The California Judicial Council, the head of the state’s court system, recently announced its intention to repeal the temporary COVID-emergency rule pausing eviction proceedings as soon as August 14th. This comes after months of back and forth about how the state can best prevent Californians from being forced into homelessness because of their inability to pay rent in the midst of a pandemic. The Council delayed a vote to repeal the rule once, in June, but stated that the rule was only meant as a temporary stop-gap until lawmakers come up with a more permanent solution.
The Council is right—the rule is not a permanent fix; the Legislature and Governor must act swiftly to establish a longer-term solution to protect tenants and small landlords. The fate of hundreds of thousands of Californians is in the hands of the Governor and Legislature; in the meantime, ending the Judicial Council rule now with only weeks’ notice and allowing a flood of evictions just as COVID cases are spiking will cause needless and substantial harm to Californians who cannot pay rent.
Several bills are currently before the Legislature to protect renters and mobile home park residents from eviction for being unable to pay rent during the pandemic, provide economic relief to landlords and affordable housing providers through mortgage forbearance and financial assistance, and provide a moratorium on all evictions for the duration of the COVID emergency. However, the timing of the legislative process means that it is nearly impossible for any of these measures to be enacted before August 14th. It is crucial that the Legislature be thoughtful and deliberative to get the details right and not rush to meet an arbitrary deadline.
We need the Legislature to deliver and the Governor to sign legislation that provides the strongest eviction protections in the short term so that people can continue to shelter at home to control the spread of the virus, and meaningful long-term relief for tenants, small landlords, and affordable housing providers.
We see three options that will protect renters and small landlords right now:
- The Judicial Council can keep the rule in place a little longer, instead of pulling the plug before the end of the legislative session.
- The Governor can issue an Executive Order to extend the Judicial Council rule until a legislative solution is enacted.
- The Legislature can pass an urgency bill to extend the rule until they have time to enact a permanent fix.
One of the above options MUST happen by August 14th. Doing nothing will be a disaster for tenants and for the public health of the state.
The Judicial Council acted responsibly and in line with the urgency of the moment when it enacted its emergency eviction rule. Now the Governor and Legislature need to push the legislative process. If courts reopen for evictions as usual, even for a brief period, the impacts will be profound due to the number of cases already filed and the number of default judgments that will move forward on California’s extremely swift eviction timeline.
California leaders are not at the whim of forces beyond their control, but California renters are at the whim of our leaders’ ability to rise to the moment. If a wave of evictions happens in California in the wake of COVID, it will be because of inadequate action by the Governor and Legislature, and a lack of coordination with legislative deadlines by the Judicial Council.