Stressed About Paying August Rent? Check Here First

Single-family homes near MacArthur BART station in Oakland, on Feb. 21, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

A previous version of this story was published on June 30.

A federal eviction moratorium put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic expired last week, and the extra $600 a week in federal Unemployment Insurance benefits are set to run out this week. With Republicans and Democrats in Congress at odds over how much to keep paying people who are out of work, renters, lawmakers and advocates across the country are raising the alarm about a possible wave of evictions.

Renters in California are protected, for now, by state and local eviction moratoriums. But some of those provisions are set to expire in August. Most notably, the California Judicial Council announced that its statewide eviction moratorium could sunset as soon as Aug. 14. The provision has been in place since April, and prevents court actions on evictions and judicial foreclosures, effectively halting most evictions in the state.

With the Aug. 14 deadline looming, state leaders are now scrambling to come up with long-term fix that would protect renters and property owners who have lost income during the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said last Friday that he is working with state legislative leaders to craft a plan. He specifically named Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and state Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, both of whom authored renter and landlord protection bills that are scheduled for committee hearings on Aug. 12. A deal from the governor and the Legislature is likely to include elements of both of their bills.

Assembly Bill 1436, co-authored by Chiu, would bar landlords from evicting tenants for up to 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted, and would prohibit landlords from using nonpayment of rent during the pandemic as grounds for an eviction in the future. It would also give tenants 15 months to pay back rent from that time period.

Chiu announced this week that the bill has been updated to include protections for property owners as well. The bill would allow owners of properties with four units or less to receive a year of mortgage forbearance — reduced or delayed payments. The timeline would be capped at six months for larger properties.

“Mortgage owners are experiencing particular hardships during this pandemic, and particularly property owners who rely on rent from their tenants to get by and make their mortgages,” Chiu said. “We can’t afford to have a wave of evictions and foreclosures like we did during the great recession.”

More than 4 million renters in California have slight or no confidence that they will be able to pay their rent next month, according to a survey from the Census Bureau. More than 1.7 million California homeowners are similarly concerned about making their mortgage payments.

Senate Bill 1410, authored by Caballero, would give landlords tax credits to make up for missed rent payments. Tenants would then have 10 years to pay back their back rent to the state.

But Chiu acknowledged the Legislature is working on a tight timeline. To buy more time, he suggested the Judicial Council could consider extending its moratorium until the end of August, which coincides with the end of the legislative session.

“I am concerned that if we’re not able to get an agreement with the governor and the Legislature by Aug. 14, you could very well see a rush to the courts of landlords filing eviction notices for tenants who have been unable to pay rent in recent months,” Chiu said. "That could be catastrophic. We have to avoid a wave of mass evictions. That would be terrible for homelessness, for this pandemic and COVID-19 spread.”

Meanwhile, many local cities and counties have voted to continue their local eviction moratoriums, as job losses from the pandemic continue.

Alameda County

Expires: Sept. 30
Repayment term: up to 12 months after end of moratorium
For more info, click here.

Contra Costa County

Expires: Sept. 30
Repayment term: until Nov. 15, 2020
For more info, click here.

Marin County

Expires: Sept. 30
Repayment term: up to 90 days after the end of moratorium
For more info, click here.

San Francisco County

Expires: Aug. 31
Repayment term: until Jan. 31, 2021
For more info, click here.

San Mateo County

Expires: Aug. 31
Repayment term: up to 90 days after the end of state of emergency, with three, one-month extensions
For more info, click here.

Santa Clara County

Expires: Aug. 31
Repayment term: up to six months after moratorium ends to repay at least 50% of the past-due rent, and up to 12 months after moratorium ends to repay past-due in full
For more info, click here.

Solano County

Expires: 90 days after state of emergency ends
Repayment term: up to 12 months after state of emergency ends
For more info, click here.

Sonoma County

Expires: 60 days after state of emergency ends
Repayment term: up to two months after state of emergency ends
For more info, click here.

What else is available to tenants?

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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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.

A version of this story was originally published March 31.

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