Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, called the state's new eviction protections that he co-authored "less than perfect but absolutely necessary." (Photo courtesy of Chiu's office)

California legislators made an 11th-hour effort to protect the state’s tenants from evictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but some tenant rights advocates and an author of the bill said Tuesday that there’s still much to do.

Assembly Bill 3088, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020, co-authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, sailed through the Assembly and state Senate Monday evening, the last day of the Legislature’s 2020 session.

The law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed late Monday night and went into effect immediately as an urgency statute, prevents property owners from evicting tenants if they cannot pay the entirety of their monthly rent due to pandemic-related financial distress.

Tenants that pay 25 percent of their rent between Tuesday and Jan. 31, 2021, cannot be evicted under the law, although landlords and property managers can file a civil suit in small claims court to recoup the remaining 75 percent.

Tenants can also be sued in civil court for rent payments missed through Aug. 31, but they cannot be evicted for those missed payments under the law.

AB 3088 extends the minimum period of time property managers and landlords must give as notice of missed payment from three days to 15. During that 15-day period, tenants must provide proof of financial hardship to remain protected from eviction.

“The bill we voted on last night I would describe as a less than perfect but absolutely necessary solution to a colossal problem,” Chiu said in an interview Tuesday.

State legislators were under the gun to draft and pass eviction protections following the California Judicial Council’s Aug. 13 vote to rescind the statewide ban on evictions during the pandemic that it had adopted in April.

If the state had not acted by Monday, millions of people across the state could have been evicted Tuesday, according to Chiu. The wave of evictions, Chiu said, would have turned the state’s pandemic-induced recession into a full-blown economic depression.

Chiu originally proposed an eviction protection bill, Assembly Bill 1436, that would have offered more protections to tenants than the bill legislators passed Monday night.

AB 1436 would have prohibited evictions for missed rent payments until 90 days after the state’s emergency order is lifted or April 1, 2021, whichever came first. Tenants would have had an additional 12 months after that to pay back rent before a property owner could take them to court.

“We set out to ensure that Californians unable to pay rent during this pandemic would be protected from eviction,” he said. “And while the bill’s original protections have been scaled back, the spirit of that policy remains in the law that was just signed by the governor.”

Chiu and the co-authors of AB 1436 had collaborated with tenant rights advocates and labor organizations to draft the bill, which was also backed by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Landlord advocacy groups, however, bristled at the bill for being too lenient.

AB 1436 “would have encouraged tenants — including those without financial hardships from COVID-19 — to skip rent payments without fear of eviction,” the California Apartment Association said in a statement upon the passage of AB 3088.

The bill’s protections were eventually pared down, Chiu said, because both chambers had to pass the protections by a two-thirds vote for them to go into effect immediately.

As a result, the bill had to appeal to the chambers’ more moderate and conservative members as well as their liberal factions.

“There were many moments where I thought this was not going to land but we were able to get there,” Chiu said. “It was a very difficult negotiation.”

Martina Cucullu Lim, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Eviction Defense Collaborative, argued that the bill was watered down to the point of “valuing property over people.”

Cucullu Lim also said that even the 25 percent rent payment requirement was too steep for many state residents, especially those in communities of color that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and the economic turmoil it has wrought.

“The tenant community is very disappointed and disillusioned by this bill,” she said. “The power and influence of the real estate lobby shines bright in it.”

David Stark, spokesman for the Bay East Association of Realtors, said that smaller-scale property owners have been willing to accommodate some amount of financial hardship among their tenants, even prior to the pandemic.

Stark also suggested that local real estate businesses and property owners have been more affected financially by the “layer upon layer” of regulations than the pandemic.

“What I’m hearing on a regular basis is from real estate professionals that either have a few rental properties or they represent clients that have a few rental properties and the consistent message is ‘I’m out, I simply cannot afford to be in the business of providing affordable housing,'” Stark said.

The ultimate solution, according to Chiu and CAA executive vice president of state public affairs Debra Carlton is the federal government providing financial assistance to the state to keep people in their homes and keep landlords solvent.

“COVID-impacted renters need financial assistance, from the feds, so they can pay their rent,” Carlton said. “Otherwise, renters will be hard-pressed to pay the rent that’s accumulated, and housing providers will go out of business.”

Chiu added that he hopes a potential federal administration led by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominees for president and vice president, respectively, will be more amenable to helping California financially as long as the pandemic persists.

“States cannot fix it on our own, particularly with significant budget challenges,” Chiu said. “We just passed a $54 billion budget deficit and just don’t have two pennies to rub at this moment.”

Cucullu Lim said that EDC maintains faith in Chiu as an ally of tenants in the Bay Area and the state at large and will continue making efforts to craft a stronger bill when the new legislative session begins next year.

Chiu did not commit to simply re-introducing the text of AB 1436 but did emphasize that he will be monitoring the efficacy of AB 3088 and expects follow-up tenant protection bill will be necessary.

“Our work is certainly not done,” he said. “We will be back. I’ll certainly be working with the leadership of the statewide tenant movement to figure out what we do next.”