“Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, said that loophole in the law is “bad public policy,” because in many cases, local laws add protections not covered by the statewide law. “We’re blocking these local protections that would have helped people for a time period that is not covered at all or addressed at all by the state law,” she said. “So there’s this fundamental mismatch there.”
California lawmakers struck a deal on eviction protections. What does it mean for tenants?
“It feels like a mixed bag,” said Tina Rosales, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “With our budget surplus, we thought that there would be an extension of the deadline to apply for (rent relief), and there wasn’t.”
How long are Californians waiting for rent relief?
“Of more than 488,000 households who applied for assistance since the program launched in March 2021, about 180,000 were approved. Four percent were denied, and more than half of applicants are still awaiting a response, according to the study, produced by the National Equity Atlas, Housing Now and the Western Center on Law & Poverty using state data.”
Victory for COVID Tenant Protections in Los Angeles
In an opinion issued last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID-related tenant protections and affirmed the City’s ability to protect tenants from becoming unhoused during a pandemic that has claimed over 600,000 lives in the United States.
The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge, on constitutional grounds, the city’s ability to enact COVID-related tenant protections during the local emergency period: one barring evictions for nonpayment of rent or certain lease violations for COVID-related reasons and one barring rent increases for rent control units.
Western Center, along with Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP, represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully intervened in the lawsuit to help defend the ordinances. Since the lawsuit was filed, California enacted rental protections, recently extended by AB 832, which overlap significantly with the eviction protection ordinance. While state law goes further to protect tenants in some ways, the City’s ordinance goes further in others.
After United States District Court Judge Dean Pregerson denied the Apartment Association’s motion to stop the ordinances, the Association appealed to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the ordinances interfered with contracts between individual landlords and tenants, and that the City’s actions were unreasonable.
Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit panel stated, “the district court did not err in determining that the moratorium’s provisions were reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” as “[t]he City fairly ties the moratorium to its stated goal of preventing displacement from homes, which the City reasonably explains can exacerbate the public health-related problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The ordinances do not “cancel” rental obligations – tenants are still on the hook for rent, but they can’t be evicted for nonpayment while the ordinance is in effect. The Apartment Association argued that delayed payment bolstered its Contracts Clause claim. The Court rejected that argument, stating, “[T]here is no apparent ironclad constitutional rule that eviction moratoria pass Contracts Clause scrutiny only if rent is paid during the period of the moratoria[.]”
Additionally, noting the establishment of federal, state, and local rental relief programs, the Court stated that the existence of such programs “further undermine AAGLA’s Contracts Clause challenge.”
This lawsuit is one of many that landlords have filed to challenge emergency eviction protections across the country. In fact, a landlords’ challenge to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s Temporary Protection from Eviction was reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, which issued a ruling on August 26th stating that the CDC exceeded its authority, and therefore suspended the Temporary Protection.
While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling for the reasons stated in Justice Breyer’s dissent, it is important to note that the Supreme Court’s majority did not invalidate local and state eviction protections. This decision does not impact California’s state-wide protections or locally enacted tenant protections, including in the City of Los Angeles, which remain in effect.
Landlord challenges to eviction protections continue, even as we face a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant. We hope more landlords and associated entities will shift their energy toward the government agencies tasked with distributing rental relief, and advocate to ensure the funds are being made available to stabilize both tenants and landlords, rather than forcing struggling renters out and onto the streets.