Residential Eviction Protections for Non-Payment of Rent
On January 26, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors enacted eviction protections for nonpayment of rent, to take effect on April 1, 2022. However, on March 31, 2022, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis signed into law AB 2179, which extended the state's eviction protections for non-payment of rent for tenants awaiting determination of their state rental assistance applications, and prohibited similar protections enacted by local governments from taking effect prior to July 1, 2022. State protections for non-payment apply only to rent owed prior to April 1, 2022.
State law permanently protects residential tenants from eviction if they were unable to pay rent due between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 because of COVID-19-related lost income or increased expenses. To be protected, tenants must return a declaration that their landlord must give them along with any eviction notice seeking collection of this rent. Even if a tenant has already provided a declaration each month, they should return this declaration as well. State law says that tenants must have paid 25 percent of rent due for September 2020 – September 2021 by September 30, 2021 in order to be protected. However, tenants who did not pay 25 percent may still be protected from eviction if they apply for state rent relief or their applications for state rent relief are pending. Residential tenants can call the Legal Aid Foundation at (800) 399-4529 for more information.
State law also prohibits a court from issuing a summons in an eviction case for rent owed through March 31, 2022 unless the landlord declares under penalty of perjury that he or she applied for government rental assistance and was rejected; and provides a copy of the final rejection. This prohibition expires on June 30, 2022.
Even after March 31, 2022, tenants who can pay all the rent owed with the help of rental assistance now have more time to pay to avoid eviction. Tenants can contest or overturn an eviction at any time prior to leaving if they can show that with approved assistance and their own funds (if needed) they can pay all the rent owed. Tenants can do so even after getting a court ruling against them. This protection only applies if the rent was owed between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022 and the tenancy began before October 1, 2021.
Protections against evictions for reasons other than nonpayment of rent have also been extended. On January 27, 2022, the City extended the following protections to residential tenants until June 30, 2022:
- Protections against "no-fault" evictions, including owner-occupancies;
- Protections against evictions for refusing non-emergency entries;
- Protections against evictions for nuisance, with limited exceptions for health and safety concerns, or for unauthorized occupants or pets;
- Owners may serve requisite notices for an Ellis Act eviction, but shall not file an eviction based on removal of a unit from the market under the Ellis Act until 60 days after July 1, 2022.
Los Angeles County extended protections against eviction for nuisances, unauthorized occupants and animals, and certain owner-occupancies through December 31, 2022, but did not extend protections for denying entry to landlords beyond May 31, 2022. These protections apply to any city, including Santa Monica, which does not have stronger protections in place. You can find more information at https://dcba.lacounty.gov/noevictions/
Can landlords give tenants eviction notices for nonpayment?
Yes. State law allows landlords to give tenants 15-day notices to pay or quit for nonpayment of rent due between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021, and three-day notices to pay or quit for rent due October 1, 2021, and after. Any eviction notice for nonpayment of rent due March 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021 must include a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form. A three-day notice seeking rent due between October 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 must include a specific notice regarding rental assistance and eviction protections that go with rental assistance.
To be protected from eviction, tenants that receive a 15-day notice 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. All tenants, including tenants who receive a 3-day notice for rent due after October 1, 2021, should apply for rental assistance if they have not done so already.
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 and local 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 some unpaid rents in small claims courts or other civil courts beginning November 1, 2021. State law also now requires anyone who sues a tenant to recover unpaid COVID-19 rental debt to include documentation showing that the plaintiff has made a good-faith effort to find out whether governmental rental assistance is available to the tenant; seek governmental rental assistance for the tenant; or cooperate with the tenant’s efforts to obtain rental assistance from any governmental entity or other third-party.
landlords charge late fees on deferred rent?
No. Both state law and local eviction moratoriums prevent landlords from charging late fees on rent due from March 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021.
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.
- 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 between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021.
Do landlords have obligations under local law?
Yes. Residential landlords must send unredacted copies of any notices of any endeavors to evict (pandemic-related or not), including a termination notice (for example, the 15-day Notice required by the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020) or a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer, within two days of serving such notice or summons and complaint on a tenant. Landlords must also send the following information within three days of its availability to landlord: 1) whether tenant obtained a fee waiver; 2) whether tenant has legal representation; 3) whether landlord has legal representation; and 4) outcome of the endeavor to evict. Landlords can submit all required notices and information to EMReports@santamonica.gov.
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.
Does the moratorium provide tenants with any affirmative defenses if 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.
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