Newsom Signs Legislation to Extend Statewide Eviction Protections Through June

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A woman wearing a mask walks past a wall in Los Angeles on May 1, 2020 with a graffiti message demanding rent forgiveness. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed emergency legislation on Friday to extend California's eviction moratorium through the end of June.

The state can now also use $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money to pay off up to 80% of some tenants' unpaid rent — but only if landlords agree to forgive the remaining 20%.

Senate Bill 91, which Newsom helped negotiate with the state's top lawmakers, is California's first major attempt to clear unpaid rents that have piled up during the pandemic, resulting from millions of people losing their jobs because of government-ordered business closures.

“The issue of evictions, the issue of this moment and the economic anxiety that so many people are struggling and suffering through, is the issue, and we have not lost sight of that,” Newsom said Friday before signing the pair of bills. “This is a significant moment. Not only extending protections that were due to expire this Sunday ... but also providing mercy relief: $2.6 billion, drawing down those federal supports.”

But the move is risky because of two big unknowns: Is $2.6 billion enough to cover all of the unpaid rent in the state, and how many landlords will take the deal? If landlords refuse the deal, the state would pay off only 25% of tenants' unpaid rent to make sure they qualify for eviction protections.

No one knows for sure how much unpaid rent there is in California, the nation's most populous state, with nearly 40 million people. Estimates range from a high of $3.6 billion — from the advocacy group Housing NOW! California — to a low of $400 million from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Last year, Newsom signed a law that banned tenants from being evicted for not paying their rent during the coronavirus, but only if they paid at least 25% of what they owed after Sept. 1. The move prevented what many feared would be an “eviction tsunami," but still required tenants to repay their debts, empowering landlords to take them to court to recoup their money.

Those protections would have expired on Monday. SB 91 extends those protections through at least June 30 — retaining the 25% minimum requirement — while also giving landlords and tenants the opportunity for a clean slate.

“We are painfully aware of the plight that California families are facing as they struggle to pay their rent or mortgages at no fault of their own because of the pandemic that we are in,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “So today we help Californians keep a roof over their head and keep their heads above water.”

Newsom administration officials say California is so far the only state using federal stimulus dollars to entice landlords to forgive debt.

The legislation goes beyond protections enacted in New York last month that freeze evictions and certain foreclosures for two months, or until May 1 for renters who assert that they've faced hardship from the coronavirus pandemic. The measure also requires a statewide multilingual call center, in part to help landlords and tenants in vulnerable communities who lack internet access.

But some housing advocacy groups worry that California's legislation gives too much power to landlords and shouldn't be voluntary. If landlords refuse the deal, the state only pays off 25% of a tenants' debt — enough to ensure they could not be evicted.


That is “a troubling power imbalance,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, among many objecting to that provision.

“This is not a perfect deal,” said Chiu, who heads the Assembly housing committee, said Thursday as he and Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon noted lawmakers must do more to fill the gaps before the new protections expire in June. Yet, “At this deadliest of moments in the pandemic, we can’t have tenants pushed out into the streets,” with the current protections set to expire this weekend.

“While this new law will help many landlords and tenants, we are worried about the most vulnerable tenants who maybe have landlords that have been wanting to get them out and now are going to be missing out on protections because of the shortcomings of this new law,” said Francisco Dueñas, executive director of Housing NOW! California. “It's really going to be up to the goodwill of the landlords to decide whether their tenants get the rent relief. We really feel that's going to obviously leave out a lot of folks.”

Tenants' advocates also point out that the bill still allows evictions for reasons beside falling behind on rent, such as lease violations or nuisance claims, which they fear some landlords will take advantage of.

In the Bay Area, there were at least 527 evictions between the start of the statewide coronavirus lockdown on March 19 and the end of 2020, according to data from sheriffs’ offices in the nine counties.

Some groups representing landlords, while welcoming the relief, also voiced concerns with the specific terms of the legislation.

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“Getting dollars to landlords is imperative. Many landlords have not received rent in over a year and some owners are on the brink of losing their homes,” Debra Carlton, a lobbyist for the California Apartment Association, said in an email. “What is not covered in the legislation are those situations where the tenants do not cooperate. ... We are asking the state to help owners in those situations with both policy and dollars.”

The legislation had rare bipartisan support, passing 71-1 in the 80-member Assembly and 34-0 in the 40-member Senate with some Republicans not voting.

“This isn’t perfect ... but we are in a desperate time right now,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, though he and other Republicans said they remain concerned that there will be bureaucratic complications over administering the program.

“We ask Gov. Newsom to please not screw this one up, too,” Mathis said, referencing ongoing delays and billions of dollars in fraud in allocating pandemic unemployment benefits.

The federal money includes $1.5 billion sent to the state and another $1.1 billion sent to some cities and counties.

The money could also be used to pay for unpaid utility bills. A survey by the State Water Resources Control Board found 1.6 million residential water customers, or 12% of all households, have unpaid bills amounting to $1 billion.

This story includes reporting from KQED's Molly Solomon and Erin Baldassari, and the Associated Press.