Rent: Aid is available for tenants who have been unable to pay their rent. Courtesy image

With the state’s eviction moratorium ending today, city, state and county officials are working overtime to make sure renters and landlords understand all the services available to them.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce held a meeting with Senator Ben Allen and attorneys Rebecca Herman and Bron D’Angelo of Pettit Kohn to discuss the next steps for tenants and landlords in need of assistance.

“Just because the eviction moratorium ends [Sept. 30] doesn’t mean that tenants can be automatically evicted for the rent that they’ve missed since the pandemic began,” Allen said. “If a tenant owes any rent that was due between March 1 and Aug. 31, of 2020 last year. They can never be evicted for this rent, so long as they provide their landlord with a declaration of COVID-19 financial distress. For rent due after September 1 of 2020, tenants are legally obligated to pay 25% of their total rent owed by tomorrow. So, if they have not done that they’re in trouble.”

Once tenants have paid the 25% of their rent by tomorrow they can never be evicted for the remaining rent, as long as they have also provided their landlord with a declaration of COVID-19 financial distress. While tenants cannot be evicted for this rent, they are still legally obligated to pay the rent, as soon as they are financially able to.

This is in large part due to the state’s rental assistance program that modified the eviction procedure and lasts through March 31 of next year.

While the eviction moratorium has been in place, landlords have had to provide a 15-day notification for missed rent and this will still be the case for any rent that was due before Sept. 30. However, for rent that comes due after Oct. 1 landlords will now once again be able to provide tenants who have missed rent with a traditional three-day pay or quit notice.

Before a tenant can be evicted, they have to be given the option to apply for benefits.

“Now the state’s rental assistance program requires the tenant’s participation,” Allen said. “The tenant then has 15 days to complete their portion of the application; if they fail to do so, they may be subject to eviction. But once the tenant submits their portion, they then can’t be evicted unless the application is denied.”

Once aid is approved and received by tenants, they have 15 days to repay their landlord.

Commercial tenants also have protections.

“For rent due for commercial tenants between March, 18 2020 and Sept. 30 2020 small businesses that provide proper notice of the documentation, cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent,” Herman said. “Between Oct. 1 2020 and March 31 2020 eligible commercial tenants must pay 50% of the rent and can defer the other 50% and there is no payment plan in place for when that 50% needs to be paid.”

D’Angelo recommends commercial tenants work with landlords and brokers to come to an agreement if they are in trouble.

“We are facing an economic tsunami that we’ve never had to deal with before and hopefully never have to deal with again. So when you’re dealing with commercial businesses, you typically have the tripod of what’s going on, you’ve got the tenants, you’ve got the landlords, and then you’ve got the mortgage broker who owns the value of the property,” D’Angelo said. “Now, typically in normal times, there’s more power in the side of the landlords and the mortgage brokers because there’s going to be an influx of business if somebody is just late on their mortgage, they can get evicted, and this is LA, they’re probably going to fill that space pretty quickly. But according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, earlier this year, Los Angeles County lost over 7,500 small businesses. That’s a huge number. Any way you look at it,and when you lose that amount of businesses, you’re not going to have the power to just replace a tenant quickly. So it’s more beholden to those individuals who have the properties and who are running more just to work with their tenants in order to keep those pre-existing relationships going for the benefit of everyone.”

While landlords could pursue legal action if tenants fail to pay or apply for aid, D’Angelo cautioned that the courts could be backed up.

“And that does bring up a point you know that it is another disincentive for people to be kicking out residential renters. Again, the legal procedure is going to take a lot longer than it used to,” D’Angelo said. “And do you really want somebody sitting in your property for months and months and months before you can even get a legal hearing, as opposed to working that out.”

Even with delays, he said tenants who do not help themselves will likely be evicted, as it is within the right of the landlords.

“When we say massive evictions, I don’t want to make it sound like there’s a tsunami coming in,” D’Angelo said. “I think it could just be an increase in the rate of evictions that we wouldn’t normally see beforehand because you’re getting an incentive from a landowner to try and move their rents up. With the clients I have that are our residential property owners, they have been taking a hit in the pandemic and if once that eviction moratorium is lifted their tenants are still slow on payments they haven’t done the work to try and get the assistance, and they’re still not able to cover their mortgages. They are going to get rid of those individuals.”

If you need assistance to see if you’re eligible, help you fill out an application, upload required paperwork or schedule an appointment with an organization near you call 833-687-0967.

For even more information about aid and tenant protections, visit https://www.santamonica.gov/coronavirus-eviction-moratorium

daniel@smdp.com