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COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 - AB 3088 FAQ

The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 was signed by Governor Newsom on August 31, 2020The 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, 2021if certain requirements are met. The state 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. 

Tenant Relief Act Declaration Form

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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 declarations 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 the 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. 
  • The City’s just cause for eviction law protects and will continue to protect most tenants, whether or not the COVID-19 emergency-related eviction moratorium protections expire. Under the City’s just cause for eviction law, tenants can only be evicted for specific reasons stated in the law, and landlords have to give a warning notice before they can give any eviction notice for a reason other than nonpayment of rent.
  • A small number of tenants, such as those renting single family homes, are not covered by the City’s just cause for eviction law. The new state law provides just cause protections for them until February 1, 2021. These protections are similar to but not as strong as the City’s protections.
  • 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 deferred rent under the City’s moratorium, you may have a defense in the debt collection lawsuit if you are sued for that rent before October 1, 2021.  
  • If you receive any eviction notice, or your landlord tells you they are going to evict you, we strongly recommend you seek legal help. See question 2 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. 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. The state website provides a summary of protections, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and an app to provide information tailored to your situation. 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.

3. 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.  

4. 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.

In September you should provide notice and documentation as required by the City’s moratorium and return the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress form within 15 days after receiving any eviction notice.

If you cannot pay due to impacts of COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to (1) provide a hardship declaration to your landlord on or before rent is due each month on your own, regardless of whatever you are given by our landlord AND return all declarations that must be provided with eviction notices for nonpayment of covered rent. The declaration form is available here You should provide the form by one of the methods listed in question 7 below, request acknowledgment of receipt in writing, and keep proof that you sent the declaration.   

5. 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 hardship declaration 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. 

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

6. The state 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 state 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 each month you could not pay from September 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 by January 31, 2021, you cannot  be evicted for nonpayment of this rent. The statute providing this protection does not expire until January 31, 2025.  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. We encourage you to submit a declaration on your own each month that you cannot pay for the reasons stated in the declaration, whether or not you receive any notice. 

Example 1: If you are unable to pay September and October rent and you (1) 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 (2) 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. If you pay later months’ rent in full, those payments do not count toward the half a month’s rent you must pay be to be protected.  

Example 2: If you are unable to pay any of the rental payments that come due between September 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021, and you provide your landlord with the declarations in response to each 15-day notice your landlord sent to you during that time period, and you make a payment or payments equal to 25% of the combined rent due from September through January (i.e., one and a quarter month’s rent), then your landlord cannot evict you for nonpayment of this rent. 

7. 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.     

8. Do I have to provide any documentation to prove inability to pay? 

Most tenants do not have to provide documentation other than the mandatory declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. 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 to support their declaration upon a landlord’s request. However, a landlord may only require documentation if the landlord has evidence of “high-income tenant” status in the landlord’s possession 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 and scroll down to the question “Can a landlord require a high-income tenant to provide documentation supporting the tenant’s claim that the tenant has suffered COVID-19-related financial distress?”

9. What if I could not return the mandatory declaration on time? 

In order to be protected, you must sign and return the declaration within the 15-day time period given in the eviction notice. However, if you do not do so on time, you may be able to do so later in any court action that is filed if you can provide a good reason why you did not return the declaration within the 15-day time period.  

10. How are the courts handling eviction cases?

The temporary emergency court rules that effectively delayed most evictions have been lifted. However, the state law extends the pause for nonpayment of rent eviction cases until October 5, 2020. The pause is not a reason to do nothing. In order to be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent due before October 5, you must provide your landlord with the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress in response to each 15-day notice your landlord sends you before that 15-day period lapsesEven if you do not receive any notices, we encourage you to provide declarations to your landlord on or before rent is due in September and October if you cannot pay in full due to effects of COVID-19.   

11. If I can’t be evicted, do I still owe rent? 

Yes, neither Santa Monica’s Eviction Moratorium nor the state law cancels rent. While the 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. The state law provides that landlords may not sue to try to collect rent that became due between March 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021, until March 1, 2021. The due date for deferred rent under the City’s Eviction Moratorium (rent that became due between March 14, 2020 and September 30, 2020), remains September 30, 2021. The new state law provides eviction protection but does not change the due date for rent.   

12.  Does the state law affect eviction for reasons other than nonpayment, such as a lease violation or nuisance? 

No. The state law does not affect evictions for reasons other than nonpayment due to the impacts of the COVID-19 emergency. The City’s moratorium provides COVID-19 emergency-related protections against evictions based on other reasons besides nonpayment of rent (such as nuisance, unauthorized occupants).Those protections will expire on September 30, 2020, unless extended. For more information on those protections, please visit https://www.santamonica.gov/coronavirus-eviction-moratorium.

The City’s just cause for eviction law protects and will continue to protect most tenants, whether or not the COVID-19 emergency-related eviction moratorium protections expire. Under the City’s law, tenants can only be evicted for specific reasons stated in the law, and landlords have to give a warning notice before they can give any eviction notice for a reason other than nonpayment of rent.

A small number of tenants, such as those renting single family homes, are covered by the City’s emergency-related moratorium protections but are not covered by the City’s just cause for eviction law. The new state law provides just cause protections for them until February 1, 2021. These protections are similar to but not as strong as the City’s protections. These will apply until February 1, 2021, whether or not the City’s COVID-19 emergency-related protections are extended. If you receive a warning notice or an eviction notice, including for a reason other than nonpayment, we strongly recommend you seek legal help. Please see question 2 for more information on available resources.

13. What happens when the City’s moratorium expires at the end of September? 

The state law blocks the City from extending its residential eviction moratorium for nonpayment evictions beyond September 30, 2020While the state law may protect you from eviction for nonpayment of October rent and rent due from October 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021, this rent cannot be deferred under the City’s moratorium. You must meet the requirements of the state law (see question 6 above) to be protected for nonpayment of this rent. You should also comply with the state requirements if you cannot pay September rent, even though September rent may also be covered by the City’s moratorium.

14. Can my landlord use a different excuse to try to evict me for nonpayment? 

Landlords should not use other kinds of evictions as a backdoor to eviction for nonpayment of rent. Under the state law, it is unlawful for a landlord to bring a different kind of eviction case in order to retaliate against a tenant, or as a pretext for eviction based on nonpayment of rent.   

15. What are the penalties for landlords who try to force tenants out without complying with the law? 

Lockouts and self-help evictions were already illegal under California law and the Santa Monica Municipal Code. For landlords who attempt to circumvent the required court process for evictions, the new state law provides for enhanced penalty amounts between $1,000 and $2,500 for each violation of the state prohibition against lockouts and self-help evictions.  

For additional information, contact the City of Santa Monica’s Coronavirus Hotline at (310) 458-8400 or visit santamonica.gov/coronavirus. 

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