“We have to keep people housed,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, in a statement. “That’s why we filed this lawsuit — the program was created to prevent evictions but falls woefully short.”
“At the same time, the state’s rent relief program will stop taking applications at the end of March. Applications will still be processed and payments completed beyond that date. But a new report from PolicyLink and the Western Center on Law and Poverty indicates applicants have been waiting months for the state to make decisions on their cases, and that most applicants have not received payment.”
“It really is very problematic to have people still waiting for their money when they’re about to be subject to eviction if they can’t pay,” said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and one of the study’s authors. The state, she said, must speed up the payment process and extend eviction protections.
“It would be so profoundly unfair and wrong for tenants to be evicted because of these bureaucratic delays,” Howard said.”
“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.”
“Madeline Howard says the action may be too little too late. She’s a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s inevitable that many people who needed assistance at this point have already been harmed, have already been evicted from their homes, so it’s going to be too late.”
The 2021 California legislative season is over, and Governor Newsom has signed the bills that will become law. Many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen, including groundbreaking legislation like SB 62, which makes California an international leader in the fight to end exploitation of people working in the garment industry, and SB 65, which implements proven interventions to lower California’s unacceptably high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people who give birth here.
Below is our slate of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year.
SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.
SB 65 – The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state.
AB 461 – CalWORKs Self Employment: Creates a more accessible pathway for CalWORKs recipients to choose self-employment as a work activity. This bill is timely as the state begins to rebuild its economy, which will heavily rely on the talents and creativity of Californians with an entrepreneurial spirit.
AB 326 – Removes the sunset clause to permanently extend the Consumer Protection Program, which awards advocacy fees to any person or organization that represents the interests of consumers and has made a substantial contribution on regulations, orders, or decisions, within the Department of Managed Health Care.
AB 1020 – Enforcement of the Hospital Fair Pricing Act: We hope that passage of this bill means patients no longer need lawyers to benefit from the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. This bill rose directly out of our legal services partners’ experience in trying to enforce the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. Major components include prohibiting hospitals from selling debt to debt buyers unless they meet all the current standards applicable to debt collectors and agree to take a bill back if the patient should have gotten financial assistance, Medi-Cal, or another payor for their bill; requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to also send patients applications for financial assistance; and increasing eligibility for patients for financial assistance from 350% of the poverty level to 400%.
AB 1355 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Expands Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries to ensure more beneficiaries can access medically necessary care. Also improves the state’s fair hearing process.
SB 644 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Allows California’s unemployment department to share information with Covered California when someone applies for or loses benefits to help individuals apply for Covered California or Medi-Cal.
AB 832 – Extended the temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until September 31, 2021. The bill also created additional tenant protections in court that may halt an eviction if the tenant qualifies and has an approved application for rent relief. For more information, please refer to our COVID-19 tenant relief fact sheet. To apply for financial assistance please visit housingiskey.com.
AB 838 – Enforcement Response to Housing Complaints: Prohibits local code inspection agencies in California from implementing restrictions or preconditions before responding to tenant habitability complaints. The bill specifically prohibits code enforcement agencies from refusing to inspect a unit based on unreasonable conditions, including on the basis that the tenant is behind on rent, is alleged to be in violation of their lease, or is currently in an unlawful detainer (eviction) or other legal dispute with the landlord.
AB 1304 – Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Strengthens requirements for cities and counties to analyze and proactively address fair housing issues as part of their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The bill requires the housing element to include an analysis of how the jurisdiction’s inventory of housing affirmatively furthers fair housing; requires that in assessing contributing factors to fair housing issues, jurisdictions look through both a local and a regional lens, take race into account, and examine historical context; and requires jurisdictions to state explicit goals, objectives, and policies related to affirmatively furthering fair housing.
SB 91 – Expanded protections provided by AB 3088 (2020) and established a statewide rental relief program that pays up to 100% of arrears, prospective rent, and utilities for households experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships. The bill also extended a temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until June 2021. SB 91 prohibited landlords from charging or attempting to charge late fees and explicitly prohibits the sale or assignment of any unpaid COVID-19 rental debt.
“In California, the statewide eviction moratorium ended September 30. That means starting this month, landlords can issue eviction notices for nonpayments. Those notices are typically issued as a three day, pay or quit notice both nailed to the door and sent via mail, according to Tina Rosales, an attorney and policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are getting an uptick in nonpayment of rent evictions, and those are three-day evictions to pay the rent or to leave,” Rosales said.”
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.”
Western Center housing advocate Tina Rosales joined the CA State Assembly Democratic Caucus’ Look West podcast for its May 20th episode to talk about the different ways California leaders can make sure renters in the state are protected in the wake of the pandemic and beyond.