Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

A group of property owners, landlords and management companies have filed a lawsuit against the state, Los Angeles County and several cities over anti-eviction laws enacted during the pandemic.

The City of Santa Monica is among the defendants as are West Hollywood, Glendale, Burbank and Beverly Hills. In total, the plaintiffs are asking for the laws to be revoked and $2.5 million in damages.

According to the lawsuit, the efforts to ban evictions during the pandemic is an unlawful restriction on private property rights.

“While purportedly intending to provide relief to tenants, from the perspective of the lessors and property owners, the ordinances and other enactments are illegal, imbalanced, and significantly (and needlessly) infringe on their Constitutional rights,” said the suit.

The suit alleges that the moratoriums on evictions violate rights to due process, equal protection and effectively commandeered the Plaintiff’s property without compensation.

“In effect, Plaintiffs, as owners, landlords and/or lessors of residential apartment houses and complexes are the only sector of business, industry, profession or commerce which has been ordered, by way of illegal and imbalanced governmental action, to subsidize economic issues and absorb economic burdens created by the Pandemic that

should be rightfully be borne by society and the public at large,” said the complaint.

As part of their argument, the property owners claim cities have not made similar requirements of other industries. They say grocery stores have not been required to extend credit to customers, lawyers are not required to offer free services and gas stations are not required to provide free fuel in exchange for payment at a later date.

The suit contends that a significant percentage of tenants will not be able to pay back the lost rent permanently denying owners the revenue they need to maintain the property and property owners may incur significant collection costs down the line.

“As to Plaintiffs who have mortgages, many have had to move money from other

investments to service the mortgages as there has been no “mortgage moratorium”

corresponding to the eviction moratorium,” said the suit.

Santa Monica’s rules, like those of the other Defendants, places a temporary moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent and temporarily suspends the discontinuation or shut off of water service for residents and businesses in the City for non-payment of water and sewer bills, the imposition of late payment penalties or fees for delinquent water and/or sewer bills and the imposition of late payment penalties or fees for parking violations.

Under the rules, the rent due is not waived, just deferred. Rent must be repaid within 12 months after the end of the moratorium or face eviction and landlords cannot charge interest on unpaid rent. The current law expires at the end of September.

Interim City Attorney George Cardona said the city has acted legally.

“We are reviewing the complaint, but we believe the eviction moratorium imposed by the City of Santa Monica complies with all applicable laws and is an important safety net during the pandemic,” he said.

editor@smdp.com