Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

The Santa Monica Rent Control Board is supporting a state bill that would protect renters across the state from eviction as they get back on their feet after the coronavirus pandemic.

The board voted Thursday to support the bill, which would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants unable to pay back rent during the pandemic and give renters 15 months to repay any back rent, protecting their credit during that period.

The bill would also allow landlords to either make a written repayment plan with a tenant or pursue a civil claim to obtain unpaid rent, although they must account for any government assistance they have received in calculating back rent.

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill, said in a statement that more than half of renters and 80% of low-income renters in California were considered rent-burdened before the pandemic.

With one-quarter of the state’s workforce now unemployed, 33% of renters reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay rent in June, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. That proportion is likely to increase as households deplete their savings and federal relief programs end, according to a press release from Chiu’s office.

Under current state policy, renters would need to repay all back rent when emergency orders are lifted, although some cities, including Santa Monica, will allow renters one year to repay back rent without facing eviction.

“California simply cannot afford a wave of mass evictions,” Chiu said in a press release. “Doing nothing means millions could potentially be forced into homelessness. We are stepping in to keep tenants in their homes while allowing landlords to collect past due rent in a reasonable way.”

Several other bills to protect renters impacted by coronavirus are making their way through the state legislature.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) has introduced A.B. 828, which would allow tenants to seek a court-ordered settlement of unpaid rent to avoid eviction.

Senator Anna Caballero has introduced S.B. 1410 in the state senate to provide financial assistance to tenants to cover a portion of unpaid rent.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said earlier this year she was working on a bill to provide landlords with a tax credit to cover unpaid rent and protect renters from eviction, but her office has not shared further details.

At its Thursday meeting, the Rent Control Board elected to impose a $32 cap on rent increases for rent-controlled tenants who pay more than $2,250 in rent. All other rent-controlled tenants will be subject to a maximum rent increase of 1.4%.

Board chair Nicole Phillis said she voted to impose a cap because many renters who might have been able to afford rents above $2,250 are facing unemployment, salary cuts and furloughs, and might be priced out of receiving federal relief.

“People who may have initially been able to afford those rents are on a razor’s edge, and I think it’s particularly timely right now to impose a cap, even though our rent increase is relatively modest,” she said.

The proposed rent adjustment, which will go into effect Sept. 1, is slightly less than last year’s 2% increase and $44 cap. The percentage increase the board approves each year is determined by a formula in the city charter, but the board may also choose to set a dollar increase cap based on a separate formula.

Phillis asked rent control staff last month to explore the possibility of freezing rents because of the pandemic. Staff said Thursday that the board does not have the power to do so.