California Eviction Moratorium Passes Key Committee While Sept. 1 Deadline Looms

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, (right) authored a state bill that would ban evictions for missing rent across California. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

A state bill that would ban evictions for missing rent across California is closer to final passage after it passed through the state's Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 1436, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, passed the committee with 6-0, with three abstentions. The bill is expected to be heard by the full senate next week, as millions of Californians face losing their homes.

If enacted, AB 1436 would halt evictions for nonpayment of rent due to pandemic-related hardships until 90 days after the current state of emergency is lifted, or through April 2021, whichever is earlier. It would also provide mortgage forbearance, essentially delaying payments, for landlords and homeowners.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue between Chiu's office and the state senators who authored Senate Bill 1410, including Sen. Anna M. Caballero, D–Salinas. SB 1410 would offer tax credits to landlords to fill unpaid rent and enjoys the backing of statewide property owners and manager groups.

Finding a compromise between the two bills — which represent conflicting concerns of tenants, landlords and property owners — is largely seen as a path forward for rental and housing protections statewide.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that as the legislative session nears its end, those negotiations are ongoing. "We've been able to establish the areas of agreement. Now we're starting to focus on those areas of disagreement."

In what may have been a nod to those high stakes, the committee's digital public comment system Tuesday was overwhelmed by supporters and opponents of AB 1436 phoning in.

"The system is being overrun," said Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, shortly after the hearing began at 9 a.m.

More than 300 people called in to state their support, from tenants groups, unions and individual landlords, to elected officials. Roughly 160 people, mostly who identified as landlords, called in to oppose the bill. Due to time restrictions, callers were not allowed to provide any comment, merely state their names and whether they oppose or support the bill.

Chiu told the Senate committee, "If we don’t change state law in the next two weeks, we will see a massive wave of evictions. This will be catastrophic for tenants, landlords, homeowners and COVID-19 spread."

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The bill faces a floor vote by the state Senate, and final approval by the Assembly, to finally land on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the appropriations committee this week, but isn't expected to face resistance because it has no cost to government.

Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session, Aug. 31, to pass a bill to protect Californians as millions file for unemployment and struggle to pay their rent.

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Last week, the Judicial Council of California voted to end its moratorium on evictions and foreclosure filings on Sept. 1.

Statewide landlord associations and banks, including the California Bankers' Association, are in opposition to AB 1436.

Robert Wilson, representing the California Credit Union, told the committee his organization opposes AB 1436 because "by not allowing us to work directly with our members on a case by case basis, lenders will lose capital rapidly."

The California Bankers' Association is worried that AB 1436's provision to provide mortgage forbearance, essentially pushing back landlord and homeowner mortgage payments, has "constitutional issues" and would monetarily penalize their industry.

But to their concern, Sen. Jackson — who is a co-author of AB 1436 — said, "None of us wanted this situation. None of us are happy with this situation. But all of us are going to have to bear some part of the burden. "

"Otherwise," she added, "what's going to happen? Thousands of renters will be evicted and land on the street and thousands of homeowners will be foreclosed upon."

Jackson also warned that under that scenario, "Those who have had the financial means to weather this storm (could) very well buy up all those properties (and) enhance their own financial wealth," like they did in the U.S. foreclosure crisis.