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- Do I qualify for California rent relief?
- Are undocumented tenants eligible?
- How do I apply for rent relief?
- Are landlords required to apply for rent relief?
- How much money could I potentially get?
The pandemic has been crushing for low-income tenants in California — and caused financial strain on property owners who haven’t been able to collect and have their own bills to pay. Local and state eviction protections have helped many people stay housed but, eventually, the rent will be due.
Now, help is on the way.
Applications for California’s rent relief program — also known as rent assistance — open Monday, March 15. The pool includes $2.6 billion in federal funds and is likely to increase significantly because of the stimulus plan signed last week.
State lawmakers established the rent relief plan in January when they passed Senate Bill 91, which also extended the statewide eviction moratorium through June 30.
Starting Monday, March 15, landlords with low-income tenants who have fallen behind on rent because of the pandemic can apply for relief. They can receive up to 80% of all back rent from the period between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Landlords must also agree to forgive the remaining 20% of the rent, and they cannot try to collect the unpaid rent in small claims court or use it to justify an eviction.
“We know that tenants and landlords have been stressed. They have been worried about what's going to happen. And we can now give them a program that gives them a clear path forward of how to help resolve the unfortunate situation where a lot of folks fell behind on their rent,” said Geoffrey Ross, deputy director for federal financial assistance at the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Here’s what you need to know about applying for rent relief in California, with answers to these frequently asked questions:
The program is targeted at low-income renters and their landlords.
To be eligible for the aid, tenants must make less than 80% of the local median income. Median income varies widely from county to county, and also depends on how many people live in your household. Don’t know what your local area median income (or AMI) is? Here’s a handy cheat sheet from the state.
The tenants must also have at least one person in the household who has lost a job or income during the pandemic and can show they are at risk of homelessness. A past-due rent or utility bill can be used to show a risk of homelessness.
The state wants to get relief as quickly as it can to the most vulnerable renters first, and is sending the first round of checks to households that are making 50% or below the area’s median income, or someone who has been unemployed for 90 days or more. People in higher-income tiers, but no more than 80% AMI, will receive aid next.
Some cities like Oakland, who opted to run their own programs, are going even further and prioritizing households making less — 30 % AMI or below.
Yes. The federal government never made citizenship status a requirement to access rent relief.
That means that the assistance is available to all renters who meet the eligible income levels, regardless of whether they are a legal resident or not.
Starting on Monday, most landlords and tenants who qualify will be able to apply through the state’s website, Housing Is Key. If the application is approved and the tenant meets income requirements, 80% of the owed back rent will be paid directly to the landlord.
Tenants and landlords each have a role to play. There are parts of the application that will need to be filled out by both parties, or the application won’t go forward.
If a tenant applies first, the landlord will be notified and invited to participate. If a landlord applies first, the state will get in touch with the tenant to gather additional information, like their income.
The California Apartment Association is urging property owners to get in touch with eligible tenants early to let them know you plan on applying for aid.
“You and the tenant need to work together,” said Debra Carlton, executive vice president of state government affairs and compliance with the California Apartment Association, the state’s largest landlord group.
San Francisco renter Jonas Di Gregorio says the rent relief can't come soon enough. He lost his job as a restaurant server at the beginning of the pandemic and owes more than $10,000 to his landlord in back rent. He's been able to continue paying 25% of his monthly rent on his studio to avoid eviction.