The Santa Monica and state eviction moratoriums are scheduled to expire on June 30, and while non-payment evictions may soon resume, there are many resources available to help tenants stay housed.
Assuming the moratorium does not get extended again — which remains a possibility — landlords can use failure to pay rent that is due from July 1 onwards as grounds for filing an eviction.
In Santa Monica, a city with over 32,000 rental units, this poses a daunting picture for a potential tidal wave of evictions.
The City attorney’s office, however, assures residents that Santa Monica has particularly strong tenants’ protections and offers several programs to support renters, including a recently launched legal assistance initiative in partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation.
Santa Monica was one of the first cities in California to issue an eviction moratorium when the pandemic began last March. This was quickly followed by the City of L.A. and the state.
Collectively these moratoriums were extended until January 2021 and then until June 30, 2021.
State law currently protects all residential tenants from eviction if they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 related lost income or increased expenses.
For rent due for September 2020 through June 2021, tenants must submit a financial impact declaration for each month and pay 25 percent of their rent to receive these protections. For rents that became due March to August 2020, although tenants must submit a financial impact declaration for each month, tenants are not required to pay 25% of their rent, to receive eviction protections under state law.
Santa Monica’s eviction protections extend even further. Under the City’s moratorium tenants are also protected from Ellis Act evictions, most nuisance evictions and evictions from unauthorized tenants moving into people’s homes.
Neither state nor City law cancels rent. Starting Aug. 1, landlords are allowed to pursue all back rent owed through small claims court.
In order to deter landlords from doing this, the state is agreeing to pay off 80 percent of people’s back rent from April 2020 through March 2021, if landlords agree to forgive the remaining 20 percent.
If local residents do find themselves facing an eviction order after June 30, it is essential they seek legal assistance in order to stay housed.
According to a 2019 research report by STOUT investment bank, 97 percent of Los Angeles County tenants are unrepresented in eviction cases, compared to just 12 percent of landlords. Unrepresented tenants in LA County get displaced 99% of the time, but if they get representation, they avoid displacement 95% of the time.
“That is an amazing reversal; those are like vaccination success numbers,” said Deputy City Attorney, Gary Rhoades. “If you have attorneys in your eviction cases you will be vaccinated from an eviction epidemic.”
To ensure all tenants in Santa Monica can afford legal representation, the City has launched a ‘Right to Counsel’ program, which provides free attorneys services from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
This initiative is available to those Santa Monica tenant households at 80% of the area median income (“AMI”) for Los Angeles County and facing eviction attempts by their landlord.
“The law can be complicated and it’s very difficult to defend yourself if you don’t understand your defenses, so representation is absolutely key,” Barbara Schultz, director of Housing Justice with LAFLA. “In a county and in a state with incredibly high numbers of unhoused people, it’s incredibly important to keep people in their home.”
The Right to Counsel program is accessible at https://www.stayhousedla.org/, which provides many resources on tenants’ rights in L.A. County.