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PRESS RELEASE: Sweeping tenant protection bill introduced as California renters face COVID-19 pandemic and worst economic downturn in modern history

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sacramento, CA – Housing justice organizations have come together to sponsor AB 1436—legislation that prevents evictions and provides security to renters who are enduring a global pandemic and the worst economic downturn in modern history. Authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, the bill will keep millions of renters housed, especially Black and Brown tenants who have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 and are more likely to be rent-burdened than any other community.

In response to local and statewide shelter-in-place orders, wide swaths of the economy were abruptly shut down in mid-March. Millions of Californians were suddenly out of work and months later most remain so. The impact of that sudden economic upheaval has been devastating for renters, especially for lower-income households. Before the pandemic, 8 out of 10 extremely low-income households and over 5 out of 10 very low-income renters were paying more than half their income in rent. Suddenly faced with no or drastically lowered income, their housing situation is now even more precarious.

Unless the Legislature acts, those same households face a second upheaval when the emergency period is over: a tidal wave of evictions for non-payment of rent. Although the courts have paused the processing of evictions, once that resumes, many households hit by sudden unemployment will face a swift eviction action.

The eviction court is not the place to address this unprecedented economic crisis. It is inhumane and counter-productive to California’s recovery efforts to force tenants from their homes for inability to pay rent during a time period when our entire society is experiencing severe economic challenges. The eviction process is a specialized court process designed to deal with possession of housing – not the collection of unpaid rent. AB 1436 will protect renters from mass evictions, separating the questions of eviction and rent, and create a legal framework for the repayment of rent that is fair to tenants and landlords. The bill:

  • Provides that a tenant cannot be evicted due to unpaid rent accrued during the COVID-19 emergency or 90 days following the emergency. The bill does not alter the obligation to pay rent after the emergency period and allows for normal evictions for future missed rent.
  • Gives tenants 15 months from the end of the COVID-19 emergency declaration to pay in full or arrange for voluntary repayment before unpaid rent is considered in default, and protects tenants’ credit and ability to rent in the future. After this period, landlords may use normal civil remedies for pursuing consumer debt.
  • Allows tenants and landlords to make voluntary written repayment arrangements, provided the agreements don’t lead to the renter owing more than the amount of unpaid rent due from the COVID-19 period, and requires landlords to account for any assistance they have received if they enter such an agreement or pursue collection of the debt.

“COVID-19 didn’t create California’s housing crisis,” said Chione L. Flegal, Managing Director at PolicyLink. “Our broken housing system has been harming low-income people and people of color for generations. The economic and health emergencies brought on by the pandemic have exacerbated the problem. People already struggling to make ends meet now face a nearly impossible decision: either pay their rent or buy the food and medicine needed to survive. AB 1436 is a critical tool to support economic recovery and ensure that when the COVID emergency ends, the households who have been hit hardest by do not also face the risk of eviction.”

“Right now there are no effective protections for California renters in the aftermath of the COVID crisis. A vast number of renters are the same Black and Brown community members that so many leaders claim to stand with. This is the Legislature’s chance to step up and protect communities of color,” said Matthew Warren, Housing Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “AB 1436 is the state’s chance to avoid mass evictions and the devastating consequences that will flow from them.”

“AB 1436 will provide housing stability to renters across the state who are financially impacted by the global pandemic,” said Ashley Werner, senior attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Now more than ever, California must exercise bold leadership to protect and advance the rights of its most vulnerable residents in order to lay the foundation for an equitable recovery. Millions of Californians can’t pay their bills right now, don’t have enough to eat and are afraid for their health. They shouldn’t be forced to live with the threat of eviction as well.”

The bill is co-sponsored by California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Housing Now!, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PolicyLink, Public Advocates Inc., Public Counsel, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Contact:
Courtney McKinney, Western Center on Law and Poverty, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

Duc Luu, Public Advocates Inc., dluu[at]publicadvocates.org

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Amid pandemic, some California sheriffs’ departments still evicting renters

“We need leadership,” said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We need the governor to step in and do a real moratorium, because this is happening, people are being kicked out when they’re being told to shelter-in-place.”

https://calmatters.org/housing/2020/04/california-coronavirus-evictions-moratorium-newsom/