Since March, Long Beach has allowed residents and businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to defer rent owed to landlords, but on Tuesday, the City Council will consider putting them on a repayment plan with incremental deadlines before the full bill comes due in a year.
The proposal has set up a fight between tenant-advocacy groups, who say renters are still struggling to make ends meet, and landlords, who say they want some clarity about when the money will be repaid.
Susanne Browne, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, is concerned a strict plan would hurt residents, who could be at risk of being thrown out of their homes if they don’t make scheduled payments.
“It really just guts the entire eviction moratorium and creates a gaping hole in it that would make tenants vulnerable to eviction,” she said.
Under the current ordinance, most commercial and residential tenants are protected from being evicted due to missed rent between March 4 and July 31 of this year. They have until July 31, 2021, to repay any back rent, but the proposal on Tuesday’s agenda could require them to start making payments on that debt as early as August 31—something landlords have pushed for.
“In this way, the tenant can better manage their finances by paying monthly rent and a small amount of the deferred rent each month,” Malcolm Bennet, president of the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities, wrote in an email to The Post. “The impact of the deferred rent cannot be minimized on the landlord. Landlords and tenants should work together and not have one party singled out over another during these trying times.”
The Long Beach City Attorney’s office provided three potential repayment schedules for the City Council to consider:
- Require tenants to make 12 equal monthly payments beginning August 31.
- Require tenants to make four equal payments on the last day of each calendar quarter (October 31, 2020; January 31, April 30 and July 31, 2021).
- Require tenants to make 4 unequal payments, with the majority of rent to be paid closer to the payment deadline of July 31, 2021. Tenants would pay at least 15% of deferred rent on October 31, 2020, 35% on January 31; 60% on April 30 and 100% on July 31.
“It is important to note that these proposed schedules are not meant to limit discussion or direction,” the agenda item reads. “There are dozens of possible permutations of deferred rent payment dates and amounts which could be […] adopted by council.”
If the council decides to take no action, tenants may pay back rent in whatever time frame they choose, even if that means one lump sum on July 31, 2021, the city manager’s office confirmed in an email. The uncertainty of the path of no action has local real estate brokers and property owners concerned.
In an email to the mayor and City Council, local realtor Steve Warshauer, vice president at Coldwell Banker Commercial BLAIR WESTMAC, said he supports the first option. He stated the city needs to pass a policy immediately that clearly defines tenants’ financial obligations. Warshauer went on to say that any delay would be seen as “just another hit” against property owners.
Browne, the tenant advocate, said neighboring jurisdictions with similar eviction moratoriums and rent deferral policies do not have such payment schedules.
“Tenants will not recover from COVID at the same pace,” Browne said. “Trying to force them into arbitrary payment plans will set them up for failure and [cause] massive evictions in Long Beach, particularly for Black residents who are disproportionately impacted by COVID.”