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Housing and Homelessness

LA County Approves Plan To End COVID-19 Tenant Protections At End Of Year

 A “for lease” sign on a building advertises an available apartment in the city of Los Angeles.
A “for lease” sign advertises an available apartment in the city of Los Angeles.
(David Wagner
/
LAist)
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to definitively end pandemic-era tenant protections at the end of the year.

The decision means that after Dec. 31, many renters in the nation’s largest county will no longer be protected from eviction if they cannot pay rent due to economic hardship related to COVID-19.

“Given the resources we put into play — the financial resources to help both tenants and landlords to collect back rent — it's time for us to begin moving forward,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who presented the plan for a Dec. 31 phase-out.

That Dec. 31 date isn’t new. Under the current rules passed by county leaders in January, COVID-19 tenant protections are only scheduled to last through Dec. 31. However, the county has repeatedly extended the protections as previous deadlines approached.

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Tuesday’s vote is the first to explicitly set Dec. 31 as the “defined end date” for the county’s pandemic tenant protections. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis cast the two dissenting votes, saying it was too soon to commit to ending all pandemic tenant protections.

“I think the headline will be: This board must love homeless people. They are going to make so many more of them,” said Supervisor Kuehl.

Many homelessness policy experts credit local eviction protections and bans on rent increases with reducing the number of Angelenos falling into homelessness during the pandemic.

Last week, the region’s latest homeless count found a 4.1% rise in homelessness in L.A. County over the last two years. That number was significantly lower than the 26% increase observed between 2018 and 2020, before COVID-19 tenant protections were enacted.

Tenants Want Permanent Protections Before Rules Lift

The county’s tenant protection efforts during the pandemic don’t just apply to evictions for those unable to pay due to COVID-19. In unincorporated parts of L.A. County, they also guard against rent hikes in rent-controlled housing. And they have allowed tenants to add additional people and pets to their households during the pandemic without fear of eviction. With Tuesday’s vote, all of that is slated to end on Dec. 31.

Tenant advocates worry that thousands of low-income renters who suffered job loss or the death of a family breadwinner will be vulnerable to losing their housing at the start of the new year. They’re calling for the county to enact permanent tenant protections before lifting the COVID-19 rules.

“We can't go back to the way things were before the pandemic,” said Carla De Paz, the director of organizational strategy for Community Power Collective, a nonprofit aligned with the Keep L.A. Housed coalition. “Folks really need permanent protections to stay housed.”

De Paz said moving forward, they’re seeking rights for tenants such as:

  • Rent control in all of the 88 cities that make up L.A. County 
  • Rules limiting evictions to “just cause” reasons such as causing a nuisance or damaging property
  • The right to an attorney for all tenants facing eviction
  • Higher thresholds on how much back rent tenants must owe before landlords can start eviction proceedings 
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Without new permanent protections, De Paz said L.A. will soon see a return to previous spikes in homelessness.

“We have a housing crisis. We have a homelessness crisis in L.A. We can't ignore that,” she said. “We need to have a systemic approach to it and a systemic response. Doing whatever we can to keep people housed right now is critical.”

Landlords Say Protections Forced Them To Foot The Bill

For many months, landlords have called for the immediate cancellation of local tenant protections. They argue the economy has recovered, COVID-19 vaccines are available and most other pandemic restrictions have relaxed — but rules against evictions and raising rents remain.

California’s rent relief program has compensated many landlords who lost rental income during the pandemic. A state program called Housing is Key has paid out more than $2.4 billion in rent relief throughout L.A. County, with most of that money going directly to landlords.

However, that program ended in April. It’s not clear if landlords can receive compensation for more recent rent debt. And some small landlords in L.A. have not received relief for rental income lost during the pandemic.

Patty Leon rents out a single-family home she owns in La Puente, and supported the vote to end COVID-19 eviction protections. She said eviction restrictions ended up costing her tens of thousands of dollars, because she could not remove a non-paying tenant against whom she initiated eviction proceedings in Nov. 2019.

“As a landlord, you do your best to take care of everything, pay your taxes, pay the property insurance and follow all the rules — just to have your state turn your back on you,” Leon said.

The tenant’s non-payment of rent predated the pandemic and had nothing to do with COVID-19, Leon said, but it took her until Oct. 2020 to get the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to carry out a formal eviction. She blames the pandemic eviction rules for the delay, and said she was barred from receiving rent relief due to the tenant’s ineligibility.

“Where is my protection during this time?” Leon asked. “I have bills. I have a life that I have to live. I need food, shelter and medical attention just like tenants do. But if you remove my income, I can't do those things.”

Protections Remain In The City Of L.A.

Tuesday’s vote will apply to unincorporated parts of L.A. County, as well as any cities within the county that do not have their own stronger tenant protections in place.

The vote will not apply to the city of Los Angeles, which has rules that continue to limit evictions and ban rent hikes due to COVID-19. The city’s rules currently have no end date, but city leaders are also mulling proposals to begin phasing out protections starting on Dec. 31.

COVID-19 tenant protections have already gone away in many other parts of California. Statewide eviction protections lapsed in July.

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?