Some Cities Relax Eviction Rules As Pressure Mounts From Landlords

(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

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As the coronavirus spread in March, a wave of California cities passed emergency laws to halt evictions.

Now, with many tenants struggling to pay May rent, some of those cities have repealed their laws or allowed them to expire, as pressure has mounted from landlords stridently opposed to eviction restrictions.

It all makes for a confusing situation for tenants and property owners, with a mix of actions from state courts, cities, and counties in recent weeks. Currently, most residential tenants cannot be evicted, because of an order from the state Judicial Council shutting down courts to nearly all eviction proceedings until 90 days after a state emergency ends.

After that, where tenants live could determine whether they can be evicted.

Earlier this month, Upland repealed a law its city council had passed to limit evictions.

"We keep helping one class. But nobody ever takes care of the ones paying the most taxes, which is the middle class, the landlords," said Mayor Pro Tem Ricky Felix at an April 13 meeting. "We can't just be giving out handouts."


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The move came after the city received a letter from an attorney representing local landlords, threatening a lawsuit. "Landlords will suffer seven-figure losses as a direct result of the Ordinance. Unless the Ordinance is immediately rescinded, Landlords will seek to recover those losses from the City," the letter states.

The letter alleges that tenants were using Upland's law to avoid paying rent. The city could be on the hook for "tens of millions of dollars in liability," it says.

The letter was signed by Orange County attorney Douglas J. Dennington, who wrote that his clients operate 755 units in Upland. It was first reported by the Daily Bulletin.

Forty-five percent of households in Upland are renters, a higher rate than in the region as a whole.

"It's very troubling that jurisdictions are responding to pressure from landlords and not enacting protections for tenants," said Silvana Naguib, an attorney with the non-profit Public Counsel.

The situation is confusing not simply for renters, but even for lawyers who track eviction law. "The rules are changing so constantly," Naguib said, adding that protections vary significantly from one jurisdiction to the next.

In La Verne, the city council rescinded eviction protections on April 20. The city of Burbank's eviction protections are set to expire today. Action by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors means those two cities will continue to have eviction protections.

That's not the case in Upland, which is in San Bernardino County.

Other jurisdictions have temporarily extended eviction protections that were set to expire on May 1. Those include Anaheim, South Gate, and the County of San Bernardino (the San Bernardino law applies only to unincorporated areas).

Meanwhile, pressure from landlord groups on the eviction stoppages is mounting. A message from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles this week blasted the Judicial Council rules.

"The Emergency Rule suspending evictions merely gives tenants the incentive to behave irresponsibly and not pay their rent even when they can afford to do so," it said. The message, dubbed a "red alert," invited members to reach out directly to the Judicial Council.

The powerful California Apartment Association also criticized the Judicial Council's order, writing in a letter that the organization was "deeply disappointed" about the eviction freeze. "It clears the way for those interest groups that have called for unlawful rent strikes to continue their irresponsible behavior," the letter said.

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