COVID-19 - Eviction Moratorium
State law permanently protects residential tenants from eviction if they are unable to pay rent due between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 because of COVID-19-related lost income or increased expenses. To be protected, tenants must submit a declaration for each month and pay 25 percent of rent due for September 2020 – June 2021 by June 30, 2021. The state law only protects tenants from eviction because of non-payment of rent, and not for any other reason.
The City of Santa Monica also enacted and expanded an eviction moratorium for residential and some commercial tenants. City protections for residential tenants for reasons other than non-payment of rent are in effect through June 30, 2021. For some months, residential tenants have overlapping protections under state law and the City’s eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent. Santa Monica's eviction moratorium for non-payment of residential rent ended September 30, 2020. California law prohibits cities from extending non-payment protections for residential tenants after that date.
Can landlords give tenants eviction notices for nonpayment?
Yes. State law allows landlords to give tenants notices to pay or quit for nonpayment of rent. However, the notice must give 15 days instead of three days to pay. Also, any eviction notice for nonpayment must include a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form. To be protected from eviction, tenants must sign and return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form to the landlord within the 15 days of receipt. The declaration should be returned via US Mail and by email. Be sure to retain a copy.
If I can’t be evicted, do I still owe rent? Can landlords sue tenants for unpaid rent?
Yes, neither Santa Monica’s eviction moratorium nor state law cancels rent. While state law protects you from eviction for nonpayment of rent during the covered period, the unpaid rents are still owed to the landlord as a form of consumer debt, and your landlord can sue you to recover and collect the unpaid rents in small claims courts or other civil courts beginning August 1, 2021. Tenants who deferred rent under the City’s moratorium may have a defense in the debt-collection lawsuit if sued for rent due April - September 2020 before September 1, 2021
How does the state rental-assistance program work?
Landlords can apply to receive direct payments of 80 percent of the total rent due if they agree to forgive the remaining 20 percent.
Tenants can also apply to the program if their landlord does not. Qualified tenants may apply for a 25 percent payment of all deferred rent, and receive permanent protection from eviction for nonpayment of deferred rent. This is not a City program and we do not have any additional information. You can find more information at https://landlordtenant.dre.ca.gov/
Can landlords charge late fees on deferred rent?
No. Both state law and the eviction moratorium prevent landlords from charging late fees on deferred rent.
Do tenants have to show documentation to qualify for state eviction protection?
Only “high-income tenants” (those earning more than $100,000 in household income or more than 130 percent of median household income, whichever is greater) must provide documentation upon request. However, landlords can only require documentation if they have evidence of tenants’ high-income status before serving a nonpayment eviction notice. For more information about the documentation requirement for high-income tenants, please visit https://landlordtenant.dre.ca.gov/faqs.html
What if the landlord tries to evict for another reason in retaliation for not paying rent, or locks a tenant out?
State eviction protections protect tenants who defer rent from retaliatory evictions. The City’s moratorium protects tenants from nearly all other types of eviction. Changing the locks, or self-help eviction, is always illegal without a court order.
Can landlords use tenants' security deposits to cover unpaid rent?
A landlord can't use a tenant's deposit to cover deferred rent in an ongoing tenancy unless the tenant agrees to the arrangement in writing. However, if the tenant is moving out, state law allows landlords to use tenants' security deposits for unpaid rent, including rent deferred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional Eviction Protections for Residential Tenants (Applies through June 30, 2021, unless extended)
While the emergency order is in effect, residential tenants are protected from the following kinds of evictions:
- No-fault evictions, including owner-occupancy
- Refusing entry into a unit, with limited health and safety exceptions
- Having unauthorized occupants or their pets, with limited health and safety exceptions
- “Nuisances” (certain behaviors or conditions that would normally be grounds for eviction), with limited health and safety exceptions
- “Ellis” evictions (removing units from the rental market)
- Santa Monica's Right to Counsel project provides legal assistance to tenants facing eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It's available to Santa Monica tenant households whose income is at or below 80 percent of the County’s Area Medium Income (“AMI”) (Los Angeles County’s 2021 AMI is $80,000), and facing eviction attempts by their landlord. The program is available to qualifying Santa Monica tenants regardless of their immigration status and is accessible at www.stayhousedla.org.
- Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles provides free, high-quality legal services to more than 100,000 people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. Visit lafla.org for more information.
- Bet Tzedek is a nonprofit legal service provider that provides free, comprehensive legal representation and other services to more than 20,000 people every year. Visit https://www.bettzedek.org/our-services/rapid-response/ or call (323) 939-0506 for more information. Bet Tzedek provides services without considering immigration status.
- LA Represents is coalition of law firms, bar associations and attorneys who will enhance their existing pro bono commitments to legal aid organizations to provide COVID-19-related legal services. Visit corona-virus.la/LARepresents for more information.
There are many additional educational resources available. The state has created an educational website. The county has also created an educational website. The state website provides a summary of protections, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and an app to provide information tailored to your situation. The county website provides a summary of your rights under the state law, information about know your rights workshops held over video and phone, and an online tool to help you connect with an attorney
Do landlords have obligations under state law?
Yes. State law requires landlords to send this notice to tenants by February 28, 2021 to tenants who have deferred one or more rent payment.
Do landlords have obligations under the City’s moratorium?
Yes. As of December 22, 2020, landlords are required to report “endeavors to evict” residential tenants to the City. Endeavors to evict include the 15 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit served on tenants under California’s eviction moratorium and any complaints filed in court for unlawful detainer. The City is collecting this information not to intervene in an eviction attempt but to collect information on evictions during the emergency period.
What specific information about steps toward eviction do landlords have to provide to the City?
Landlords must email copies of any notice or court complaint to EMReports@smgov.net within two days of the document’s service or filing. If a landlord does not have access to an email, call 310-458-8336.
The landlord’s email to EMReports@smgov.net must include the following information:
- Whether the tenant obtained a fee waiver
- Whether the tenant has legal representation
- Whether landlord has legal representation
- The outcome of the action against the tenant.
This information must be sent to the City Attorney's Office within three days of its availability to the landlord. For example, in the case of an unlawful detainer filing, if the tenant files a response to the lawsuit, the landlord will know if the tenant has an attorney or if the tenant has requested a fee waiver based on their status as a low-income household.
What happens if a landlord fails to provide the City with the required information?
Violations could be a misdemeanor or handled through the issuance of administrative citations with a fine for each violation up to a maximum of $1,000.
However, it is important to note that violations of this section are not an affirmative defense for tenants in unlawful detainer actions, and don’t affect unlawful detainer litigation in any way.
What resources are available for landlords?
- The governor of California has reached an agreement with mortgagers for a grace period. More information is available here: https://covid19.ca.gov/get-financial-help/#top
- Los Angeles County offers free foreclosure prevention services. More information is available here: https://covid19.lacounty.gov/covid19-news/free-foreclosure-prevention-services-property-owners-financial-hardships/
- There are also federal programs in place for properties that are backed by federal mortgages. A landlord should speak with their bank to find out if they qualify.
Can a landlord pursue back rent through an eviction process even though the landlord has also obtained relief or compensation from another source?
No. The eviction moratorium prohibits a landlord from using the eviction process to recover delayed rent if the landlord has already been compensated for the unpaid rent through federal or state government relief funds or other programs that provide such compensation.
Can a landlord attempt to evict a tenant who denies entry to the landlord?
During the City’s moratorium, a landlord may not evict a tenant for refusing a non-emergency entry. Landlords should not enter rental units unless it is for a critical repair or emergency involving a condition that makes the apartment uninhabitable. A burst water pipe that is causing water damage to the unit below would be an example of such a condition.
What safety measures should a landlord take if an entry to a tenant’s unit is required?
If a landlord must remedy an emergency, the landlord cannot allow anyone infected with or exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 to enter. Landlords and their agents must follow the safety precautions advised by the Centers for Disease Control and industry guidance, including:
- Maintain physical distancing of at least six feet from all occupants;
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, mask, and safety glasses;
- Wash hands for 20 seconds before entering the unit;
- Sanitize gloves and any equipment being brought into the unit;
- Sanitize any surfaces touched during the entry before leaving.
Can a landlord attempt to terminate the tenancy or evict a tenant who has an unauthorized occupant?
No. The moratorium prohibits a landlord from trying to evict a tenant for unauthorized occupants or their pets during this time when all individuals are required to stay at home or a place of residence.
Can a landlord attempt to terminate the tenancy or evict a tenant for nuisance?
No. For example, if tenants are making more sustained noise than usual because everyone in the household is home and it is bothering the teleworkers next door, an eviction is not allowed. Tenants and landlords are encouraged to communicate and try to work out such disputes. The exception to this rule is that a landlord may evict a tenant for nuisance if it poses a substantial danger to the safety of people or to the premises.
Does the moratorium provide tenants with any affirmative defenses in case a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against the tenant, in violation of the moratorium?
Yes. The moratorium grants an affirmative defense that may be raised at any time in an eviction lawsuit (also known as an unlawful detainer action) if a landlord files the lawsuit in violation of the moratorium.
The moratorium says that “a landlord may not deceive a tenant in connection with . . . this Order.” What does that mean?
A landlord cannot intentionally or carelessly provide false information about the protections provided by the moratorium, or what the moratorium requires landlords or tenants to do. Providing incomplete information could also be a violation.
What should a tenant do if a landlord serves an eviction notice, files an eviction lawsuit against the tenant, or provides false or misleading information, in violation of the moratorium?
Tenants can complain to the City Attorney’s Office if landlords don’t comply with the moratorium. If informal efforts to get the landlord to rescind notices fail, the City may issue a fine of $1,000 or file a lawsuit. Also, the tenant or the City can sue the landlord for violations the Tenant Harassment Ordinance. The maximum civil penalty for a violation of the Tenant Harassment Ordinance has been increased from $10,000 to $15,000 during the emergency.
Please note: The City Attorney’s Office cannot represent tenants in eviction lawsuits (unlawful detainer actions) or other legal proceedings, and any enforcement action the City Attorney’s Office takes against the landlord will not stop the eviction action or other legal proceedings. Therefore, if the landlord files an unlawful detainer action, the tenant should immediately seek his or her own legal counsel. Tenants can use the eviction moratorium as an affirmative defense to eviction if it applies.
Santa Monica's eviction moratorium for commercial tenants protects eligible commercial tenants from eviction until September 30, 2021 if certain conditions are met. For rents due between March 18, 2020 and September 30, 2020 a Commercial Tenant 1 that provides proper notice and documentation cannot be evicted for nonpayment until after September 30, 2021. For rents due between October 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, eligible commercial tenants must pay 50 percent of rent owed and can defer the other 50 percent. They are not required to pay 50 percent for any period during which they were required to remain closed because of the County Safer at Home Order, or were required to remain closed or restricted to curbside pickup and delivery. Santa Monica's eviction moratorium for commercial tenants does not extend to rent due after March 31, 2021.
For rent due between April 1 and June 30, 2021, eligible commercial tenants may be protected by the County of Los Angeles Eviction Moratorium for Commercial Tenants. For more information, please visit, https://dcba.lacounty.gov/noevictions/
Whether or not a commercial tenant is covered by the Santa Monica moratorium depends on the type of business. There are three categories of commercial tenant:
Commercial Tenant 3 - Multi-national companies, publicly traded companies, any company that, with its affiliates, employs more than 100 employees, or any company that has earned more than $15 million over the previous three years. Commercial Tenant 3s have no protections under the moratorium. For some of these tenants, protections provided by prior versions of the moratorium were in effect until June 30, 2020.
Commercial Tenant 2 – All protections for Commercial Tenants 2 were phased out on September 1, 2020 and they are no longer covered by the moratorium. If rent was paid by August 31, 2020, or any extended date, a landlord may not charge or collect a late fee, penalty, or interest.
Commercial Tenant 2s are defined as businesses that meet all the following criteria:
- Not a Commercial Tenant 3
- In an office work space
- Do not collect sales tax on revenue or collect sales tax on less than half of revenue
- Do not provide medical, dental, veterinary, fitness, educational, or child, marriage, family, mental health, or substance abuse counseling services.
- Are not a “substantially limited business” as that term is defined in section 1(b)(i) of the moratorium. These include businesses highly affected by the pandemic and public health orders, such as restaurants and barbershops that had to close.
Commercial Tenant 1 – Not a Commercial Tenant 2 or 3.
Commercial Tenant 1s are protected from eviction until September 30, 2021 if certain conditions are met. For rents due between March 18, 2020 and September 30, 2020 a Commercial Tenant 1 that provides proper notice and documentation cannot be evicted for nonpayment until after September 30, 2021.
For rents due between October 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Commercial Tenant 1s must pay 50 percent of rent owed and can defer the other 50 percent. They are not required to pay 50 percent for any period during which they were required to remain closed because of the County Safer at Home Order, or were required to remain closed or restricted to curbside pickup and delivery.
If rent is paid by September 30, 2021 a landlord may not charge late fees or penalties. If rent is paid by June 30, 2021, a landlord may not charge or collect interest.
Eligible commercial tenants must provide notice and documentation within 30- days after rent is due. What notice and documentation is required depends on the type of Commercial Tenant 1.
For “substantially limited businesses” (see definition above), notice and documentation that indicates any loss of income or increase in expenses due to COVID-19 is sufficient. A statement written by the tenant in a single communication may constitute both notice and documentation.
Any other commercial tenant 1 must provide the following:
- Notice asserting that the tenant has suffered financial impacts related to COVID-19 that have resulted in a substantial loss of income or substantial increase in expenses that has materially negatively affected its ability to pay rent; and
- Supporting documentation sufficient to demonstrate that the loss of income or increase in expenses:
- (A) is related to COVID-19; and
- (B) has a material negative effect on the tenant’s ability to pay rent.
Supporting documentation may include, but is not limited to, a profit and loss statement, a letter from an accountant, or a written explanation setting out an objectively verifiable explanation of the financial impacts the tenant is experiencing.
Any Commercial Tenant 1 that has received compensation for financial impacts related to COVID-19 through business interruption insurance or federal or state government relief funds or other programs that provide such compensation must state the compensation received, which shall be considered when determining whether the tenant has experienced a substantial loss of income or substantial increase in expenses that has materially negatively affected its ability to pay rent.
For additional questions, call 310-458-8336 or email email@example.com.