Contra Costa County Supervisors extended evictions protections to commercial renters Tuesday in an effort to prevent businesses from shuttering for good during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo via Dave Overcash/Flickr)

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday enacted new protections for commercial rental tenants who can prove financial hardship directly tied to COVID-19-related causes, but opted to not expand existing protections for residential renters beyond those already in place.

The supervisors unanimously approved adding commercial renter protection to a Sept. 22 urgency ordinance that already provides some protection for residential renters who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and can prove it.

The supervisors took up separate discussions Tuesday of commercial tenants and, after that, about residential renters. Dozens of call-in commenters told the supervisors Tuesday that commercial renters have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that landlords aren’t always willing to negotiate lower rents, even temporarily.

A woman said her Richmond-based dog-care business has gone down by two-thirds, and that all but her “core staff” has been laid off, and that businesses like hers need protection.

“Quality thoughts are meaningless if there aren’t quality actions supporting them,” she said.

A handful of commercial property landlords said it’s unfair for commercial landlords not to collect rent, but still be required to pay county property taxes. Supervisors countered that both the state and the county have said property tax payments can be deferred to May 2021, in deference to the pandemic.

The discussion about added residential renter protections was even more passionate. Dozens of renters, some of whom said they lost their jobs because of COVID-19, told of abusive landlords trying to intimidate them to the point they move out.

Landlords, meanwhile, described renters taking advantage of them, sometimes claiming COVID-19-related hardship even after landing a new job, or — in one case — buying a new house.

One woman told the supervisors most landlords are already giving their tenants some sort of break on rent, and that they need help just as much as do the tenants. Another caller said, “We cannot be a well of everlasting charity” to tenants.

Supervisor John Gioia said he wanted to “take the personalities out of the discussion” and treat the renter protection matter as one of protecting public health by not throwing people onto the street.

But the other supervisors were more concerned with not putting too much financial pressure on residential landlords.

“I’m tired of accommodating the ‘bad actors’,” Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said.

Supervisor Diane Burgis said she wants more community outreach about the county’s rules covering landlords and renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supervisors’ Sept. 22 urgency ordinance also brings Contra Costa County law more in line with state laws offering eviction and rent increase protection.

Assembly Bill 3088, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 31. It prohibits unlawful detainer actions against residents with COVID-19-related financial distress for non-payment of rent and other charges due between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021.

That bill offers some relief for residential landlords as well, converting back rent payments into “consumer debt” and allowing landlords to pursue collecting that money through small claims courts, beginning in March.