West Hollywood’s City Council unanimously extended its emergency moratorium on evictions from May 31 to July 31 during its meeting Monday night. The extension means residential and commercial tenants who face financial hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown can delay rent payments for the months of June and July without facing eviction.
Citing the economic upheaval which the Safer at Home lockdown to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus has caused, the Council said the extension would offer tenants some certainty during these uncertain times.
In mid-March, the City Council declared a state of local emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic which included an eviction moratorium to protect tenants from becoming homeless. The initial moratorium ran through April 30, but at its next meeting, the Council extended that date to May 31 when it became evident the crisis was much larger than originally suspected.
West Hollywood’s ordinance also prohibits eviction due to presence of unauthorized tenants, which means a renter can allow friends to share the apartment for the duration of the moratorium.
At Monday’s meeting, the Council was initially considering extending the moratorium to June 30, but Councilmember John Duran argued that month-by-month extensions were not the reassurance that residents needed. He proposed extending the moratorium to August 31 to allow people time to figure out what they were going to do while knowing they could not be kicked out of their apartments.
“We need to give people the time that’s needed to prepare for some difficult times ahead,” said Duran.
However, the Council felt a 90-day extension of the moratorium was too much and settled on a 60-day extension and the July 31 date. The Council may consider extending that date again, depending on how the gradual reopening of the economy and spread of the virus plays out.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a similar statewide eviction moratorium that is currently set to expire on May 31, although he may extend that by another 30 days.
The California Judicial Council has approved emergency rules saying the courts will not hear any eviction cases for 90 days after Newsom’s moratorium expires. That means the court system currently will not take up any Unlawful Detainer cases (the official name for an eviction case) until Sept. 1. If Newsom extends the moratorium to June 30, then the courts won’t begin hearing Unlawful Detainers until Oct. 1.
Note that it is 90 days after Newsom’s eviction moratorium expires that courts will begin hearing Unlawful Detainers again NOT 90 days after the West Hollywood moratorium expires.
However, once the courts do begin hearing Unlawful Detainer cases again, they will be fast tracked through the courts. State law requires the court to hear eviction cases within three weeks of filing of an Unlawful Detainer.
It should also be noted that once the city’s eviction moratorium expires, landlords can still issue a Three-Day Notice for nonpayment of rent. If a tenant cannot pay the rent within three days, then they are automatically in default and landlords have grounds to evict them. However, a landlord cannot move forward with the Unlawful Detainer until 90 days after Newsom’s order ends.
Despite the moratorium, residential tenants are still responsible for paying their rent within one year and commercial tenants within six months. That means, someone who was unable to pay April, May, June and July rent will still owe four months of back rent but has time to repay it without any fines or late fees. Thus, a person who has a $2,500 monthly rent and missed four payments will owe $10,000.
Mayor John D’Amico worried about allowing residents to rack up that much debt, noting that young people may not realize the full ramifications of it.
“For many people, taking on that much debt could follow them for a decade from their 20s into their 30s,” said D’Amico.
City Attorney Lauren Langer noted that the purpose of the moratorium is to keep people from becoming homeless during the middle of a pandemic.
“We’re focused on keeping people in their homes and preventing homelessness and spread of the virus,” said Langer.
The city does have a rental assistance program, offering one-time grants of up to $1,000 to help people pay their rents. Duran pointed out that people in their 20s and 30s who have only lived in West Hollywood for a few years have rents double or triple that $1,000.
However, City Manager Paul Arevalo reported statistics show that of the people who have applied for the city’s rental assistance grants, the average rent is $1,395. An average rent figure that low indicates that a lot of long-term residents (thus people older than 20s or 30s) who have lower rents thanks to rent control are applying for the rental assistance grants.
During the public comment period, residents Sepi Shyne and John Erickson, both of whom are candidates for the two City Council seats up for election in November, spoke in favor of extending the moratorium. Shyne said the extension would provide “comfort and assurance” to residents who are in dire need. Erickson said the city should do what it does best, “protecting renters.”
Meanwhile, resident Larry Block, who is also running for a City Council seat in November, said a “one size fits all proposal” isn’t fair. He argued that not everyone is out of work and that some people who can afford to pay rent are opting not to due to the moratorium.
Under the eviction moratorium, residential tenants do not need to provide proof of financial hardship as a reason for not paying their rent; their word is all that is required. Block suggested that some sort of income verification should be put in place, especially since people receiving unemployment are getting a $600 a week “bonus,” as he phrased it, referring to the extra $600 a week the U.S. Congress authorized for unemployment recipients through the end of July.