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Housing and Homelessness

If You Owe Back Rent In LA, Try This Program

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(Photo illustration: Lisa Brenner/LAist | Source photos: Florian Berger/Unsplash, Matt Artz/Unsplash)
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Lisa Brenner contributed to this guide

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on our finances.

Almost 10 million renter households in the U.S owe an average of $5,586 in back rent.

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You might be one of them.

In the time since the world exploded, there have been various eviction moratoriums designed to keep you in your home.

But money is what's really going to help. And you can now apply to a new round of rental assistance programs in California designed to pay off much of what you owe.

Note: the program closes on April 30th so you need to act now to get help. (We've heard from people that it's an involved process, so you may also want to set aside a good chunk of time to do it).

It's stressful to owe money, and it can also be stressful to navigate government-run application processes. We're here to escort you through all of it.

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WHERE THE RELIEF MONEY IS

In January, California's lawmakers passed SB91, known as the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act. It extended tenant protections and set aside $235.5 million to people behind on rent.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, as it's known, will pay your landlord 80% of your unpaid back rent -- if your landlord forgives the other 20%.

It's applicable to rent due between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

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You need to meet certain requirements to qualify, and your landlord has to apply as well. To make it even more complicated, some cities and counties have separate applications, each with different criteria.

We've put it all together, below. If you get stuck or need additional support, at the end we've put together a list of legal assistance organizations who can help for free or at a low cost.

DO I QUALIFY?

You are eligible for rental assistance if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • The combined income of everyone in your household is at or below a certain threshold of the median income in your area. Some programs have different requirements, so check below.
  • You or someone in your household experienced financial hardships due to COVID-19 or qualified for unemployment benefits.
  • You or someone in your household is at risk of housing instability.

WHICH PROGRAM DO I APPLY TO?

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The specific program you'll need to apply for is based on where you live. Some locations have their own application process. Other places are using the state of California's application.

Take a look at the options below, figure out which applies to you, and read the section on that program.

I live in the city of L.A.

I live in L.A. County (but not in the city of L.A. or Long Beach)

I live in the city of Long Beach

I live in Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County or San Bernardino County

► WHICH DOCUMENTS DO I NEED TO SHOW?

Some documents you may want to gather before you start your application:

  • Your 2020 tax returns, or documentation that you participate in programs like WIC, Medi-Cal (Medicaid), SNAP (CalFresh), and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
  • Unemployment paperwork or pay stubs.
  • A driver's license, ID, or passport for everyone in your household.
  • Your lease, utility bills with your address, or other documents that connect you to your address.
  • If you have them, a past-due rent notice, past-due utilities, or an eviction notice.

These aren't all required - here are the full document checklists for California and L.A. city. If you don't have documentation to prove you meet some of the application requirements, you can also submit a self-attestation form.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY LANDLORD DOESN'T WANT TO APPLY?

  • If your landlord doesn't agree to apply, you may be eligible for 25 percent of past-due, unpaid rent to be paid to your landlord.
  • Check your specific application for details on how to apply for that assistance.

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HOW TO APPLY

CALIFORNIA RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

This is the state's rental assistance program, which is now taking applications until April 30.

If you qualify and are accepted, the program will pay your landlord 80% of your unpaid rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Your landlord has to apply for the program and agree to forgive the other 20%, too. Here's a link to the application and official documentation, and here are some specifics:

You are eligible for California's rental assistance program if:

  • You live in California, outside of a certain number of locations listed above.
  • The total income of everyone in your household is below 80% of the median in your area. For one person in L.A. County that's $63,100, for two it's $72,100, and for a household of four it's $90,100.
  • You or someone in your household qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced other financial hardships, like a reduction in income, due to COVID-19.

How you can prove eligibility on your application.

You should also know:

  • You can apply for relief for utilities that are due.
  • The program can also pay 25% of future rent payments for three months.
  • Money will be distributed to those who are eligible based on an assessment of need.
  • Citizenship status is not needed to apply. You won't be asked about it on the application.

How to contact the program:

  • For general questions, or if you need to view the application in an alternate format, or require other help, call (833) 430-2122 or email support@ca-rentrelief.com

Apply for California rental assistance and find the complete documentation here.

CITY OF L.A. RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

This is the city's rental assistance program, which is now taking applications until April 30.

If you qualify and are accepted, the program will pay your landlord 80% of your back rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Your landlord has to apply for the program and agree to forgive the other 20% of your unpaid rent, too. Here's a link to the official documentation, and here are some specifics:

You are eligible for L.A. city's rental assistance program if:

  • You live in the city of L.A. (Check here to see if you do)
  • The total income of everyone in your household is below 50% of the median in your area. For one person in L.A. city that's $39,450, for two it's $45,050, and for a household of four it's $56,300.
  • You or someone in your household qualified for unemployment benefits, experienced a reduction in income, or experienced other financial hardships due to COVID-19.

Here's how you can prove eligibility on your application.

You should also know:

  • You can apply for relief for utilities that are due.
  • The program can also pay 25% of future rent payments for three months.
  • The program will choose applicants based on a random selection process, but prioritize paying past-due, unpaid rent.
  • Citizenship status is not needed to apply. You won't be asked about it on the application.

How to contact the program:

Apply for city of L.A. rental assistance and find the complete documentation here.

LONG BEACH RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

If you qualify and are accepted, the program will pay your landlord 80% of your unpaid back rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Your landlord has to apply for the program and agree to forgive the other 20% of your unpaid rent, too. Here's a link to the official documentation, and here are some specifics:

  • The application opens the week of April 12, 2021.
  • You can apply for relief for utilities that are due.
  • The program can also pay 25% of future rent payments for three months.
  • The program will choose applicants based on a random selection process, but prioritize paying past-due, unpaid rent.
  • Citizenship status is not needed to apply. You won't be asked about it on the application.

Starting the week of April 12, apply for Long Beach rental assistance here.

OTHER LOCATIONS

Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County or San Bernardino County use the state's application.

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EVICTION MORATORIUM EXTENSION

SB91 not only established rent relief, it also extended eviction protections. The statewide moratorium doesn't give you money, but it does buy you a little time. Here's some general information about it , and here are some specifics:

  • Not all types of evictions are prevented under the moratorium. It protects you from being evicted if you can't pay rent due to COVID-19. But landlords can still establish "just cause" evictions, meaning there's a reason for evicting a tenant, like a breach in the lease agreement.
  • Starting September 2020 and ending June 2021, if you pay 25 percent of your rent and submit a declaration of financial distress each month you do not pay the full amount, you can't be evicted. But after that period ends, you will owe your landlord the rent you didn't pay during that time, unless you receive rental assistance or the moratorium is extended again past June.
  • Landlords must give 15 days' notice for tenants to pay late rent before an eviction can occur, instead of three.

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ORGANIZATIONS THAT CAN HELP YOU

If you still need help, there's several free and low-cost organizations in Los Angeles and around Southern California that offer support.

Reach out and keep reaching out until you find someone to walk you through the labyrinth:

OTHER PLACES TO TAKE ACTION AND STAY INFORMED

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