Eviction Protection Laws: Coronavirus and Exceptions

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On Monday, March 16, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order authorizing local governments to stop evictions for renters and homeowners. The executive order also requests banks and other financial institutions to halt foreclosures. The order further requests public and private utility providers to activate customer service protections for critical utilities, including electric, gas, water, internet, landline telephone, and cellphone service on a weekly basis. The executive order is in effect through May 31, 2020, is extended at a later point.

Clarification of Governor Newsom’s Order

The executive order is not a statewide moratorium on evictions. It is a boost to cities and counties that want to encourage or mandate individuals to stay in their homes. Cities and counties that want to institute a moratorium on evictions still must take actions to prevent landlords and banks from starting eviction procedures.

Governor Newsom’s order does not relieve a tenant from the obligation to pay rent nor does it restrict the landlord’s ability to recover rent that is due. A tenant who does not pay rent will have to make up the past-due rent later. Questions about interest on past-due rent have not been addressed at this time. It is uncertain if the California legislature will pass legislation on a statewide ban on evictions and foreclosures. The state legislative body is now closed until April 13, 2020, due to the pandemic.

Los Angeles, San Francisco Institute Moratoriums

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a moratorium on residential evictions in the City of Los Angeles. In order to qualify, a tenant must show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Circumstances include a loss of income due to a COVID-19 related workplace exposure, childcare expenses due to school closures, healthcare expenses due to being sick with COVID-19 or caring for a member of the tenant’s household who is sick with COVID-19, or reasonable expenses stemming from government-ordered emergency measures.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed instituted a moratorium on residential evictions related to COVID-19. San Francisco’s moratorium prevents a resident from being evicted due to a loss of income related to a business closure, loss of hours or wages, layoffs, or out-of-pocket medical expenses caused by the coronavirus. Mayor Breed issued the moratorium under the powers of the local emergency she declared on February 25, 2020. The eviction moratorium will last until Monday, April 13, 2020. Mayor Breed can extend the moratorium for another 30 days through an executive order. If the local emergency that Mayor Breed declared is rescinded, the moratorium will cease to be in effect.

Clarification of San Francisco’s Moratorium

A financial impact is considered to be related to the coronavirus if it is caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Breed’s proclamation, the San Francisco Health Officer’s declaration of local health emergency, or public health orders related to the coronavirus from local, state or federal authorities. For example, a lower-than-usual income for March 2020 for a San Francisco bartender would fall into this category because the bartender’s income would be a direct result of the Sunday, March 15, 2020, order by California Governor Gavin Newsom to close all bars and wineries in the state.

Mayor Breed’s order specifies that a tenant impacted by the coronavirus is required to notify her landlord that she cannot pay rent due to a coronavirus-related impact. Within one week of the notice, the tenant must provide documentation or other objective information to the landlord to show she could not pay rent. A tenant has up to six months after the emergency declaration to pay back rent.

San Jose Not Far Behind

On Friday, March 6, 2020, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo began publicly discussing a coronavirus-related moratorium on evictions. The city council would be the body to pass a measure. The measure would be in effect for 30 days, with the potential of an extension every month. In order to qualify, a renter would have to notify her landlord before or on the day the rent was due. The renter would also have to provide the city with documentation that he faced a substantial loss of income due to the coronavirus.

A landlord who did not comply with the moratorium would have to pay fees and face other penalties. City officials spoke of a potential 120-day period for a renter or a business to make up the unpaid rent. Liccardo indicated local landlords were happy with the proposed measure. He also indicated the city might offer financial assistance to smaller landlords. Hayward, Sacramento, Oakland and San Diego are among the other cities considering local moratoriums.

Illness Already Qualifies as Disability

A tenant who has developed serious medical concerns because of contracting the coronavirus is likely to already be protected against eviction. A tenant with a test that proves her to be a carrier of the coronavirus, but who has not experienced major medical concerns, would also be likely to be protected by state law. The state of California defines a disability as a condition that limits a major life activity. A worker with a medical condition who has been ordered to isolate and self-quarantine could not engage in major life activities.

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About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.