State officials enacted a last-minute extension Thursday of some pandemic-related eviction protections, just hours before the deadline for tenants to apply for rent relief.
Assembly Bill 2179 — authored by Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, and Tim Grayson, D-Concord — will shield some renters from eviction through June 30, 2022, by requiring a judge to delay an eviction hearing if the state has not yet processed a tenant’s rent relief application.
Starting Friday, those who have not applied to the program will no longer be protected from eviction proceedings even if they have not paid rent due to lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tenants can only apply to the rent relief program if they have outstanding unpaid rent due to a loss of income caused by the pandemic, as the state’s full moratorium on evictions due to pandemic-related income loss ended Sept. 30, 2021.
“Today we upheld our promise to hundreds of thousands of Californians — renters and landlords alike — that we will help them through the financial hardships caused by the pandemic, and keep them in their homes while we do it,” Grayson said in a Twitter post.
While the state has dispersed some $2.5 billion to cover tenants’ unpaid rent, roughly 284,000 applications are still pending, according to data from the state’s rent relief program. Tenants will have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday to apply to the program.
The state Assembly approved AB 2179 62-1 on Monday while the Senate approved it 36-1 on Thursday as legislators hustled to keep protections in place for applicants before protections were set to end April 1.
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the state’s acting governor while Gov. Gavin Newsom is out of the state, signed the bill into law shortly after the Senate’s vote, becoming the first woman in California’s history to do so.
“I am deeply humbled to take this action and to be part of history today as the first woman in state history to sign legislation into law,” she said in a statement. “I remain more determined than ever to ensure that while I may be the first to do so, I will certainly not be the last.”
In addition to protecting tenants with pending rent relief applications, AB 2179 will also prevent some local governments from enforcing their own COVID-related eviction protections until after July 1 if they were originally adopted after Aug. 19, 2020.
As a result, local eviction protections in cities like San Francisco and Richmond will be postponed and superseded by the state’s eviction rules, while those in the city of Oakland and Alameda County will remain in place.
That portion of the legislation drew opposition from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. Wiener and Ting were the lone dissenting votes against AB 2179 in both chambers.
“There is no policy rationale for overriding local eviction protections in San Francisco, etc., while allowing other cities to protect their renters,” Wiener and Ting said Monday in a joint statement. “This arbitrary distinction is harmful to San Francisco renters, as well as renters in other cities and counties that aren’t part of the favored group of cities.”
AB 2179 also drew opposition from tenants’ rights advocates, who echoed the same concerns as Wiener and Ting.
“Their intent with this bill is to protect the 300,000 applicants still waiting for rental assistance, which is good,” said Christina Livingston, the executive director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.
“But by forcefully removing the local protections of nearly 4 million renters on April 1, and providing no state-level equivalent of protection, AB 2179 is a horrific deal that will result in a surge in evictions statewide, and far too many families becoming homeless,” Livingston said.
Advocacy groups for property owners and landlords, meanwhile, called for Thursday’s extension to be the last, arguing that some property owners may be forced to lose their properties if they cannot collect past-due rent or evict tenants for not paying.
The California Rental Housing Association said in a March 25 statement that it opposed AB 2179, with the group’s president Christine Kevane La Marca arguing that pandemic-era protections were no longer necessary as the virus has receded statewide and many other state health mandates have been rescinded over the last two months.
The CalRHA says it represents some 20,000 members who own more than 575,000 housing units across the state.
“Enough is enough,” Kevane La Marca said. “Some of our members have not received rental income for more than two years and can no longer make ends meet.”
The California Apartment Association, which also represents the state’s property owners, supported the extension but also argued that pre-pandemic eviction rules should return on July 1.
CAA CEO Thomas Bannon also suggested in a statement Thursday that “unethical tenants” have fraudulently withheld rent payments and hid behind pandemic-related restrictions.
“We’re hopeful that program administrators will do whatever it takes to finish the job and provide both renters and housing providers the help they’ve been promised,” Bannon said. “Come June 30, when all qualified applications are paid, there will be no need for any more COVID eviction moratoria, state or local.”
Tenants and landlords can apply to the rent relief program at https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/index.html.