COVID Rent Relief: What Renters and Owners Need to Know as California's Eviction Moratorium Ends

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A person in a gray sweater sits cross-legged on hardwood floors, using a laptop computer
If you're going to be impacted by the end of California's eviction moratorium, here's what to know about applying for rent relief. (Andrew Neel/Pexels)

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

This means that starting October 1, property owners in many places in California can 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.

“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,” said Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

Heimerich says the agency understands that between 800,000 and 1.5 million households in the state were financially burdened by the coronavirus pandemic, and lost income because their hours were reduced or they got sick, were laid off or had extra care responsibilities.

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The state has been slow to distribute rent relief, but Heimerich says the process is speeding up.

Advocates advise people not only to apply for rent relief, but also to seek legal aid if they’re facing eviction. However, they warn 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.

Rent relief: What renters should know

How do I know if 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 can also be eligible for both.

When you apply through the state's COVID rent relief portal, you'll then be directed to the right place to apply depending on your location, whether it's state assistance or local assistance. You can also use this state map to see if 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.

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

Several cities and counties across the state have their own rent-related eviction moratoriums that  will stay in place after the one from the state expires. 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 conversions, breach of contract, capital improvements and demolition. But evictions in San Francisco can move forward for non-payment of rent, health or safety issues, or if the owner decides to remove the property from the rental market.

I haven’t been able to pay full rent. What do I do now?

If you have paid at least 25% of the back rent you’ve accrued since September 2020, you can apply to have the rest of your back rent covered through the state’s rent relief program. To get rent relief, the tenant and the owner both need to fill out some paperwork.

If you haven’t paid at least 25% of your back rent, you need to pay it by Sept. 30.

Although you are protected from eviction if you apply for rent relief, the unpaid rent is not cancelled. Starting Nov. 1, the property owner could try to get any rent that is still unpaid in small claims court.

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

No. Your property owner may issue you an eviction notice but lawmakers say you will not be evicted if you have proof that you’re waiting for determination on your application, or if you’re still waiting for the money to be distributed.

If you are denied, an eviction can move forward. But if you believe you were denied relief improperly, you can appeal.

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

Yes. There is no hard and fast deadline for applying for rent relief. The program will be open until funds run out, so you should 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. Advocates recommend being patient and contacting the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center at (833) 430-2122.

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

Why is it taking so long to distribute rent relief?

The system has been slow to get up and running. However, in recent months, Heimerich of the Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency has hired more staff to go through the applications and process payments more quickly.

“Our goal is from the time a completed application is submitted to the time a check goes out, to have that be 30 days or less,” he said.

Heimerich also said that applications are much less complicated than they once were, and should take applicants from between 30 minutes to an hour.

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 Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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)?

If you get an eviction notice and you have applied for rent relief, you cannot legally be evicted until a final decision is made on your rent relief application, and only if that decision is that you do not qualify.

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 you to look up community organizations and non-profit 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 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 haven't been paying my 25% each month?

You have to pay the 25% in a lump sum by Sept. 30 to avoid an eviction.

What about the rest of the 75%?

You should apply for state or local rent relief to cover it. If your application is rejected and you don’t ultimately pay the rent, it turns into consumer debt and your property owner can take you to small claims court to recover it.

Tenants who may be eligible for rent relief can be protected from evictions for a while longer. How does that work?

Until March 2022, you cannot be evicted if you show that you’ve applied for rent relief.

If you file for rent relief during this time, you can still be protected from eviction.

If a case gets brought against you while you are waiting for determination as to whether or not you qualify for rent relief, you can use that as a defense to stop the proceedings.

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, and happens in less than 1% of cases.

However, 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 October'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. After those three months, you can apply again to get help for another period of up to three months, if you still expect to have your COVID hardship.

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 may also 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

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.

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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.