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Housing and Homelessness

LA’s City Council Asks: Is It Time To Phase Out COVID-19 Renter Protections?

A person holds a handwritten sign on a poster board that reads: # Eviction Free L.A.
A sign at an Aug. 2020 protest in L.A. calling for the cancellation of rent and an eviction moratorium.
(Valerie Macon
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Throughout the pandemic, the city of Los Angeles has given renters increased protections from evictions and rent hikes.

Now, the city’s elected leaders are starting to discuss what to do with those protections moving forward — whether to change them, continue them, or phase them out.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the L.A. city council took up a motion to “reassess the eviction moratorium to suit the needs of Angelenos.”

The proposal did not ask for any immediate policy changes. It only requested the city’s housing department to report back in 30 days on options for amending the protections.

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“Today, both the tenants and the mom and pop landlords are hurting,” Council President Nury Martinez said.

“These are hard-working Angelenos who have saved up money to buy a home to lease to create generational wealth for them and their families,” she said. “This is about them and about the low-income tenants and families who are barely getting by.”

Currently, L.A. landlords are restricted from evicting tenants who cannot pay rent due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

Tenants will have until 2023 to repay the rent they’ve missed during the pandemic. For now, those living in the city’s rent-controlled units are also protected from rent increases. Proponents of these protections say they are among the strongest in California, and have prevented waves of evictions that otherwise would have made the city’s homelessness crisis even worse.

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Local landlord groups have long called for a swift end to the protections. They argue that businesses have reopened, unemployment rates have declined, vaccines have been rolled out and billions of dollars in rent relief have been distributed by the state — but the city has been slow to let landlords return to business as usual.

“It feels as though we have just been identified as a scapegoat,” said Diane Robertson, co-founder of the L.A.-based Coalition of Small Rental Property Owners. “We're not asking to have this lifted so that we can start evicting tenants. We're asking that things go back to the way they were, pre-pandemic.”

'They're Moving Too Quickly'

But tenant advocates say the pandemic is not over, and many low-income renters are still struggling economically. They argue now is the wrong time for the city council to even bring up phasing out these protections.

“I do think that they're moving too quickly,” said Cynthia Strathmann, executive director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy.

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She said many households borrowed money from friends and family to keep up with their rent. Others used credit cards. Government-funded rent relief does not cover this kind of “shadow debt,” putting those households at higher risk of eviction once the protections are lifted.

Strathmann said households still reeling from pandemic job losses are now facing new challenges, such as high inflation.

“To lift these protections at a time when people are still very fragile is only likely to increase the problem of homelessness,” Strathmann said.

The council failed to reach a quorum on Wednesday, pushing a vote on the proposal back to Friday. In addition to absences, councilmembers Paul Krekorian and Curren Price recused themselves from the vote because they both own rental properties.

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