California’s Eviction Moratorium Has Ended. Here’s How To Stay Housed Moving Forward
During the pandemic, California tenants who couldn’t pay rent due to COVID-19 have been able to protect themselves from eviction.
State law gave renters a process for telling landlords they had been financially hurt by COVID-19. Millions who lost jobs could use that protection to avoid being kicked out of their homes.
Until now. That broad statewide protection (commonly called California’s “eviction moratorium”) is going away after Sept. 30. Evictions for non-payment of rent will resume.
However, many protections remain. Landlords seeking evictions in the months to come will need to take extra steps. Renters can still use state law to prevent an eviction, and local laws in certain cities — including the city of Los Angeles — offer even stronger protections (more on that below).
L.A. housing advocates say knowing your rights will be crucial as the rules change. Here’s your guide to what comes next — and how to stay housed.
What Exactly Is Changing After Sept. 30?
Put simply, tenants who can’t pay their rent will once again be vulnerable to eviction, in much the same way they were before the pandemic.
So far, landlords have been required to give tenants at least 15 days to respond to any notice demanding unpaid rent. Tenants were able to avoid eviction by responding with a declaration that they had been economically affected by COVID-19.
But starting next month, landlords can give tenants much less time to respond before moving ahead with an eviction.
“If rent is due on the first and the tenant does not pay, the landlord can move forward as of Oct. 2 with a three-day notice,” said Javier Beltran, deputy director of the L.A.-based Housing Rights Center.
“Once those three days have expired and the tenant has not paid, then the landlord can proceed to move forward with filing an eviction,” Beltran said.
With pent-up demand for evictions about to be unleashed, eviction attorneys worry that many L.A. tenants are about to receive a three-day notice.
I Have Some Money Saved, But Not Enough To Pay All My Back Rent. What Should I Do?
It’s a good idea to pay your October rent in full if you can.
Trinidad Ocampo, an attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County, said paying next month’s rent is even more important than paying off your entire back rent from the past year (more on that later).
“Oct. 1 rent is the priority right now,” Ocampo said. “Having October ready, and applying for rental assistance for that time when [renters] were maybe struggling more — that's what we are recommending.”
How Should I Respond If I Get An Eviction Notice?
If you receive a three-day notice and can’t pay, don’t simply pack up and move out. You still have protections that could keep you housed.
Eviction attorneys said one of the first things you should do is apply for rent relief.
There is currently no deadline to apply. Rent relief programs across the state will continue to accept applications after Sept. 30. It is recommended that you apply within 15 days of receiving an eviction notice from your landlord. The sooner you apply, the better.
Experts said if you receive a three-day notice, the worst thing you can do is not respond at all. Instead, tell your landlord you have applied for rent relief. And try to get legal assistance as soon as you can.
“[Renters] have to take affirmative steps to participate in the process,” said Ocampo. “Otherwise, it may proceed without their involvement, and may result in a sheriff showing up at their door and evicting them because they didn't exercise their rights.”
If I Apply For Rent Relief, What Protections Will I Get?
You’ll want to seek rent relief for two reasons. One: if your application is approved, you could receive funding to clear 100% of your pandemic rent debt dating back to April 2020. Two: even if you don’t immediately get funding, simply applying could protect you from an eviction.
Under state law, landlords cannot move forward with evictions between Oct. 1 and March 31, 2022 if their tenant has a rent relief application under review. They can still file eviction cases, but tenants can use a pending rent relief application to defend themselves in eviction court.
“If the tenant does file a rental assistance application, it basically holds the eviction until that is resolved,” Javier Beltran said. “That is a huge protection.”
Depending on where you live, you can apply for rent relief through the state of California, or through various local cities and counties. These programs also let you apply for funding to cover upcoming rent that you won’t be able to pay.
Keep in mind, these programs have income limits. Generally, in order to qualify for rent relief, you can’t be earning more than 80% of your area’s median income. The annual income limit in L.A. County is $94,600 for a family of four.
How Much Back Rent Do I Owe By Sept. 30?
If you can’t pay all of your back rent by the end of the month, don’t worry. You won’t need to pay 100% of that debt by Sept. 30 to stay housed.
Under state law, paying 25% of the rent you owed from Sept. 2020 through Sept. 2021 is enough to avoid eviction.
That doesn’t mean you don’t owe the remaining 75% to your landlord. You do still owe that money. And your landlord can soon take you to court to try to recoup that balance.
“The landlord starting on Nov. 1 can go to civil court or small claims court to collect that debt,” said Jonathan Jager, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “But the threat of eviction and the risk of being forced out of your home for not paying that rent goes away.”
What Steps Does My Landlord Have To Take To Evict Me?
Starting next month, landlords can once again pursue evictions for tenants who haven’t paid rent. However, things aren’t fully going back to normal. Over the next six months, landlords will still need to take extra steps to pursue an eviction over non-payment of rent.
Specifically, landlords must apply for rent relief before filing an eviction case, and they must attest in court that funding was denied by a government agency, or that their tenant failed to participate in the application process.
That’s why eviction attorneys say it’s crucial for tenants to participate in seeking rent relief. If your landlord applies on your behalf, you shouldn’t ignore the paperwork required on your end.
“I would encourage tenants to seek out rent relief and to participate and cooperate with requests,” said Jager. “If they have additional questions or want to verify that the documents being presented are legitimate, they can always contact the state’s rental assistance program to make sure that they're being presented with true and correct forms for signature.”
What About Local Eviction Laws?
The protections we’ve listed so far serve as a baseline for tenants throughout the state. But depending on where you live, you may have even stronger protections from eviction moving forward.
In the city of L.A., tenants affected by COVID-19 can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent — even after Sept. 30.
The city’s eviction moratorium is set to continue until the mayor declares an end to the “local emergency period.” Tenants will have another 12 months to repay their back rent after the emergency period ends, or until May 2023, whichever date comes first.
This means city renters don’t have to pay 25% of their pandemic rent debt by Sept. 30 to avoid eviction. And if they receive an eviction notice from their landlords, they can still protect themselves from eviction by stating they were financially impacted by COVID-19.
L.A. County's Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend some protections for renters in unincorporated parts of the county through January, but those rules will not protect renters from non-payment evictions. County leaders are urging tenants to apply for rent relief to avoid evictions moving forward.
Where Should I Go For Help?
If you’re feeling confused by all this information, you’re not alone. Even the experts told us their heads are spinning.
One way to untangle that confusion is to reach out for legal help. Most landlords go into eviction court with a lawyer, while the vast majority of tenants don’t have an attorney. Without legal aid, the odds are stacked against you.
The good news is that legal aid organizations are gearing up to assist folks in your situation. You can seek help through StayHousedLA.org, a collaboration between the county, city and local legal aid organizations. Workshops are being held regularly, and you can ask for a referral through this link.