Board moves forward with study of eviction moratorium related to coronavirus

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside County supervisors have directed staff to research possible implementation of an eviction moratorium in unincorporated areas.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Manuel Perez proposed criteria that the county might adopt to relieve renters from immediately meeting obligations to landlords when the statewide emergency comes to an end.

Several cities in Riverside County, including Palm Springs and Riverside, have put moratoriums in place.

“The loss of wages caused by the effects of COVID-19 impacts a tenant’s ability to pay rent when due, leaving tenants vulnerable to eviction and homelessness,” Perez stated in documents posted to the board’s agenda.

“Workers who experience a loss of income as a result of illness, layoffs, reduced hours, or the need to care for a sick or otherwise dependent family member are more likely to be unable to stay current on rent payments.”

Perez expressed concern that displaced tenants will further saddle the county with people in need of subsidized housing. He noted that the county’s Housing Authority is already loaded with a waiting list of 90,000 applicants for housing assistance.

“More than 800 families currently have a voucher and are unable to find a landlord who will take it,” he said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued two executive orders in March establishing limits on how evictions can be carried out amid the coronavirus state of emergency, but the orders left unaddressed how some procedures should be handled, leaving counties and cities with the discretion to set rules.

In a March 16 order, Newsom directed that if a tenant’s failure to pay rent is due to a substantial loss of income directly related to illness or the government’s mitigation measures — specifically, Newsom’s stay-at-home order — evictions cannot proceed until at least May 31, when the executive order expires. However, lessees must show documentation proving need.

Newsom’s action coincided with a Riverside County Superior Court administrative order on March 16 declaring that all unlawful detainer hearings — eviction proceedings — would be postponed 60 days.

Newsom followed up with an order on March 27 extending a tenant’s time to respond to an eviction lawsuit from five to 65 days.

However, certain conditions apply, including documentation indicating that the reason for failing to pay rent stemmed from being sick, out of work because of the emergency or taking care of a child unable to attend school because it was shut down under a local emergency order.

That executive order expires on May 31, as well, and it makes no provision for how and when a tenant is obligated to pay overdue rent.

The California Judicial Council implemented procedures that further relax eviction requirements imposed on renters in default, banning automatic judgments against them because they fail to appear in court to defend against a landlord’s suit during the statewide emergency.

Similar protections are available to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure.

The coronavirus relief bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump in late March, prohibits foreclosure proceedings on any federally backed mortgages until May 18, and borrowers can seek forbearance for up to 12 months.

Perez is seeking the board’s agreement to begin drafting a county moratorium that would incorporate some or all of the following criteria

— establishing a timeline for when tenants are expected to pay part or all of their rent after Newsom’s emergency orders expire;

— providing guidelines for the potential payment of back-due rent over time;

— setting guidelines for when or whether a landlord is eligible to seek interest or late fees on overdue rent; and

— specifying potential limits on no-fault evictions — or when a tenant is current on rent, but the property owner still wants him out — during and immediately after the coronavirus crisis.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries asked, and the board agreed, to remove commercial properties from the Executive Office study, which is expected to be returned to the board in the next 60 days.

Jeffries, a property owner who has disqualified himself from board actions because of potential conflicts, said he envisions a number of “downsides” to the prospective county moratorium, but welcomed the study.