Since Santa Monica issued its first eviction moratorium on March 14, tenants and landlords have been grappling with a constantly shifting legislative landscape of City, state and federal rental regulations. On Oct. 14, the City partnered with Bet Tzedek and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles to present on the current status of tenant protections.
“If you can’t pay the rent because of COVID one of the most important things to know is you are not alone. Many tenants are not able to pay their rent right now because of COVID,” said Romy Ganschow, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “Even if you’ve already told your landlord that you can’t pay the rent because of COVID, there is a new state law that will require you to take some additional steps to make sure that you won’t be evicted for not paying the rent.”
If residents receive a notice asking for rent due from March 2020 through Aug. 2020 they should provide their landlord a declaration of COVID related financial distress to protect themselves from eviction proceedings. For rent due from Sept. 2020 through Jan. 2021 tenants must provide a declaration of COVID related financial distress and also pay 25% of rent due.
The declaration requires tenants state that they can’t pay rent for one of the following reasons due to COVID: loss of income, increase in expenses, childcare or financial responsibilities, or other financial impacts of COVID. Only one reason needs to apply and tenants do not need to tell their landlord which reason impacts them.
“If the restaurant you used to work at closed because of COVID that counts as loss of income related to COVID-19. Or, if you had to stop working because your kids were sent home from school that’s also a loss of income due to COVID-19. Then if you’re able to keep working but now you have to pay more for childcare expenses because schools are closed, that causes increased expenses due to COVID-19,” said Hana Kommel, attorney at Bet Tzedek.
This declaration does not require any supporting documents but it must be signed under oath. The only exception is if a landlord has evidence that a tenant was high income prior to the pandemic, such as a rental application stating an annual income of $150,000. In this case a landlord could ask for proof of financial distress due to COVID.
In addition to these statewide protections the City’s emergency orders provide limits on eviction. Through Dec. 31, landlords in Santa Monica cannot pursue evictions for unauthorized occupants, pets, failure to provide access (unless urgent repairs needed), nuisance, or owner move-in.
“One of the most important things that we want you to take away from this meeting tonight is that we are all here to help you. There are several laws that protect tenants in Santa Monica. Tenants who have lawyers are more than 70% more likely to avoid eviction than those who don’t,” said Eda Suh, Chief Deputy City Attorney in the City’s Public Rights Division.
Bet Tzedek and LAFLA provide legal help to a combined 140,000 low-income residents in L.A. County each year. Both organizations offer free legal advice to tenants who have been issued an unlawful detainer or eviction notice. The City Attorney’s Public Rights Division answers questions and takes complaints related to tenant harassment, the eviction moratorium, and code enforcement.