California to Extend Eviction Moratorium, With Rent Relief and Back Rent for Tenants

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Anti-eviction protesters stand in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court on Jan. 27, 2021, during a demonstration calling for stronger statewide eviction protections. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 12 p.m. Saturday

California will ban evictions for unpaid rent through the end of September and pay off 100% of all past due rent for eligible tenants under a deal announced Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders.

California banned evictions after Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide shutdown in March 2020 and ordered most businesses to close and people to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The eviction moratorium will be the third one in the state so far. Current protections are scheduled to expire on Wednesday.

The new agreement will extend the eviction moratorium through the end of September and pledges to pay off all unpaid rent from April 2020 through Sept. 30 of this year for people who earn 80% or less of their area’s median income and have been affected by the pandemic.

No one knows exactly how many people will qualify and how much it will cost. But the state has $5.2 billion to spend on back rents, enough to provide $10,400 each to a half-million tenants, all of it coming from the federal government.

“I think that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Newsom’s administration believes the pot of money is more than enough to pay off rental debts for everyone eligible. Another $2 billion in state money will cover people’s unpaid utility bills.

The proposal, which will be voted on in the Legislature next week, also gives tenants more time to apply for assistance after a landlord tries to evict them while also masking their credit and rental history so those debts won’t show up and prevent them from getting future housing.

People who are not eligible for the money can still qualify for the eviction ban if they pay at least 25% of what they owe by Sept 30. Since those tenants still will be behind on rent, landlords can take them to court to recover what’s left. But landlords can’t evict them for it.

"We want to make sure we're avoiding those evictions. And we also want to make sure that Californians are not saddled with this rental debt moving into the future," said Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who also chairs the Assembly’s housing committee.

“Our housing situation in California was a crisis before COVID, and the pandemic has only made it worse — this extension is key to making sure that more people don’t lose the safety net helping them keep their home,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “While our state may be emerging from the pandemic, in many ways, the lingering financial impact still weighs heavily on California families.”

To qualify, people may only earn 80% or less of their area’s median income and must have been affected by the pandemic — a nondescript requirement everyone can meet.

Newsom, who will face a recall election later this year fueled by criticism of his handling of the pandemic, said in a news release he is thankful for the legislative proposal, “which I am eager to sign into law as soon as I receive it.”

The deal needs two-thirds support from the Legislature to pass. A vote is expected on Monday.

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California has some of the most expensive rent in the country and has a housing shortage. About 25% of California’s renters pay at least half of their income on housing costs, a figure that includes rent and utilities, according to the California Department of Finance.

The announcement comes as the state has struggled to spend $5.2 billion in federal rent relief. So far, the state has handed out less than 10% of the money applied for.

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The extension gives state officials more time to disburse that money. A report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development showed the state had received $490 million in requests but had paid just $32 million covering 2,500 households as of May 31. That figure does not include some of the state’s larger cities, which run their own rental assistance programs.

California Apartment Association CEO Tom Bannon said California would not have to extend the eviction moratorium if it were able to spend the money faster.

“It’s unacceptable that state and local governments have distributed less than 15% of the billions of dollars earmarked for California rental assistance,” said Bannon, whose organization represents landlords. “California has got to distribute these dollars faster so that the eviction moratorium being introduced is the last.”

KQED's Molly Solomon contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to say that people who make less than 80% of the area median income do not have to pay any portion of what they owe to be eligible for the money.