AFTER MORE THAN a year of waiting, landlords in California are once again allowed to take their tenants to court over missed rent payments as the state’s eviction ban ended this month.
Some cities and counties will have ongoing protections for renters, and the state will also keep a few guardrails in place — all tied to billions of dollars in rent relief the state is urging landlords and tenants to apply for. About 724,000 California households are still $2.5 billion behind in rent, according to a recent National Equity Atlas analysis. And some advocates are warning of a wave of evictions.
Here’s what you need to know about the state’s eviction law going forward:
I haven’t been able to make full rent payments. Can I be evicted?
Current law shields tenants from eviction if they’ve paid at least 25 percent of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. And tenants cannot be evicted over any rent owed between March 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2020 — as long as they respond to their landlord’s eviction notice with a signed declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress.
While tenants are shielded from eviction, the full rent between March 2020 and September 2021 is still due, however, and can be collected in small claims court starting Nov. 1.
If you are eligible for rent relief and apply, and your application is either approved or pending, you can use that as a defense in court.
Who is eligible for rent relief?
To qualify for aid, tenants must say, under penalty of perjury, that they have been financially impacted by the pandemic, and earn below 80 percent of the area median income.
You will be asked to show either your 2020 tax returns, your W-2 tax form, current pay stubs or proof of participation in a state or federal subsidy program, such as CalFresh, to prove your income and qualify for help. But even if you don’t have any of those documents, you can still apply.
Landlords can only collect relief for periods they didn’t receive rent from tenants. Property owners have to provide a lease or rental agreement that includes the renter’s name, address, and monthly rent; a rent ledger or statement that shows the unpaid rent balance; and a W-8 or W-9 tax form.
Do I need to be a citizen?
I was denied rent relief. What now?
If you’re a tenant and you’ve paid less than 25 percent of the rent you owe for the past year, the eviction process can move forward, said Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the state Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which is overseeing the state’s rent relief program.
But if you think your application was wrongfully denied, you can appeal by clicking on the link in your denial email and using your case ID to log on. The team that reviews your case will be different from the original case manager.
“We haven’t had a ton of appeals — mostly because we seldom have denials,” Heimerich said.
Why haven’t some landlords or tenants been paid yet?
The state says the average time from when a person submits an application to when they get paid is about 30 days. But advocates say some tenants have been waiting for months.
Heimerich says that your location can play a role.
For example, in San Francisco, both the state and the city ran their own rent relief programs until recently, when they merged into a single program managed by the state. Those who applied to the state program while the local one was still running may have been waiting longer for their money because the state had to make sure they weren’t potentially paying someone twice, Heimerich explained.
An incomplete application can also slow down the process. Make sure you follow up on your application, and check your email, to make sure there is no missing documentation.
My local program will now be managed by the state. Should I reapply?
If you still need money, yes. Some local programs only allowed forward or back payments, but following new federal rules, the state can now pay up to 18 months of rent, including three months of forward rent, as well as utilities. Just don’t apply for the same period of time you were already paid, as duplicative payments are not allowed under federal guidelines.
I’m a tenant still waiting for rent relief. Can I be evicted?
If you’ve applied for rent relief and have yet to hear back, that’s a defense against eviction in court. Your application doesn’t have to have yet been approved, nor do you have to have the money in hand. And if you’re summoned to court, you have to show proof you applied.
“They will get an email confirming receipt of their completed application and case number. That’s what they should bring,” Heimerich said.
Having paid at least 25 percent of your rent between September 2020 and September 2021 is also a defense against eviction in court, so make sure you have proof of what you’ve paid to date.
I got a 3-day ‘pay or quit’ notice from my landlord. Now what?
Under current law, after giving you a 3-day notice to “pay or quit” — the first step in the eviction process — the landlord will have to wait 20 business days before taking you to court.
It’s a defense in court if you tell your landlord you applied for rent relief within 15 business days of receiving a 3-day notice. You will also have to give your landlord a signed declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress within 15 business days of receiving a 3-day notice.
The court will ask landlords, under penalty of perjury, whether they also applied for rental assistance. The landlord will only be allowed to move forward with the case if their application was denied.
If 20 days pass, and you did not submit your rent relief application, or didn’t notify your landlord you applied, they will also be able to move forward with the eviction process, according to Cathal Conneely, a spokesperson for the Judicial Council of California.
I received an eviction notice. What should I do?
If you are served an unlawful detainer, or an eviction notice, don’t leave your home right away, advocates urge. In California, your landlord can’t physically kick you out until the court process is complete; only a sheriff’s department can lock you out.
There are plenty of free legal services to help walk you through the court process, or even represent you. Tenants Together, an advocacy organization, has a list of local resources, as does the state. If you live in Los Angeles, check out StayHousedLA.org. You can also text “Rent” to 211-211 for help from United Way, a nonprofit that helps distribute rent relief.
Some cities are also staffing up to help tenants. For example, Fresno residents can contact the city attorney’s office and apply for the Eviction Protection Program. The city has contracted with two law firms to provide defense for tenants facing illegal eviction, according to Brandi Snow, an attorney at Central California Legal Services. Her organization can be contacted at 800-675-8001.
My court date is coming up and I don’t have an attorney. What should I do?
To take advantage of the defenses afforded by the law, you still have to show up to court. The state has a guide for representing yourself.
Many legal aid and housing organizations can help provide other resources to take with you to court. There are also self-help centers to help tenants fill out forms, as well as free mediation programs, at some courthouses, according to Alexander Harden, a public policy advocate at Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles.
My landlord received rental assistance and is still evicting me. Is that legal?
A landlord who received past rental assistance might still take you to court for not paying your full October or subsequent months’ rent, which will be due in full. But according to Heimerich, the landlord will still have to follow the rules of the rent relief program. You can still apply for up to three months of rent going forward if you haven’t maxed out on 18 months of assistance, which would shield you from an eviction.
What reasons can a landlord evict for, other than nonpayment of rent?
Since the start of the state’s eviction protections, evictions over issues unrelated to rent payments have been ongoing. A CalMatters analysis found at least 10,000 through March 2021. Those reasons include:
- The landlord or their family was moving into the property, or selling the property to a person who intended to move in.
- A landlord had to demolish or do a substantial remodeling because the unit posed a health and safety threat.
- The tenant committed a crime or a criminal threat on the property.
- The tenant violated the lease by subletting the property, causing a nuisance or staying after the lease expired.
How are courts gearing up for the expiration of tenant protections?
Conneely said the state’s Judicial Council will consider Friday whether to revise the unlawful detainer form landlords have to fill out to add an item including statements regarding attempts to apply for rent relief.
Heimerich said his department is working with the courts to set up a phone line for the courts to call to confirm and get more information about specific rent relief cases. In Riverside County, for example, someone from the Superior Court will call representatives from the counties’ nonprofit partners, Lift to Rise or United Way, to check on a tenant’s rent relief application status.
“It is a relatively simple process, but we think it will work well,” said Mike Walsh, deputy director at the Riverside County Housing Authority.
But Conneely said the courts are not required to look anything up to determine whether a case should proceed. Tenant advocates worry that might lead to cases moving forward in defiance of the law.
Are local eviction protections also ending?
The city of Los Angeles will continue to have its nonpayment protections in place until the city lifts their emergency protections, as will the city of Fresno. Check with your local jurisdiction whether further protections will remain in place.
What can cities do to protect renters?
If your city didn’t extend their eviction protections prior to the passage in June of the most recent eviction protections, state law prevents them from enacting stronger protections over nonpayment of rent until March 2022. However, cities and counties can still enact other safeguards.
“A city could decide to have additional protections for tenants who are receiving notice for eviction for owner move-in, which is actually one of the kinds of evictions that we are seeing a rise in,” Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together, said during a recent press conference.
“It’s incredibly important that local governments dedicate resources to legal aid for tenants who end up in court when they’re faced with eviction lawsuits,” added Assemblymember David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco who authored the state law.
How much rental assistance has been paid and how much is still available?
The state has paid out at least $649 million so far, to nearly 55,000 households. It is managing about $2.6 billion in federal money with the help of a private contractor, and has received applications for about $2.9 billion already. But local cities and counties have an additional $2 billion, though those funds are not being tracked in one centralized database.
What happens if the state runs out of money?
Heimerich said the state could be eligible for more federal funds, if another state has unspent rent relief. And if a city or county has leftover dollars, they could go to another jurisdiction that needs them.
“We need anyone who thinks you might be eligible for this funding to apply right now,” Chiu said. “If we disburse all the funds that we have, we would likely be eligible for more federal funding, but if we don’t disburse the money that we have right now, there’s a chance that money could get clawed back.”