Stressed About Paying May Rent? Check Here First

A row of houses in the Mission District of San Francisco on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (Photo by Beth LaBerge/KQED) (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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This post has been updated.

On April 6, the Judicial Council of California unanimously voted to suspend eviction judgements and foreclosures statewide.

The new order puts a stop to unlawful detainers — which are lawsuits that landlords file when trying to evict a tenant. Judges are also prevented from issuing default rulings and tenants facing eviction can’t be summoned to the court. It also limits lenders from filing foreclosure complaints against homeowners.

This statewide order will remain in place for 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted.

So what else is available to tenants? Here's what we know.

Reminder: There is currently no rent freeze or moratorium on rent in California. So if you can't pay, action is likely required on your part.

And remember: Partial payment of rent does not prevent your landlord or property manager from starting the eviction process, unless you get a written agreement.

Do I have to pay rent?

If you can afford it, yes.

State and local eviction moratoriums do not prevent rent from being due, and local officials are encouraging those who are healthy and employed to pay it.

What do I do if I can't pay rent?

If you can't pay rent due to coronavirus-related circumstances, here's what you should do:

  • Put your case in writing: Declare, in writing, the reason you cannot pay your rent. The advocacy group Tenants Together created this sample letter you can use.
  • Provide specific documentation: Include documents that show your income has been impacted by the pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place orders. That could be a letter or text from your employer detailing a reduction in work hours, pay stubs showing a decrease in wages or some documentation demonstrating a loss of available work opportunity — like decreases in Lyft rides or Postmates deliveries.
  • Submit documents to your landlord or property manager: Ideally, you'd do this before rent is due. So make sure you get it in as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of all documentation for your records: If your landlord decides to pursue the eviction, or take you to small claims court, you'll need these documents. Store them somewhere safe!
  • Reach out to a lawyer or advocate: To get ahead of any potential court proceeding, you can reach out to an attorney or legal aid office ahead of time. Check here for more resources.

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How do local and statewide eviction moratoriums work?

In early April, the Judicial Council of California adopted an emergency rule that effectively prevents evictions, other than those necessary for health and safety. This is a much stronger ruling that the statewide eviction moratorium set by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March.

Here's what the new rule does:

  • Prevents a court from issuing a summons after a landlord files an eviction case: Except when necessary to protect health and safety, this means that tenants will not be under the normal five-day response deadline and will instead have time to respond up until the courts' emergency rule is lifted.
  • Prevents default judgments: Normally, if the tenant failed to file a response, the court would issue a default judgment. Often siding with the landlord. This prevents that, except in cases of health and safety. Or if the tenant failed to file a response before the statewide order was lifted.
  • Extends time for trials: If an eviction case is already in process, and the tenant has already responded or appeared, judges must set the hearing for a time that is 60 days after the date requested, unless necessary to set it earlier for health and safety.

You can read more about the rule, including how it applies to foreclosures, here.

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For local rules, it all depends on where you live. Below are just three of the city and county eviction orders that have recently been put in place. Check here for a more exhaustive list.

San Francisco:

Landlords are barred from removing tenants who can't pay rent in May if they can demonstrate that it's due to income or job loss related to COVID-19.

  • Tenants should provide written notice that they will not pay within 30 days of when rent was originally due. Separate notices must be provided for each missed rent payment for up to six months after the city's eviction moratorium order expires.
  • After providing the notice, tenants have one week to provide documentation showing the impact of the pandemic on their finances.

Those deadlines can also be extended. And a payment plan can be set up after the order expires. Further guidance for tenants and landlords can be found here.

Oakland:

The city's order bans evictions for any reason, with a few exceptions, and lasts until May 31, or through the end of the health crisis, if extended. It also protects renters against future evictions for nonpayment and bans late fees from being applied to missed rent due to coronavirus-related impacts.

  • Tenants are not required to inform their landlord they will not be paying rent to access these protections, but may want to do so anyway.
  • Tenants should also make sure they keep all documentation of how COVID-19 has impacted their income, in case their landlord decides to evict them later on. In the city of Oakland, documentation is not required to be protected, but is highly recommended.

Find the full order here.

Santa Clara County:

A temporary eviction moratorium — through May 31 — applies to all residential and commercial properties in Santa Clara County.

  • Tenants should still inform their landlords if they can't pay rent, and provide documentation of how COVID-19 has impacted their finances.
  • Once the moratorium ends, tenants have 120 days to pay back rent.
  • Landlords cannot charge late fees on unpaid rent during the moratorium.

What if I get an eviction notice?

If for some reason you do receive an eviction notice, get in touch with a lawyer or legal aid office as soon as possible. Many local legal aid offices are still operating — albeit remotely — and should have the best resources to help navigate through the particular rules in your city and county.

Here are a few tenant resources you can use for help with an eviction notice:

San Francisco:

Alameda County:

  • East Bay Community Law Center: Call 510-548-4040 to schedule a free legal consultation.
  • Eviction Defense Center: Call 510-452-4541 for free and low-cost legal services.
  • Centro Legal de la Raza: Reach out via 510-437-1554 to request legal consults and assistance.
  • Bay Area Legal Aid: The Housing Unit is available for telephone counsel and advice through the Tenants Rights Line (for Alameda County residents) at 866-346-3405, or the Legal Advice Line at 800-551-5554 (for residents of all other counties in their service area).

Santa Clara County:

San Mateo County:

Tenants Together has also compiled a list of resources for renters here and here.

KQED's Erin Baldassari contributed to this report.

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