A patchwork of local ordinances designed to block evictions during the coronavirus pandemic has been completely wiped out this month, replaced with a new state law that shakes up what tenants behind on rent must do to stay housed.
On Aug. 31, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 3088, a statewide eviction moratorium that supersedes similar renter protections passed by Santa Clara County and local cities, including Mountain View. The bill prevents landlords from evicting residential tenants who have unpaid rent due to COVID-19, but only if the tenants follow specific rules laid out in the new law.
The bill was largely seen as a compromise between landlord and tenant groups across California, and won the blessing of the California Apartment Association. It took effect immediately, just as courts across the state were allowed to resume eviction proceedings.
City and county leaders have been scrambling to get the word out that local eviction moratoriums, including extensions passed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the Mountain View City Council just six days prior to the bill's signing, are now outdated and mostly irrelevant.
The critical differences have to do with noticing and repayment. Under the old rules in Mountain View, tenants had an obligation to notify their landlord that they were suffering a financial hardship due to COVID-19 within seven days of not paying rent, and to provide documentation proving that hardship within 14 days.
Under the new state rules, it's up to the landlord to get the ball rolling. Once a landlord serves an eviction notice, tenants have 15 days to provide a declaration that they have unpaid rent due to financial hardship. Households making up to 130% of the area's median income -- or $184,080 for a family of four -- don't have to provide any proof at that time, but families making more than that may be asked to provide documentation.
AB 3088 may have the unfortunate side effect of more eviction notices and stoking fear in the community. Susyn Almond, a member of Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee, said at the committee's Sept. 21 meeting that she heard anecdotally that landlords are handing out more eviction notices this month.
Anky van Deursen, who manages the city's rent control program, said it's likely that the new state law means tenants will start receiving eviction notices on a monthly basis, which has the potential to frighten tenants who don't know the new rules.
"It is scary for them to receive those termination notices now, all of the sudden, when they think they are protected. And they still are," van Deursen said.
City staff said they have received more eviction notices this month compared to prior months, but that the number remains much lower than pre-moratorium numbers.
The state law also upends the entire repayment structure set forth by Santa Clara County and Mountain View, which both required tenants to pay back rent within 12 months of the moratorium expiring. Under those rules, at least half the unpaid rent was due six months after the moratorium expired.
Under AB 3088, tenants must pay all rent that was due between March 4 and Aug. 31 by March 1, 2021. Unpaid rent due between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31 next year will fall under a different set of rules: tenants are required to pay back at least 25% of that rent by Jan. 31. Landlords can sue tenants for any remaining unpaid rent in small claims court.
Though the bill prevents evictions through March 31, it managed to win enthusiastic praise from the California Apartment Association (CAA). The landlord group had been staunchly opposed to a previous iteration of the bill, AB 1436, which it argues would have been tantamount to a government-sanctioned rent strike.
""We applaud the Legislature and governor for advancing legislation with protections for tenants truly harmed by COVID, while ensuring that owners can evict nuisance tenants and residents who can afford to pay rent but choose to game the system instead," said CAA CEO Tom Bannon following the bill's signing.
While Santa Clara County and Mountain View's eviction protections for residential tenants are deemed to have expired on Aug. 31, the county's eviction moratorium for commercial tenants is still in effect through the end of the month. Small business tenants have up to six months after Sept. 30 to pay at least half of the past-due rent, and up to one year to pay off all past rent.