Landlords across California can, with certain exceptions, once more evict tenants who are behind on rent.
The state’s eviction moratorium, which was put in place last March to protect renters and stabilize housing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, expires Thursday. And because that ban also preempted local governments from instituting the same protections, cities and counties are barred from passing laws that would effectively extend the moratorium in their own jurisdictions.
That’s created a complicated legal landscape in Los Angeles County, whose Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend other renter protections through the end of January.
So what does this all mean for local landlords?
While landlords in LA County can now evict tenants who are behind on rent, that ability still has strings attached. Residential tenants who have applied for rental relief are still protected from eviction through the end of March. And if a tenant has not applied for rental relief, the landlord must submit their own application for rental assistance on the tenant’s behalf before filing for eviction.
Long Beach has managed its own rental relief program during the pandemic, and as of Tuesday, the city had received 9,706 applications, and 7,034 of those applications were submitted by landlords. Of the applications landlords submitted, 2,031 still required cooperation from tenants in order to determine their eligibility for rental relief funds.
The city has paid out about $19 million in rental relief, and 90% of that has gone directly to landlords, according to Long Beach’s Development Services Department.
Other types of evictions that have been banned in LA County during the pandemic—including nuisance evictions, evictions due to unauthorized people or pets and evictions of commercial tenants that are behind on rent—are still prohibited through the end of January.
While LA County supervisors said the regulations are still necessary to prevent a wave of mass evictions all at once, the continued restrictions have been a source of frustration for property owners who feel like they’ve been forced to bear an unfair financial burden.
Anthony Peters, a property owner who spoke during this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, said his tenant has a full-time job but has refused to pay rent throughout the pandemic.
“For over a year and half, they have not been paying rent,” he said, “and yet I’m having to fund their ability to live in my property. I’m at a point where I’m risking losing my home.”
Fred Sutton, a representative of the California Apartment Association, said he’s heard of multiple instances of landlords being forced to sell their properties because they’ve gone so long without receiving rent.
“Given the economy’s reopening and vaccine availability,” he said, “it is unconscionable that the county is continuing its broad moratorium.”
Keith Kennedy, a landlord in Long Beach, said in a recent phone interview that he’s been fortunate that most of his tenants have been communicative and willing to work with him through the pandemic.
“I understand how you have to be a little flexible,” he said. “With people that are honest, that’s never been a problem. They are always very diligent about making sure they’re current, and even if they do it on the last day of the month—that’s not a preference, but it’s not an issue either.”
But Kennedy has had a few tenants, he said, who have not paid rent or communicated with him at all throughout the pandemic.
The eviction moratorium “just was kind of set up in such a way that the landlord was completely taken out of the picture in the process,” Kennedy said, “which is unfortunate because you don’t know whether they’re sick—or dead. We don’t know what the situation is. We just know they’re not paying.”
And many landlords, Kennedy included, are not keen to evict tenants if they can reasonably avoid it.
“I can tell you from experience, I would prefer never ever seeing an eviction in my entire life, ever again,” he said. “It is not a fun process. It is not an easy process. It does not make you feel good, and it is just not an experience anybody ever wants to actually have to go through—either party, either the individual being evicted or the party evicting them. It’s never positive.”
That’s why fostering a cooperative relationship between landlords and tenants is in both sides’ interest, he said. But the regulations that have been put in place during the pandemic, Kennedy said, have created a barrier to that cooperation.
“I believe that everything should be done in such a way that it’s taking both parties into account, because you have to,” he said. “It doesn’t work the other way. If you just have one side, whether it be landlords or tenants, and you only focus on that one group, then you’ve kind of skewed the whole process, and it creates more problems than you expected.”
The LA County Board of Supervisors, for its part, acknowledged the difficulties that landlords have faced because of the ban on evictions.
“There are two sides to every equation, and it does feel sometimes like our landlords have borne the brunt of the burden for our continued extension of this eviction moratorium,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said, “and I’m concerned that continuing to do this will continue to hurt them.”
But Hahn also noted that some protections are still necessary, because “I think we all fear a mass eviction that we would not be able to accomodate help for.”
While the board extended most of the current regulations, the supervisors also said it was important to begin easing restrictions—but that process should be informed by the broader economic and public health picture in LA County.
To that end, the board voted to ask county staff to report back in 30 days with current data on unemployment, rent relief requests and funding and other indicators of the region’s economy. The item also asked county staff to report back in 90 days with a plan to phase out the eviction moratorium based on that data.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger was the only member of the board to abstain from voting on the extension of the moratorium; all of her colleagues voted in favor of it.
With the state moratorium expiring, “we should ask if the county should lift ours, as well,” Barger said. “I believe we should have a plan in place that will allow us to move away from the moratorium and get back into allowing landlords to collect from people renting their spaces.”