Protection from eviction for renters is up in air at LA City Council

Despite another attempt by some councilmembers to keep Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium in place beyond Jan. 31, the L.A. City Council voted again on Tuesday, Jan. 10 to end the COVID-19 local state of emergency – a move which triggers the end of the eviction moratorium in about three weeks.

But Council President Paul Krekorian, in remarks to Councilmember Nithya Raman, who’s advocating for permanent tenant protections, pledged to schedule council votes on new renter protections if councilmembers bring them forward before the eviction moratorium expires.

The moratorium has protected tens of thousands of renters, if not more, from potentially becoming homeless during the pandemic, and tenant rights advocates fear that ending it would result in a new surge of people living on the streets.

“You have my complete commitment” to put the issue on the council agenda, Krekorian said. “There’s absolutely no reason that we couldn’t get that done before the end of this month,” he added.

The council voted in December to end the COVID-19 local state of emergency, first declared by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti in March 2020, and had set Jan. 31 as the date for the emergency order to sunset.

By ending the state of emergency, however, a policy that currently prohibits landlords from evicting tenants struggling to pay their rent due to a COVID-19 hardship will also end. The moratorium aimed to help those on the edge, including working-class families and individuals who lost their jobs or faced medical crises, during the pandemic.

Raman has been advocating for new tenant protections in lieu of the eviction moratorium. She has called for a universal “just cause” rule that would require landlords to cite specific reasons for evicting tenants in all rental units in L.A., not just units under rent control.

She’s also pushing for a rule that tenants can’t be evicted unless they owe more than one month of rent and for relocation assistance for individuals who vacate their rental units due to a rent increase of more than 10%.

At the same time, newly elected Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez and Eunisses Hernandez introduced motions at the Dec. 13 meeting, and again on Tuesday, to essentially make it so that the COVID-19 emergency order would not end until the council votes to adopt new, permanent tenant protections.

“Ending this emergency order before strong, permanent tenant protections are enacted will result in possibly the largest single spike of evictions Los Angeles has ever seen,” Soto-Martínez said Tuesday while discussing his proposed amendment.

With the end of the COVID-19 local state of emergency, the city’s eviction moratorium also automatically ends on Feb. 1.

That means landlords will again be able to evict tenants for unpaid rent. Tenants will have until Aug. 1 to pay off debts incurred between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. And they’ll have an additional year, until Feb. 1, 2024, to pay rent that they failed to pay between Oct. 1, 2021, and Feb. 1, 2023.

Landlords can also resume rent hikes on rent-controlled apartments – which make up three-quarters of apartment units in L.A. – starting in February 2024.

Tenant rights advocates are planning to rally outside City Hall on Wednesday morning, calling for additional renters’ protections.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Krekorian said the original item before the council was simply to determine whether COVID-19 conditions remain an emergency in L.A., and that it would be inappropriate to tie tenant protections – which he viewed as a separate issue – to the vote to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

“There is no reason to extend a COVID emergency. What we should do is focus on the tenant protections and … get that work done,” said Krekorian, adding that ordinances related to tenant protections could be introduced at Friday’s meeting, and that there would be time before the end of the month for the council to take final action on them.

With that, the council voted 7-6 in favor of the proposed amendment by Soto-Martínez and Hernandez to effectively extend the COVID-19 state of emergency. The proposal needed eight votes to pass.

The council then voted 13-0 to keep the COVID-19 emergency in place through Jan. 31.

The council also voted Tuesday to ban nighttime public access to areas around the Ballona Wetlands in an effort to protect environmentally sensitive areas where people have lit campfires and dumped waste, causing “significant damage,” according to an ordinance the council adopted.

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Ballona is the largest remaining wetland habitat in L.A. County, spanning 577 acres that contain several rare or endangered species, including the El Segundo blue butterfly, Belding’s savannah sparrow, Coastal California gnatcatcher, Least Bell’s vireo and Light-footed Ridgeway’s Rail, according to a motion filed by former Councilmember Mike Bonin in 2021. The wetlands also help young fish shelter from potential predators.

The ordinance prohibits people from entering parts of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve east and north of Playa del Rey and Westchester, west of Lincoln Boulevard and south of the city boundary along Ballona Creek.

City News Service contributed reporting.

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