“Tenants are facing eviction even as their landlords are given these giant checks and tenants who are eligible for assistance are being denied with these cryptic notices that don’t tell them why. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty, one of the groups suing the state over the program.”
“Lorraine Lopez, from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, explains the situation. “So folks are now being left, pretty much being in the cold once the application closed,” Lopez said. Her group has filed a lawsuit on behalf of tenant rights advocates, saying the state is violating the law by not providing up to a full 18 months of rental assistance.”
“Annenberg School of Communication’s Center for Health Journalism hosted a webinar Wednesday to discuss the implications of the moratorium’s end, as well as other pandemic aid programs. The panelists focused on the effects the end of these programs will have on low-income communities, discussing which tenants are most at risk, why some tenants have faced challenges to access aid and how journalists can use the power of storytelling to convey the tenants’ struggles.
Michelle Levander, the founding director of the Center for Health Journalism, moderated the webinar and introduced the panelists — Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of global urban studies and urban systems at Rutgers University, Kriston Capps, staff writer for Bloomberg CityLab in Washington, D.C. and Tina Rosales, an advocate on the housing team of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”
“Tina Rosales, an attorney and policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said some tenants don’t know they can halt an eviction proceeding by simply completing an application for assistance and many don’t have lawyers to help them. She’s afraid some might get spooked once the moratorium ends and “self-evict.”
“Yes, (state law) does have protections, but those protections rely heavily on a legal system that is not tenant friendly at all,” she said.”
“Your landlord is not allowed to harass you. That is against the law. And you should contact legal aid and stay in your home,” says Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Howard recommends finding a local legal aid group that can help you advocate for yourself. The state’s housing website has a tool to look up local organizations and aid groups in your county offering assistance for renters.”
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.
“There is this narrative out there that there is a moratorium,” said Lorraine Lopez, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But it still requires the tenant to assert these defenses in court. You’re still fighting these things in court.”
“En los estados donde la moratoria contra los desalojos ha expirado, estos han aumentado aproximadamente 200%”, dijo Tina Rosales del Western Center on Law & Poverty.”
“I think that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”
“But renters in other parts of California are not protected from eviction. And that could lead to a looming eviction crisis, according to Tina Rosales, a policy advocate from Western Center on Law and Poverty. “If the state doesn’t extend the ban for those tenants, then we’re going to have a lot of people who are evicted when there’s billions of dollars in the bank waiting to be released to landlords for the purpose of preventing that exact problem,” she tells KCRW.”