Pressure Mounts To Extend COVID Eviction Protections, But So Far, LA Council Doesn’t Budge
The Los Angeles City Council is moving forward with plans to sunset COVID-19 eviction protections, despite increasing pressure from tenant advocates to reverse the decision.
The council’s Housing Committee voted Wednesday against extending the Jan. 31, 2023 sunset date for the city’s pandemic-era eviction rules.
Tenant groups say the city council’s plan to phase out eviction protections by February is now tainted by leaked audio recordings in which current and former councilmembers were caught discussing plans to limit renter influence on the council — as well as other racist and derogatory comments.
“The anti-tenant remarks and the obvious attempt to reduce the power of tenants is more than enough of a reason to not move forward with ending the emergency protections,” said Carla De Paz, an organizer with the L.A.-based tenant advocacy group Community Power Collective, in an interview with LAist.
“These protections should be extended until there are adequate permanent protections in place,” De Paz said. “It just doesn't seem right at all for this to move forward given what we've just heard.”
For more than two-and-a-half years, the city’s pandemic rules have prevented landlords from evicting tenants who can’t pay rent due to economic hardships brought on by COVID-19.
Last month, the full city council voted to move forward with plans to end those protections on Jan. 31. Nury Martinez — who resigned from the council after her racist comments came to light — presided as council president during that vote.
Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who can also be heard on the tapes, chaired the council’s Housing Committee and faced criticism over his handling of votes related to the eviction safeguards.
The Backstory: What Council Leaders Said On The Leaked Tape
Much of the public attention surrounding the leaked recordings has focused on councilmembers’ anti-Black and other racist remarks. But the tapes also featured councilmembers talking about plans to limit tenant power through the redistricting process.
Martinez can be heard saying she wants to dilute the percentage of renters in Nithya Raman’s district. Raman is generally seen as one of the more tenant-friendly members of the council.
“[Raman] is not going to get the perfect district. We're not going to give her a renters district. That's what she wants,” Martinez is heard saying.
Later in the tapes, Martinez says she plans to exclude the renter-heavy Koreatown neighborhood from Raman’s district. Giving her Koreatown, Martinez says, “solidifies her renter's district and that is not a good thing for any of us. You have to keep her on the fence.”
Former L.A. County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera, who resigned following the release of the recordings, can be heard saying “[Raman] wants to rile up the renters to create a base.”
Advocates Tell Council To Reverse Course Sunsetting Protections
During the Wednesday Housing Committee meeting, public commenters called in to demand the cancellation of a scheduled vote to proceed with plans to sunset COVID-19 eviction protections. They said those plans were hatched by a council now seen as “illegitimate.”
With Cedillo removed from his committee chair position and soon to be replaced by incoming councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated Cedillo in the June primary and will be sworn in next month, Raman is now serving as Housing Committee chair.
In Wednesday’s meeting, Raman said removing eviction protections will harm vulnerable tenants. But she countered calls to cancel the vote, saying the pandemic-era rules will be lifted soon regardless of council action. They could be struck down in the courts, she said, or lifted when L.A.’s mayor declares an end to the COVID-19 emergency period.
“I think the moratorium and its end is very close. That's why I think it's necessary for us to engage with this item,” Raman said. “We cannot afford to let this transition — which is going to happen — be even more destabilizing than it would be without our intervention.”
New Rules Could Help City of LA Renters
The committee members voted to move forward with plans for a Jan. 31 phase-out. But they also advanced plans for new tenant protections, including:
- A new requirement for landlords to provide a “just cause” for evicting a tenant, such as failure to pay rent or creating a nuisance. “Just cause” protections already exist in the city’s rent-controlled apartments. This proposal would expand those rights to many tenants not covered by rent control.
- Relocation payments for tenants forced to leave their apartments due to large rent hikes. Under this proposal, landlords would have to pay about three months worth of rent to tenants pushed out by annual rent hikes that exceed 10%, or the current level of inflation plus 5%, whichever is lower.
- A new threshold for eviction over non-payment of rent. This proposal would bar landlords from evicting tenants late on rent until those tenants fall behind by more than one month’s worth of “fair market rent.” The federal government currently sets this figure at $2,222 for a two-bedroom apartment in the L.A. area. This policy mirrors a plan recently approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Tenant advocates said they support those proposals, but they doubted the policies will be in place by the time the city lifts its pandemic-era eviction rules.
The Keep L.A. Housed coalition has called for further permanent protections, such as free lawyers for tenants taken to eviction court and new limits on increasingly strict landlord screening practices.
The Housing Committee voted Wednesday to continue developing the “just cause” proposal within the committee before moving it to the full council for a final vote.
Landlords Continue Calls For Swift Return To Normal
For months, local landlord groups have decried the city’s COVID-19 eviction rules and opposed plans for new permanent tenant safeguards.
They say small landlords are continuing to struggle due to missed rent payments, especially now that tenants are no longer eligible for government rent relief programs.
“If our elected officials want tenants to live rent free, then they must earmark funds to pay the rent due monthly directly to landlords without conditions on which landlords are eligible,” Diane Robertson with the L.A.-based Coalition of Small Rental Property Owners told LAist before the committee vote. “Anything short of this amounts to a taking without just compensation to housing providers.”
The city council’s future plans regarding tenant protections may shift given the results of the Nov. 8 election, which could bring up to four additional new councilmembers into office beginning in January.
Incoming council member Hernandez ran on a platform that included universal just cause eviction protections, a tenant right to counsel in eviction court and enforcement of the city’s anti-tenant harassment law. Hugo Soto-Martinez, who is currently leading incumbent council member Mitch O’Farrell in early election results, ran on similar proposals.
Votes for the general election are still being counted.