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What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020

September 2, 2020 10:45 AM
by Eda Suh

What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020

The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 was signed by Governor Newsom on August 31, 2020. The new state law provides that residential tenants who are unable to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency cannot be evicted for rents that became due between March 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021, if certain requirements are met. The law’s eviction protections apply only where the evictions are based on nonpayment of rent. 

The City of Santa Monica already has an Eviction Moratorium that addresses nonpayment of rent during the COVID-19 emergency period.  The following FAQ explains how the state law’s eviction protections work in conjunction with the City’s Eviction Moratorium, and how the two laws protect residential tenants in Santa Monica from evictions during the COVID-19 emergency.

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SUMMARY

  • You, the tenant, cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent that became due between March 1, 2020, and August 31, 2020, if you return a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord.
  • You cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent that became due between September 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021, if you return a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord and pay 25 percent of that rent by January 31, 2021. You must provide a declaration for every month that you cannot pay due to effects of COVID-19.
  • Santa Monica’s COVID-19 emergency-related eviction moratorium protections for reasons other than nonpayment of rent remain in effect. These protections will expire on September 30, 2020 if they are not extended.
  • September rent can still be deferred under the City’s moratorium, but October and later rent cannot be. The due date for rent deferred under the City’s moratorium remains September 30, 2021.
  • If you meet the state law’s requirements, you cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rents covered by the law. But after March 1, 2021, your landlord can bring a civil lawsuit for debt collection (to collect the unpaid rents covered by the law).
  • If you receive any eviction notice, or your landlords tells you they are going to evict you, we strongly recommend you seek legal help. See question 7 below.  

1. I can’t pay September rent. What should I do?

If you cannot pay September rent because of financial impacts of COVID-19, you should comply with both the City’s moratorium and the state law. This means you should provide updated notice and documentation under the City’s moratorium and provide a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress, as described below. To be fully protected under the state law, you will need to pay a portion of your rent by January 31, 2021. Please see question 5 below for more information.

2. Can my landlord give me an eviction notice for nonpayment?

Yes. Even if you’ve given your landlord notice and documentation under the City’s moratorium, the state law allows landlords to give you a notice for nonpayment (notice to pay or quit). However, the notice must give you 15 days instead of just three days to pay. If you receive an eviction notice, we strongly recommend you contact an attorney as soon as possible. See question 7 below for more information.

3. If I can’t pay my rent, am I still protected?

If you cannot pay your rent in full because of lost income or increased expenses due to the financial impacts of COVID-19, you are still protected from eviction, but the state law has changed what you must do to get the eviction protection. Starting September 1, 2020, any eviction notice for nonpayment must include a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form. This is a pre-written statement indicating that you cannot pay because of effects of the pandemic. In order to be protected by the state law, you must sign and return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form to your landlord within the 15 days given to pay your rent. The declaration is under “penalty of perjury.” This means that if you sign the declaration, you are swearing that the statements in the declaration are truthful, and you could be charged with the crime of perjury if you know the statements are not true for you but sign anyway.

4. Has the payment deadline changed?

The new law provides eviction protections through January 31, 2025, but in order to be protected you must (1) return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress within 15 days after receiving any eviction notice, and (2) pay 25 percent of each month you could not pay from September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 by January 31, 2021.

If you meet the requirements of the City’s moratorium, you will have until September 30, 2021 to pay the September rent, whether or not you pay 25 percent of your September rent by January 31, 2021, and you cannot be evicted for nonpayment until after that date.

5. The new law provides eviction protections through January 31, 2025. What rents fall under this protection? What do I have to do and how much do I have to pay to be permanently protected from eviction?

The new law separates rent into two time periods: (A) the protected time period and (B) the transition time period.

A. The protected time period – rent owed between March 1, 2020, and August 31, 2020

Your landlord can now give you a notice to pay rent or quit. However, if, within 15 days of the notice you sign and return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress that your landlord must provide with any eviction notice for nonpayment of this rent, you cannot be evicted for nonpayment of this rent, even if you do not pay any of it.  

B. The transition time period – rent owed between September 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021

Your landlord can now give you a notice to pay rent or quit for each month during this period for which you have unpaid rent. However, if you (1) within 15 days of the notice, sign and return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress that your landlord must provide with any eviction notice for nonpayment of this rent, and (2) pay 25 percent of rent owed from September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 by January 31, 2021, you cannot  be evicted for nonpayment of this rent. Your landlord may require you to submit a new declaration form for each rental payment that you do not pay that comes due between September 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021.

For example, if you are unable to pay September and October rent, you provide a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord within 15 days of each notice your landlord serves for nonpayment of September and October rent, and you make a payment or payments equal to 25 percent of the combined rent for those two months of rent (i.e., half a month’s rent) on or before January 31, 2021, then your landlord cannot evict you for nonpayment of this rent.

6. How should I return the declaration form?

You can deliver the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord in the following ways:

  1. In person, if the landlord indicates in the notice an address at which the declaration may be delivered in person.
  2. By e-mail, if the landlord indicates an e-mail address in the notice to which the declaration may be delivered.
  3. Through U.S. mail to the address indicated by the landlord in the notice. If the landlord does not provide an address for delivery in person, then upon the mailing of the declaration by the tenant to the address provided by the landlord, the declaration is deemed received by the landlord on the date posted, if the tenant can show proof of mailing to the address provided by the landlord.
  4. Through any of the same methods that the tenant can use to deliver the payment pursuant to the notice, if delivery of the declaration by that method is possible. [Tenant Relief Act, Code of Civil Procedure Section 1179.03(f).]

It is important to keep proof that you delivered the declaration. For example, if you mail the declaration, you should obtain proof of mailing or proof of service from the Post Office and take a picture of the signed declaration alongside the addressed envelope. 

7. Should I get legal help? Where can I find more information?

The new state law is complicated. If you receive an eviction notice or have any concerns about what you need to do to be protected, we strongly recommend you contact an attorney as soon as possible. Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles provides free legal services to more than 100,000 people living across the Greater Los Angeles area. Visit lafla.org or call (310) 899-6200 for more information. For additional information about legal resources that may be available to you, visit http://lawhelpca.org/.

There are many additional educational resources available.  The state has created an educational website. However, the information on the state website covers only statewide protections, so it may provide incomplete information as to protections for Santa Monica tenants who cannot pay September rent or could not pay rent that became due before September, or who are facing eviction for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. 

For more information and frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020, please visit our COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 - AB 3088 FAQ.

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