The return to normalcy means many welcome things, but also a few unwelcome ones like the end of California’s rent relief program. 

Still the news is not all dire, as even with the imminent closing of state coffers, there remain a variety of resources and protections available to tenants who are struggling to pay rent. In the short term, the most important thing tenants and landlords can do is submit their rent relief applications before the March 31 deadline. 

Tenants and landlords who qualify for rent relief can receive full payment of rent owed between April 1, 2020 and Mar 31, 2022 from the state. In order to be eligible for rent relief the household must be at or below 80 percent of the County of Los Angeles’ area median income (AMI) and self attest to an inability to pay rent due to COVID-related financial hardship. Landlords can also apply to have their units’ unpaid rent covered if the tenant households in question meet this financial benchmark. 

The qualifying AMI for Angelenos is an annual income at below $66,250 for a household of one, $75,700 for a household of two, $85,150 for a household of three, $94,600 for a household of four, $102,200 for a household of five and $109,750 for a household of six. Residents can visit housing.ca.gov to submit an application. 

As of March 15, a total of 2,734 Santa Monica household applications have been received by the state, 1,776 households have been served with an average assistance of $15,300, and a total of $27,226,817 funds have been paid. 

Residents who have already applied can check on their application status by calling 833 430 2122 and Santa Monica tenants and landlords who need assistance filling out their application can request help by emailing 311@santamonica.gov or calling 311. 

Applying for rent relief has the additional benefit of protecting tenants from impending eviction notices. While California’s eviction moratorium for nonpayment of residential rent ended Sept. 30, 2021, tenants cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent if their rent relief application is still pending. Additionally, a landlord cannot file an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent until they can prove that they applied for rental assistance and were rejected. This requirement ends when the application closes on March 31. 

After March 31 households cannot request more rental assistance from the state, however there are still temporary protections in place to prevent tenants from being evicted due to nonpayment of rent. For rent due from April 1 to May 31, tenants cannot be evicted if they attest to experiencing COVID-19 financial hardship. This protection extends for rent due through the end of 2022 for households at or below 80 percent AMI.  

Furthermore, all tenants are eligible to have a non-payment of rent eviction order overturned if they can show that with approved assistance and their own funds (when necessary) they can cover all rent owed. 

“The landlord, typically, in other times would be able to say ‘you know what it’s too late and I don’t want to deal with you any more,’ but in this case, under the statewide protection, you can show ‘look, it’s after the court issued the final order allowing you to evict me, but I, through the rental assistance and my own funds, somehow came up with all the money and therefore can ask the judge to undo that ruling,” said Eda Suh, Chief Deputy City Attorney, Public Rights Division.

The City of Santa Monica also has temporary eviction protections in place for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. This includes protections against evictions due to owner-occupancy, refusing non-emergency entries, nuisance, unauthorized occupants or pets, or use of the Ellis Act. These protections will remain in place until Jun 30, 2022. 

The City also offers resources for tenants facing the threat of eviction or eviction proceedings. 

Through a partnership with the Pepperdine University Straus Institute at the Caruso School of Law, the City offers free mediation services for landlords and tenants who are navigating payment of deferred rent. Additionally, tenants facing an eviction can access free legal representation through a partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. This program, called the Right to Counsel Initiative, is available to households at or below 80 percent AMI and residents can visit www.stayhousedla.org to learn more. 

Gaining legal representation is the number one thing tenants can do to stay housed when facing an eviction notice. 

According to research by global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross, 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 percent of the time, but avoid displacement 95 percent of the time when they are represented. 

Clara@smdp.com