It’s time for Los Angeles politicians to end the eviction moratoriums

One of the country’s longest-running eviction bans continues. Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved another extension of its eviction moratorium, citing rising cases of COVID-19, flu, and other respiratory illnesses. The motion approved by the board prohibits the eviction of lower-income delinquent tenants who claim a COVID-19-related financial hardship through January. The motion also seeks a study of the feasibility of extending the moratorium through the end of June 2023, which would be more than three years after the original May 31, 2020 expiration date for the ban.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our housing crisis, and experts fear an ‘eviction tsunami’ is on the horizon if we don’t take bold, swift action,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis on Twitter in December. “Our families need eviction protections for at least an additional 6 months.”

But landlords say Los Angeles County’s decision imperils their businesses in the name of an emergency that’s long since passed. “It’s been a severe financial strain that’s been put on the backs of what are mostly independent, small rental property owners that have had to deal with COVID in their own families,” said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).

AAGLA is suing the county over its eviction moratorium in federal court. In October, the association won a small reprieve when a U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction against enforcing parts of the eviction moratorium. The court found that the county’s ban on landlords serving tenants with eviction notices unless the landlord reasonably believed that a tenant’s self-certified claims of COVID financial hardship were false violated property owners’ due process rights.

In response, the county updated its moratorium to remove tenants’ ability to self-certify they’d suffered COVID-related hardship and more clearly define what counts as a COVID-related hardship.That policy was supposed to sunset at the end of 2022. But the board of supervisors says the extension through at least the end of January is necessary given the “respiratory illness trifecta” of COVID, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.

The city of Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium—which AAGLA is also challenging in court—is currently set to expire at the end of January as well.

The federal government, almost all states, and many local governments adopted moratoriums on removing tenants for nonpayment of rent early in 2020 due to the pandemic. Moratorium supporters argued that the policies were necessary to preserve unemployed tenants’ ability to abide by the lockdown orders that may have cost them a job and the ability to pay rent.

The lockdowns eventually ended, vaccines became universally available, and people went back to work. Nevertheless, eviction moratoriums persisted, now justified by the need to give more time for federally funded rental aid to reach tenants who’d accumulated huge rental debts while eviction bans were in place. Tenant advocates claimed that ending moratoriums before then would cause an “eviction tsunami.”

Federal rental assistance has now largely been spent, a federal eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court, and that eviction tsunami never quite materialized. A general, belated return to normality has seen almost all remaining state and local eviction bans end.

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But Los Angeles officials have proven more resistant to letting their moratorium lapse. Politically, an eviction ban is a hard policy to walk away from.

Warnings of an eviction “tsunami” during the pandemic were always overblown. Landlords benefitted little from going through the costs of an eviction and turning over a unit just to be stuck with a vacancy in a depressed rental market. But the combination of a hot post-pandemic rental market and some tenants’ accrual of massive unpayable rental debt during the near-three-year moratorium means some landlords have much more incentive to pursue evictions. So, Los Angeles officials warning that evictions will increase markedly if the county moratorium ends now aren’t exactly unfounded. However, continually extending it is just delaying an inevitable result while further unfairly financially imperiling landlords who are currently stuck with delinquent tenants.

Christian Britschgi is an associate editor at Reason magazine and, where he covers property rights, housing, transportation, and regulation.

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