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COVID Rent Relief: What Renters and Owners Need to Know Ahead of March 31 Deadline

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Low income Californians could get some tax relief with a legislative proposal to boost benefits for renters.  (Andrew Neel/Pexels)

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Update, 1 p.m. April 1: At the very last minute, California extended eviction protections for people who applied for the state's COVID-19 Rent Relief program by the deadline of March 31.

This means that if you're a tenant who applied for the program to receive help with your back rent — either in partnership with your landlord, or by yourself — the fact that you've applied will technically continue to protect you against eviction through June 30. But for most tenants in California, starting April 1, landlords will still be able to start eviction proceedings for any rent not paid after March 31.

Applications to the state's rent relief program are now officially closed, and we won't be updating this post further. If you applied before the deadline and you're still waiting on your application, read our guide for what you can now do before June 30.

Original post, 9 a.m. March 22.

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California's eviction moratorium — the state's protections for renters who have been unable to pay their rent — expired at the end of September.

This means that, as of October 1, 2021, property owners in many places in California could once again evict tenants for not paying their rent. And to avoid being evicted, renters who have been financially affected by COVID-19 must pay a portion of their back rent, and can apply for rent relief through state or local programs. But the deadline to apply — March 31, 2022 — is fast approaching.

“If you think you might qualify for rent relief, then apply for it — and you're always better off doing it sooner rather than later,” Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said back in September 2021.

Heimerich said then that the agency understood that between 800,000 and 1.5 million households in the state were financially burdened by the coronavirus pandemic, and had lost income because their hours were reduced or they got sick, were laid off or had extra care responsibilities. The state, however, has been slow to distribute rent relief.

Advocates advise people not only to apply for rent relief, but also to seek legal aid if they’re facing eviction. However, they've warned that you might have to be patient, as both the rent relief programs and legal aid groups are handling a lot of demand.

Keep reading for what renters need to know about applying for rent relief, or skip to rent relief advice for property owners. And remember: After March 31, you won't be able to apply for rent relief.

Rent relief: What renters should know

How do I know whether I qualify for rent relief?

You qualify for rent relief if you have been financially affected by the pandemic and you earn less than 80% of your area’s median income. Check to see whether you qualify, and apply for help.

A 'For Rent' sign posted on the exterior of an apartment building on June 2, 2021, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for rent relief?

No, you do not need to be a citizen to qualify. Your legal status will not be disclosed to any other government agency.

Is it possible to apply for rent relief in languages other than English?

Yes, there are applications available in Spanish,Chinese,Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog.

Where will my rent relief come from?

If you apply for rent relief, the funds will come either from the state or your own county, depending on where you live. You also can be eligible for both.

When you apply through the state's COVID rent relief portal, you'll be directed to the right place to apply depending on your location, whether it's state assistance or local assistance. You also can use the following state map to see whether you're eligible for state or local rent assistance, or both:

Is the rent relief a loan? Do I need to pay back the money I get?

No, you do not need to pay the state or your county back for the relief money they give you.

Is there still a statewide eviction moratorium?

California's statewide moratorium on evictions expired last fall, on Sept. 30, 2021.

But the state's COVID Rent Relief program has afforded its own kind of eviction protections starting Oct. 1, 2021. That's because since that date, any landlord wanting to evict a tenant for failing to pay rent as a result of COVID hardship needs to first apply for rental relief before continuing with an eviction lawsuit. (Read more about rent relief for property owners.) And renters affected by COVID hardship could prevent an eviction from moving forward, if they showed they've applied for the rent relief program as a defense in court.

Because the deadline to apply for California's rent relief program is on March 31, 2022, this means that on April 1, these eviction protections put in place by the program are no longer in effect. This is why it's really important to apply for rent relief before the deadline at the end of the month.

My city or county has its own eviction moratorium. Is that expiring, too?

Several cities and counties across the state had their own rent-related eviction moratoriums that stayed in place after the state moratorium expired. In the Bay Area, those places are:

San Francisco's local rules continue to ban evictions for a number of reasons, including owner move-in, condo conversion, breach of contract, capital improvements and demolition. But evictions in San Francisco can move forward for nonpayment of rent, for health or safety issues, or if the owner decides to remove the property from the rental market. San Francisco will be introducing new eviction protections for renters starting April 1.

I have applied for rent relief. Can I still get evicted while I’m waiting?

Since the official eviction moratorium expired on Sept. 30, 2021, renters affected by COVID hardship could prevent an eviction from moving forward if they presented their pending relief application as a defense in court.

That remains true for renters whose applications have been approved. However, on April 1, if you are one of the people whose applications are still pending or under review, you can no longer legally use that defense in court.

I haven't applied for rent relief. Can I still apply?

Yes, but the last day to apply is March 31. So get your application in as soon as you can.


My rent relief application has been approved, but I haven't gotten notice that it's been paid. What should I do?

You’re not alone. Rent relief is taking a long time to be distributed, because California is far behind in its efforts to help people with COVID-19-related hardships pay their back rent.

That’s backed up by a report out earlier this month from the National Equity Atlas, which found that a year into the state’s rent relief program, only 16% of applicants have received any money, largely due to bureaucratic delays.

Advocates recommend being patient and contacting the HCD (Housing and Community Development Department) through the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center at (833) 430-2122.

Madeline Howard, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says that if you've gotten a "pay or quit" notice or an eviction notice from your landlord, she recommends telling HCD you need them to expedite your application. The department operates off a prioritization list, and your application could be considered sooner if you’re in an emergency situation.

The state's housing website also has a tool to look up local organizations and aid groups in your county offering assistance for renters.

Read more about what you can do if you're waiting for COVID rent relief.

Why is it taking so long to distribute rent relief?

The system was slow to get up and running. In September 2021, Heimerich of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency said the agency had hired more staff to go through the applications and process payments more quickly. Heimerich also said that applications are much less complicated than they once were, and should take applicants from between 30 minutes to an hour.

The Department of Housing and Community Development maintains that their goal is to turn applications around in 30 days, but the average wait time is much longer — four months, on average, according to a recent report by the National Equity Atlas.

Read more about the delays faced by rent relief applicants.

A woman holds up a big sign that says "Cancel Rents of People Die."
Los Angeles renters and housing advocates demonstrate on Aug. 21, 2020, against evictions in the region. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

What should I do if the property owner is harassing me to leave because I haven't paid rent?

“Your landlord is not allowed to harass you. That is against the law. And you should contact legal aid and stay in your home,” says the Western Center on Law and Poverty's Madeline Howard.

Howard recommends finding a local legal aid group that can help you advocate for yourself. The state's housing website has a tool to look up local organizations and aid groups in your county offering assistance for renters.

What should I do if I get a notice to "pay or quit" (i.e., an eviction notice)?

As far as concrete steps to take, Lorraine López, senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says that your first, immediate action should be to apply for rental assistance. "Even right now, having an application that is pending provides tenants with a layer of protection and can halt any eviction proceedings," she says.

Second, López recommends that you look up community organizations and nonprofit legal services agencies that assist tenants and access their information sheets, workshops and clinics to educate you about your rights.

Third, don’t move out, says López. "We call this 'self-eviction,'" she explains, and says while "many tenants think that a notice is enough to evict them, in California a landlord needs to get a court order to remove you from your home." So until a court has issued an order telling you to move? Don’t leave.

"In some cities and counties, a landlord can face not only criminal penalties if they forcibly remove you from your home without a court order, but also monetary penalties if the tenant files a lawsuit. The moment you leave, you lose many valuable protections and you may even end up with a judgment against you," says López.

What if I got denied for rent relief?

Heimerich of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency says it’s very rare for people to get denied for rent relief, happening in less than 1% of cases.

However, the Western Center on Law and Poverty's Madeline Howard says if you were denied and you believe you should qualify, you should call your local legal aid group with the denial from the state, and they can help you file an appeal.

Can I get help with my utilities?

If you’ve had a COVID-19 hardship and you earn less than 80% of your county’s area median income, you can also apply to have your utilities paid for.

What if I don't have a traditional lease agreement? Can I still apply for rent relief?

Yes, you can still apply for rent relief even if you have only an informal or oral agreement, according to Howard. You just need to indicate on the application the monthly rent you have agreed to pay, and the total amount of back rent you owe.

Howard emphasized that “the state agency does accept rental assistance applications from units that are sort of nontraditional housing, whether it's a converted garage, or some kind of housing in the back, an RV or whatever it is.”

I can't pay this month's rent. Can I get help with that?

Yes. If you are struggling to pay the rent due to a COVID-related hardship, you can get rent relief that will help you pay your future rent for up to three months. But remember: The deadline to apply is March 31.

A woman in a green sweater sits on a couch using a laptop.
For renters and property owners applying for rent relief, time is of the essence. (Liza Summer/Pexels)

Rent relief: What property owners should know

Where can I apply for rent relief?

You and your tenant can apply in the same place, at HousingIsKey.org.

If your property is in Santa Clara County, Alameda County or Sonoma County, you and your tenant also may be able to get assistance through a local rent relief program.

What do I need to do to file an eviction starting on Oct. 1, 2021?

“Beginning October 1, rental property owners who have not received rent from their tenants will be allowed to proceed with an eviction. However, it's not the same way in which evictions proceeded prior to the pandemic,” says Debra Carlton, executive vice president of state government affairs and compliance for the California Apartment Association.

Property owners can issue a three-day notice to “pay or quit,” but must notify the tenant that they have a right to apply for rental assistance. The law gives tenants 15 days to apply for rent relief and submit a COVID-hardship form.

If the tenant doesn’t apply for rent relief, the property owner must apply for it themselves. The court will not issue a summons if the owner of the property hasn’t applied for relief. However, the tenant still needs to fill out an application. If the owner has applied for relief and the tenant doesn't fill out their application within 20 days, or if they don't end up qualifying, then the owner can proceed with an eviction.

What if my tenant and I have applied for rent relief but the application hasn't been approved yet?

Experts advise that you hang tight and wait for your application to be processed.

If the tenant can prove that they are waiting on determination for their rent relief application, or waiting for funds to be distributed, they can use that as a defense in eviction court proceedings through March 31.

What if my tenant hasn't been paying but has refused to participate in applying for rent relief?

In this case, the rental property owner can proceed with an eviction.

Two houses, side by side, one with boarded-up windows.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's moratorium on evictions came after advocacy organizations and some state lawmakers made repeated calls to the governor to provide protection to renters when residents were told to shelter in place. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The recent law, AB 832, said property owners would receive 100% of the back rent. Does this mean I'm guaranteed to get 100% of my back rent?

If your tenant qualifies, in that they have been affected by COVID-19 and they make below 80% of the area median income, you will receive 100% of your back rent.

This story originally published on September 23, 2021, and includes reporting by KQED's Carly Severn and the Associated Press.

A previous version of this story said that an eviction could proceed if the state did not make a determination on a landlord's rent relief application after 20 days. This has been corrected to say that an eviction can proceed if, after a landlord applies for rent relief, the tenant doesn't also apply within 20 days.


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