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In an effort to assist local families who find themselves unable to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended the county’s eviction moratorium and strengthened other renter protections in a pair of motions passed Tuesday.

One motion extends the County’s eviction moratorium through Feb. 28, 2021. Authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the motion also strengthens renter protections by clarifying specific protections against harassment and retaliation; offers protection to tenants who fall behind on rent repayment plans; provides eviction protection for renters who reasonably deny entry to their landlord; and seeks to increase fines for property owners who violate the law, according to staff, who said current eviction protections are set to expire on Jan. 31.

“Despite state and local legislation designed to prevent eviction due to loss of income during the pandemic, some renters are being targeted for harassment. Today’s motion should bring an end to the sort of illegal shenanigans being used by unscrupulous landlords who want to thwart the law and fail to realize that in this moment of crisis we need to be our best selves and help the entire community through this difficult and uncertain period,” Kuehl said. “No one should be threatened with eviction or made homeless during this pandemic, and it’s important to both renters and landlords for us to clarify and strengthen these critical protections.”

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who co-authored the motion, said “Los Angeles County’s eviction moratorium has served as a safety net for our most vulnerable residents. To that end, it is in the County’s best interest to protect rent-burdened households from falling into homelessness as well as provide a lifeline to local small businesses who have been some of the hardest hit by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions taken through this motion, will support our residents’ health by supporting stay-at-home and physical distancing directives, reduce the risks of overcrowded living environments, and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

Solis added later in Tuesday’s meeting that there have been many stories about landlords’ illicit behaviors before she shared a specific tale about a tenant who was $15,000 behind on rent so they turned to a loan shark to cover the debt.

“The tenant took on the loan despite the high interest rate because they were terrified of losing their shelter. And, as you know, this is unconscionable and it happens unnecessarily — and it should never happen regardless of our situation and with this pandemic,” Solis said. “We’re unable to help this tenant under our current Rent Relief Program framework but our department can make changes to the program to help all those in need, particularly in cases and situations like this.”

And following the passage of the motion Tuesday, rental assistance will be directly given to tenants in cases where the landlord refuses to receive the assistance themselves, Solis said, “because we found that there are some landlords that refuse to participate or don’t want to submit an application even when their tenants have asked them to provide rental assistance for households that have used lines of credit or high cost loans to pay rent.”

“And clearly one of the many consequences of this pandemic has been just incredible strain on the backs of our L.A. County renters,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “Hundreds of thousands are struggling to pay their rent on time or even to pay their rent at all, and giving these tenants and families the help that they need to stay afloat has been all of our priorities throughout this crisis.”

Supervisor Holly Mitchell and other supervisors agreed before they eventually passed the two motions and thanked the respective supervisors for their hard work in bringing the important issues to the attention of the board.

Brennon@smdp.com