often with nowhere to go.
The State promised rent relief, but only to landlords. Tenants had to do the work of applying, of course, regardless of language and technological barriers. Landlords were free to decline the funds and force out long-term tenants from their rent-controlled tenancies. AB-832 is primarily an extension of the bills that came before it, notably Senate Bill No. 91. In many cases, AB-382 just pushes deadlines out further; tenants now have until September 30, 2021, to pay 25 percent of their unpaid rent. Evictions based on unpaid rent cannot continue until October, rather than August. Tenants and landlords have a longer period of time to apply for rental relief.
AB-832 has the same problems as previous COVID-19 tenant protection bills. It still requires tenants to pay 25 percent of their rent by a certain time, even if those tenants have not received the rent relief promised by the State. The bill also obligates tenants to apply for rent relief, even though that relief ultimately goes to landlords, so tenants will once again have to struggle through complicated application procedures. The bill still requires tenants to fill out declarations of COVID-19-related financial hardship. Though these declarations are easy for younger, English-speaking tenants, they are the source of many eviction filings against older tenants who are not native English speakers. The State and its courts have yet to develop a system to protect these tenants, who are highly vulnerable to housing instability and who may not yet be vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are a few bright spots to AB-832. The bill requires landlords to seek rent relief before filing an eviction. If a tenant currently has an eviction proceeding against them, they can pause those eviction proceedings to wait for rental assistance, provided that they submit the application. AB-832 also expands rental relief; landlords can now be reimbursed for 100 percent of unpaid rent, and tenants can receive prospective rent relief.
However, there is no way to ensure that this rent relief will be distributed in time for all of these payment deadlines. The State has millions of dollars to distribute, and there’s little assurance that the money will be distributed by the end of September.
These protections will likely not be enough to protect tenants who lost income due to COVID-19. As Socialists, we need to continue pressuring the CA Legislature and Governor Newsom to stop all COVID-related evictions. No one should lose their home because of the pandemic.
Tenants should not need to jump through hoops in order to demonstrate that they deserve the State’s protections. Nearly every tenant in the State of California has suffered financially as a result of the pandemic. No landlord should be able to evict a tenant for rent that accrued after March 2020.
DSA believes that landlords should be responsible for completing any application for relief. If a landlord chooses not to complete the application, they should not receive the relief. Rental properties are investments, and landlords should be prepared to put in the labor necessary to make their investments profitable. If a tenant is required to provide any information for the application, it should simply be a signed statement, provided in the tenant’s native language, that they lost income due to the pandemic.
Any rent relief from the State must be combined with strong anti-harassment laws. Threatening to evict or lock out a tenant is a form of harassment, and landlords should not be able to interfere with tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment simply because a tenant lost income during the pandemic. Harassment by your landlords has increased astronomically during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for the State to hold landlords accountable for the harm they have caused over the past year.
Finally, the State must seriously consider the long-term financial ramifications of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, many tenants were already a medical bill or shift reduction away from being unable to afford rent. After fifteen months of greater instability and financial strain, many tenants cannot anticipate recovery by a certain time period. The State must invest in economic security across sectors, such as by raising the minimum wage and further expanding Medi-Cal. Moreover, it must combat housing insecurity by expanding access to housing vouchers, acquiring property for the purpose of public housing, and expanding the Tenant Protection Act of 2019. It should also be noted that the entirety of the $5.2B is coming from the federal government, not a penny from the State budget.
DSA-LA and Housing Justice Advocates across the State recommend the following:
– Ensure that all eligible tenants can get full rent forgiveness. The current program, where full rent forgiveness is conditional on landlord participation, opens the door to uneven and discriminatory application of this assistance.
– Extend the rental and utility assistance and expand the critical protections in SB 91 at least through January 2022. Even though Covid infection rates are down the economy hasn’t recovered yet for working class people. We know that the majority of people haven’t gotten relief yet from the state rent relief program.
– Make universal “Just-Cause Eviction Protections,” and the “15-Day Notice to Pay or Quit”, permanent, establishing some basic fairness for renters.
– Prevent any unpaid rent and utility bills from negatively impacting a person’s credit worthiness and ability to access future housing.
-Don’t let landlords evict tenants that qualify for assistance. Landlords should be required to apply for the rental assistance that is available and ensure that tenants are debt free. Protect tenants’ credit and their financial future so we can all recover.