How Long Will LA’s COVID Eviction Protections Last? Right Now, No One Knows
The end date for the city of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 eviction protections remains unclear following a city council committee meeting that featured little substantive discussion, occasional barbs and no agreement on how to move forward.
The uncertainty poses significant risks: low-income renters across the city face the possibility of losing their housing when the pandemic-era rules lift.
The city’s protections, which have been in place since March 2020, ban rent increases in rent-controlled apartments and prevent landlords from evicting tenants who can’t pay rent due to job loss or other economic harms tied to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the city council’s housing committee took up a report from the L.A. Housing Department laying out proposals for how to wind down tenant safeguards. That report recommended ending eviction protections after Dec. 31.
Most committee members favored extending the deadline to at least Feb. 1, 2023. However, they failed to agree on a path forward.
It’s unclear where the proposals will go next, said Inner City Law Center public policy advocate Sasha Harnden.
“The city has a huge responsibility to get this right and to not create gaps in protections that will predictably lead to increased homelessness,” he said.
Still Waiting For Clear Timeline
Wednesday’s housing committee meeting was long awaited by tenants still suffering from income loss due to the pandemic. Many remain deep in debt and fear eviction once the protections go away.
The meeting was also hotly anticipated by local landlords, who have long called for an end to the city’s COVID-19 rules.
Many landlords, but not all, received compensation for lost rent payments during the pandemic. The city and state have now distributed more than $1.5 billion in rent relief to households throughout the city, with most of that money going to landlords.
Joanne Wright, who owns an eight-unit apartment building in Hollywood, said the city has barred her from raising rents for nearly three years.
“I'm digging into my savings in order for these people to live in Hollywood,” Wright said. “You're not protecting the tenant, because you're going to price all of us little landlords out of business.”
Under the housing department’s proposals for phasing out pandemic protections, landlords who own rent-controlled buildings would be allowed to start raising rents again in Jan. 2024. However, like all of the department’s proposals, that plan needs to pass a full council vote before taking effect.
Will Winding Down Protections Drive Up Homelessness?
Most tenant advocates agree that small landlords need clarity on when pandemic restrictions will end. However, they say the city should not remove COVID-19 rules until permanent protections are put in place to stop evictions and homelessness from swelling again.
The release of L.A.’s 2022 homeless count last week showed homelessness remaining nearly flat over the last two years, rising 1.7% in the city. That’s a much smaller increase than the 32% spike the city saw between 2018 and 2020.
Councilmember Nithya Raman said those results prove that the city’s pandemic tenant protections worked to reduce the number of people falling into homelessness.
“Taking those away would lead potentially to an increase in people losing their homes, falling into homelessness and increases in the numbers of people that we're seeing living on L.A. streets,” Raman said.
“We cannot afford at this moment to look away from the lessons that we've learned over these past two years,” she added.
Little Discussion On Conflicting Proposals
During Wednesday’s housing committee meeting, Raman proposed keeping the city’s pandemic eviction protections in place through Feb. 28, 2023. That suggestion clashed with a proposal put forward by committee chair Gil Cedillo, who wanted to set Feb. 1 as the deadline.
When Raman suggested the committee discuss the conflicting dates before taking a vote, Cedillo declined, telling her, “You can vote no if you don't agree with it.”
“I am fully aware that I have the capacity to vote no on anything, thank you,” Raman replied. “It just feels like this is a pretty important issue … It’s worthy of at least some discussion on one date versus another.”
But Cedillo quickly moved forward with a roll call vote. He also chose not to hear recommendations from housing department officials during the meeting.
“They had prepared a whole PowerPoint presentation that was not heard by the committee,” said the Inner City Law Center's Harnden. “The committee chair really seemed to want to rush this through without consideration or discussion.”
Meeting Ends With No Agreement
In the end, councilmembers Cedillo and John Lee voted to advance the housing department’s recommendations to the full council. But after several amending motions failed, councilmembers Raman and Marqueece Harris-Dawson voted no. Councilmember Paul Krekorian was absent (he has recused himself from past votes on tenant protections because he is a landlord).
Cedillo will exit the council in December. He lost his reelection bid in the June primary to Eunisses Hernandez, a community activist who ran on a platform that included expanding renter protections.
We reached out to Cedillo’s office for comment about Wednesday’s committee meeting, but we didn’t get a response.
At one point in the meeting, Cedillo told Raman to not ask questions while the committee was taking a vote on an amendment.
“We're in the middle of a roll call, Ms. Raman, that's inappropriate,” Cedillo said.
“Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was the one being inappropriate here,” she responded.
Ultimately, the committee failed to approve any recommendations on a phase-out plan for the city’s pandemic tenant protections.
“The way today’s housing committee discussion on the end of the eviction moratorium was run was an insult to the people of Los Angeles, for struggling renters and landlords alike,” Raman said in a statement issued shortly after the meeting. “All discussion on the substantive report from the Housing Department and the Mayor’s Office, as well as important amendments was denied, leaving Angelenos in the lurch.”
What Comes Next?
The decision on when exactly to end eviction protections will now go either to the city council’s COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee, or straight to the full council for a vote.
Some councilmembers have already said they will not support a Dec. 31 end date.
In a recent letter, Councilmember Kevin De Leon called the housing department recommendations “hastily drafted, piecemeal and inadequate for the prevention of displacement and homelessness.”
The Dec. 31 sunset date isn’t the only thing the housing department officials recommended moving forward. They also called for some permanent expansions in tenant protections.
One of their suggestions is to expand “just cause” eviction protections — which already exist in the city’s rent-controlled apartments — to single-family homes and condos owned by large corporations. Put simply, landlords would need a specific reason (a “just cause”) to evict a tenant, such as creating a nuisance, property damage or plans to demolish the unit.
Housing department officials also said they are exploring policies that could require landlords to pay relocation assistance to any tenant displaced by an annual rent hike of more than 10%. Another policy under consideration could create new limits on evictions for failure to pay rent, setting a threshold for how much tenants must owe before landlords can proceed with eviction.