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Tenant Protections are Expiring as Thousands Wait on Rent Assistance

“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.”

Tenant Protections are Expiring as Thousands Wait on Rent Assistance

Only 16% of California’s COVID Rent Relief Applicants Have Received Their Checks, New Study Finds

“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.”

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State Failed to Offer Legal Aid to State Rent Relief Applicants

“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.”

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Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up 

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.


HIGHLIGHTS

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. 


FINANCIAL SECURITY

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. 


HEALTH

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.


HOUSING

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. 

Did you get an eviction notice in California? Don’t leave yet. Follow these steps

“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.”

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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.

 

Spring 2021 Federal and California COVID-19 Relief Actions

Between federal and state funding, Californians can expect help in different forms over the next few weeks, and likely beyond. Below you will find information about some of the money coming down for you or for programs you work with and/ or rely on.

 

DIRECT PAYMENTS, TAX CREDITS, CHILD CARE, & EMERGENCY FUNDS

  • The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, provides $1,400 direct payments, which will go out immediately to about 159 million households. Checks will be a maximum of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 per dependent.
    • Payments are based on your most recent tax return. Individuals who file taxes using an ITIN will not get a federal stimulus payment, but anyone filing with a Social Security Number will receive a payment.
    • Individuals earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, heads of household with up to $112,500, and married couples filing jointly with up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 per person.
    • The plan also includes $300 in bonus unemployment benefits until September 6th, and makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those with incomes under $150,000 per year.
  • The American Rescue Plan also increases SNAP food benefits by 15% through September, and allocates $1 billion for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Pandemic Emergency Fund. California will receive $203 million in TANF emergency funds that can be used for payments to families for non-recurring costs like rental debt or to provide housing assistance.
  • California has a separate $600 direct stimulus payment program, which will go out to 5.7 million Californians once their taxes are filed. Eligibility for the state stimulus includes:
    • Those who qualified for the state Earned Income Tax Credit on their 2020 tax returns (usually those making less than $30,000, and some undocumented and mixed-status families).
    • Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) holders who are excluded from federal stimulus checks and have incomes below $75,000.
    • Households enrolled in CalWorks, SSI/SSP recipients, and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) recipients.
    • ITIN taxpayers who qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit will receive a total of $1,200.
  • The American Rescue Plan raises the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults without children from $543 to $1,502.
  • The American Rescue Plan expands the child tax credit for one year. Previously, most families received up to $2000 in tax credits per child under age 17; under the new plan, most parents except the very highest earners will receive a $3600 payment for children 5 and under, and up to $3,000 for children between 6-17. This includes families without taxable income.
  • The American Rescue Plan temporarily increases the value of the child and dependent care tax credit, which currently covers 35% of care expenses up to $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents.
    • Overall, the plan provides $39 billion for child care through:
      • $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
      • $24 billion for newly created child care stabilization grants.

HEALTH

  • The American Rescue Plan provides $0 premiums for people enrolled in Covered California earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level or who claim unemployment anytime during 2021. It provides additional premium support for people who earn more, and forgives excess premium support given in 2020 that people would normally have to pay back.
  • The American Rescue Plan covers more of the state’s Medi-Cal costs, like home and community based services, and a 100% federal match for COVID-19 vaccines given by Medi-Cal.
  • The plan also provides a state option to extend postpartum Medicaid for 12 months instead of 60 days. California currently does this only for people diagnosed with a mental health condition within the 60 day postpartum period.

HOUSING

  • California received $2.6 billion in federal rental relief from the COVID-19 package passed in December 2020; those funds became available on March 15, 2021.
    • Renters who make under 80% of an area’s median income are eligible for rental assistance under California’s SB 91. Landlords must apply for the assistance, and agree to waive 20% of rent owed between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 – the remaining 80% will be paid by government funds.
    • If a landlord refuses to participate, renters can still apply to have 25% of back rent paid.
    • Cities and counties may distribute rent relief funds differently.
  • The American Rescue Plan provides an additional $21.6 billion in emergency aid for renters with low-incomes who have lost income or are experiencing hardship from COVID-19 and at risk for eviction. The plan includes:
    • $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers to support those recently homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
    • $750 million for tribal housing needs.
    • $100 million for rural households living in USDA-financed properties.