Newsom Announces New Statewide Eviction Moratorium — But Major Concessions May Threaten Tenants

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 on Friday. (Sruti Mamidanna/KQED)

A statewide eviction moratorium bill announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, may soon protect millions of Californians struggling to pay rent during the pandemic, if approved by lawmakers. But tenants groups are concerned that this bill leaves many Californians still vulnerable to eviction.

After weeks of intensive negotiation between lawmakers, advocates for tenants and advocates for landlords, Newsom announced Assembly Bill 3088 on Friday, known officially as the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020.

If you're a California tenant who has faced a pandemic-related financial hardship, the bill will shield you from eviction, with some caveats.

Already, landlord groups like the California Apartment Association are hailing the bill as a "more sensible approach" than Chiu's previous bill, AB 1436, which they said amounted to "free rent" for tenants.

But some tenant groups said the new bill didn't go far enough. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment were among those that rallied at the Capitol this week to fight for stronger protections. In a series of tweets, the group criticized the compromise bill as "complicated and burdensome for tenants."

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"Gavin Newsom is literally about to make a deal that could throw millions of Californians out of their homes in the coming months amidst a pandemic – most of them poor, Black and Latinx. If that's not cold-blooded racism, we're not sure what is," the organization wrote on Twitter Thursday, as the compromise bill was in its last day of negotiations.

The bill comes right under the wire, since Monday marks the end of the legislative session. The state Senate is poised to vote on the COVID-19 relief act on Monday, but the bill will face a high hurdle – a two-thirds majority – to pass. Then it will make its way back to the Assembly for a final vote and the governor’s signature.

On Friday, Newsom said at his noon press conference he was "pleased" and "grateful" that "people that don't always see eye to eye, don't always agree," came together across their differences to create a compromise bill to help tenants.

They "worked very hard over a long period of weeks, not just days," he said, "to accommodate not only for tenants, millions of people at risk of eviction, to accommodate for timing when those evictions will occur, to accommodate for small landlords that rightfully are concerned about not being able to pay their mortgages."

Both previous tenant protection bills, AB 1436 and Senate Bill 1410, authored by state Sen. Anna M. Caballero, D-Salinas, are now off the table. Caballero, Chiu, Newsom and advocates for tenants and landlords hammered out the compromise bill over the last few weeks.

How It Works

Notably, the legislation doesn't stop all evictions. And the provisions to protect renters come with timelines attached.

Here are the main tenant protection provisions in the bill:

  • Full protections: Any rent missed between March 1 and Aug. 31 will be converted to civil debt. This means landlords can take tenants to small claims court for any missed rent — but they can't evict you for not paying it.
  • Protections with a caveat: Rents missed between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31 are a different story, however. Tenants must pay 25% of rent within that period or else they'll be open to eviction. The remaining 75% of their rent is treated as a civil debt, just like the provision for missed rent from between March 1 and August 31.
  • More time: Also under the new law, the usual three-day notice to evict that landlords post – mandatory before they go through the court process to evict a tenant – is now a 15-day-notice.
  • How to file: That notice is also how a tenant begins protecting themselves from eviction: Once a landlord has posted a 15-day notice, a tenant can file with their landlord that they have a pandemic-related hardship.

Caveats and Concessions

A former version of this compromise bill – Assembly Bill 1436 – also authored by Chiu, would've allowed anyone to file an attestation that they were experiencing a pandemic-caused financial hardship to qualify for eviction protection. Now, that requirement is tighter.

  • Perjury: Under the new version of the bill, tenants must swear under penalty of perjury that they are enduring a pandemic-related hardship. Tenant advocates are worried that may scare off undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable populations from filing for those protections in the first place.
  • Means-testing: If a tenant earns 130% of a county's area median income or higher, a landlord can ask for them to produce proof of a pandemic-related financial hardship, like a layoff or wage-reduction notice from an employer.
  • No more eviction moratoriums: Eviction moratoriums previously passed by cities and counties will be grandfathered in, but they won't be able to pass any extensions specifically for evictions regarding non-payment of rent. While some of them are stronger than the state's provisions, some are set to expire after 30 days.
  • Courts: Courts will face a tighter time frame, too. They'll have until just Oct. 5 to begin processing evictions for non-payment of rent in non-COVID cases, though sources familiar with the negotiations suggest courts may find themselves scrambling to ramp up staff in time.
  • Property owners: Mortgage forbearance is now out of the picture. Under pressure from groups representing small property owners, Chiu had amended AB 1436 to allow property owners – even non-landlords – to make late mortgage payments. Under pressure from the banking industry, that's now gone.

Despite concerns from tenant organizations, the California Apartment Association, representing landlords, were supportive of the compromise.

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“We’ve been working around the clock with lawmakers and the governor’s office to make sure the legislation is fair and balanced,” said Debra Carlton, executive vice president of state public affairs at the California Apartment Association, in a statement. "Our goal has been to provide both help for tenants who are truly affected by COVID-19, as well as compensation for landlords, especially mom and pop owners, at risk of foreclosure after several months without rent payments."

When asked to describe negotiations with the California Apartment Association and lawmakers who had their ear, Chiu noted "the landlord industry is an incredibly powerful force in Sacramento," making tenant bills notoriously hard to pass.

"I'll be the first to say this proposal has shortcomings. We wanted more. We fought for more," Chiu said. While the bill won't halt all evictions, "it will prevent many evictions and delay even more."

But, he added, "turning away from an imperfect proposal and allowing all evictions to resume immediately without any protections is just not an option. The consequences are too dire."

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