Here we are, a full week after rent was due. If you are reading this, you are likely concerned about your well-being. You are worried that you will be out on the street. I, Mark Roemer, am here to put your mind at a little bit of ease.
To start, I would like to inform you that Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a statewide moratorium on eviction enforcement. This means that during this crisis, you cannot get evicted. Governor Newsom has stated this moratorium will be in effect until May 31st. The wording on the moratorium states specifically that landlords are prohibited from evictions for tenants that are unable to pay. You must realize that if you can afford to pay or are involved in illegal activities, you can still be evicted.
There has been some criticism of this order by Governor Newsom. Not only are landlords like me worried about our mortgage payments (that are temporarily on the moratorium as well), but tenants are still concerned as well. Let’s take a look at what the moratorium means for you and what you can expect during these troubling times.
What Do Moratoriums Do?
As I said, evictions are off the table right now for people who lost their job or had their hours slashed as a result of COVID-19. Some cities and counties are going far beyond what has been ordered by the state. The significant part about living in California is that many of these municipalities can provide more protection to their residents.
The Oakland City council held a special meeting last Friday to consider proposing an emergency ordinance that would ban evictions against tenants for any reason. This is known as “just cause” evictions. The directive is not much different than the one handed down by Governor Newsom. However, there is one caveat. In the ordinance, it currently states anyone that poses a threat to the health or safety of others on the property can be evicted. While it is unclear at this time precisely what would constitute a health or safety risk, I can only assume that would be tenants attempting to spread the virus or other illegal activities.
In addition to the moratorium in place by not only the state but the city as well, Oakland passed the ordinance that stated landlords could not increase the rent during these times. This is being done for two reasons. The first is they do not want to pass on the financial burden to people that can still afford to pay rent. Meaning, they don’t want people that can still afford to pay rent to pay for those that cannot permanently. It has the potential to send more people into debt than we need to. Second, when the crisis is over, rent will still be owed if they increase the rent during this time, it can be seen as a late payment (which has also been banned).
Now that you understand what moratoriums do, we can move on to what is still expected of you during the COVID-19 crisis.
Is Rent Still Due?
The short answer is, yes, rent is still due. Just because the federal, state, and local authorities have passed laws saying you don’t have to pay if you can’t afford it, does not mean it is never due.
I, along with state and local officials, are urging you to pay your rent if you can. That means that if you are still healthy and employed, you should pay your rent. A moratorium is a way for people that can’t afford to pay rent to have a little peace of mind. It has been said that people that can afford to pay rent and don’t will face heavy penalties in the weeks and months to come.
If you cannot afford to pay rent, you need to send a letter to your landlord. In addition to the message, you need to submit proof you have lost your job or have had a reduction of hours. This can be done by providing your landlord with a copy of your pay stub, or even a text from your boss. In the letter, be clear in the reason you cannot afford to pay, so there is no misunderstanding. Additionally, if you can afford to pay a portion of the rent, it would behoove you to make that payment now. When this is all over, you are going to be expected to pay the back rent. Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have as much to pay back?
What If I Receive an Eviction Notice?
If for some reason, your landlord still issues you an eviction notice, you need to contact a local legal aid office immediately. It is important to remember that just because there is a statewide moratorium on evictions, the protections vary in strength from city to city. Do not hesitate to seek legal aid. If you cannot afford an attorney, there are plenty of state attorneys that are more than willing to help. Whatever you do, refrain from taking any rash actions against your landlord, as this will not help your case.
Who Do I Call?
If you are living in the Bay Area, there are several services at your disposal. Take note of the phone numbers below and use them wisely.
Eviction Defense Collaborative, (415) 947-0797
Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, (415) 703-8644
San Francisco Tenants Union, (415) 282-6622
Chinatown Community Development Center, (415) 984-2728
East Bay Community Law Center: (510) 548-4040, ext. 629
Eviction Defense Center: (510) 452 4541
Centro Legal de la Raza: (510) 437-1554
Bay Area Legal Aid: (888) 382-3405
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley (408) 280-2424
Sacred Heart Community Services, (408) 278-2166
Legal Aid of San Mateo, (650) 558-0915
I, Mark Roemer, hope that you have found this helpful. I know if we all do our part, we can get through this. Remember to practice safe social distancing, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face.