What will LA City Council do about end of renter protections on Feb. 1?

Jesica Santiago’s dad had lost his job, and the family learned that the rent for their Echo Park apartment was increasing about $1,000 per month. Her family might have been left homeless had it not been for the city of Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium, which has allowed her family to stay put.

In the meantime, landlord Ky Trang Ho estimates she’s lost more than $70,000 in unpaid rent, including from tenants she said posted images or stories on social media of themselves on vacations or purchasing a car or other expensive items while claiming they couldn’t afford to pay rent.

While Santiago and fellow renters worry that the eviction moratorium ends on Feb. 1 and puts tenants at risk of becoming homeless, Ho and other landlords say it’s time to scrap a policy that placed an unfair burden on them for nearly three years.

That tension has been playing out as tenant rights groups ramp up calls for the city to extend the eviction moratorium or adopt new, permanent protections for renters before the moratorium sunsets.

With hundreds of thousands of renters in the city of L.A., and landlords contemplating taking their business elsewhere if they feel the city isn’t friendly toward them, the City Council will be wrestling with high stake decisions in the coming days.

‘COVID is not over’

Twice now, the council has voted to end the city’s COVID-19 state of emergency after Jan. 31, a move that will, in turn, trigger the end of L.A.’s eviction moratorium.

That means landlords will again be able to evict tenants for unpaid rent. Tenants who owe back rent will have a grace period of six to 12 months to repay those debts.

But tenant rights advocates say the pandemic isn’t over and that not all who lost their jobs or suffered other hardships during this once-in-a-century health crisis have fully recovered. Lifting the eviction moratorium now, or before new tenant protections are adopted, would be premature, they say.

“Politicians want to pretend we’ve recovered. They like to pretend COVID is over. COVID is not over,” said Shanti Singh, a spokesperson for the statewide advocacy group Tenants Together. “A lot of working families are not ready to move on, and it’s through no fault of their own.”

Singh also said that communities of color and low-income renters will be disproportionately impacted if the eviction moratorium goes away without other tenant protections in place.

“Not only were those people at a disadvantage before COVID and during, but if you look at the job recovery, that’s really lopsided, too. A lot of people just haven’t recovered their income and a lot of people have incurred debt,” she said.

Santiago, whose family owes about $10,000 in back rent, doesn’t know where the money will come from to make the repayments to their landlord.

“Do we have the money? No,” she said. “Housing is a human right. People need help – tenants and people that are out in the streets.”

‘Forced private welfare’

But property owners say it shouldn’t fall on them to make up for the fact that some people experienced hardships during the pandemic. Landlords, too, have suffered setbacks, said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

“Just because people own rental properties, they’re not immune to COVID. Some of these property owners also got sick, they also lost jobs and also lost rent,” Yukelson said.

Contrary to popular belief that all landlords are wealthy, Yukelson said, slightly more than 80% of the roughly 10,000 members in his association are mom-and-pop landlords who own five or fewer rental units. Many are retirees, and some have had to liquidate their retirement savings or are facing foreclosures, he said.

He shared anecdotes of landlords who have been hurt by the eviction moratorium, including one woman who had to work a second job to pay the mortgage on her rental property because for more than two years she did not get rent from her tenant.

Yukelson suspects property owners statewide have lost several billion dollars in rental income due to eviction moratoriums and called such moratoriums “forced private welfare on the backs of independent property owners.”

Councilmembers take a position

In recent weeks, some city councilmembers have joined forces with tenant rights groups to advocate for extending the eviction moratorium or to adopt permanent tenant protections.

Nithya Raman, who chairs the city council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, is among those calling for stronger renter protections.

She’s proposed a universal “just-cause” rule that would prohibit landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants in any  rental unit in L.A., not just the units that are under rent control.

The councilmember also is pushing for a rule that tenants could not be evicted unless they owed more than one month of rent, and for relocation assistance for those who decide to move because of a rent increase of more than 10%.

“These are not radical, radical changes to our system right now,” Raman said during a tenant rights rally outside City Hall last week. “This is common sense tenant protection. This is common sense eviction protection. … This is the right thing to do for this moment.”

These proposals will be discussed at the council’s Wednesday, Jan. 18, Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting.

Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martínez, who assumed office in December, and Councilmember Heather Hutt, also spoke during last week’s rally in favor of more tenant protections.

Hernandez said the council must act immediately “because thousands are right now are on the brink” of being evicted.

She and Soto-Martínez have twice attempted – unsuccessfully – to convince the council to extend the eviction moratorium until at least new tenant protections are adopted. But they were one vote shy of what they needed during their second attempt last week.

Now their focus is on ensuring new tenant protections are in place before the moratorium lifts at the end of this month.

 

City of Los Angeles District 3 councilmember Bob Blumenfield listens to a public comment during a city council meeting at City Hall in Los Angeles on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

City of Los Angeles District 10 councilmember Heather Hutt listens to a public comment during a city council meeting at City Hall in Los Angeles on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

City of Los Angeles District 4 councilmember Nithya Raman listens to a public comment during a city council meeting at City Hall in Los Angeles on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

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Eviction filings expected to increase

Tony Carfello, a member of Los Angeles Tenants Union, said that while the proposed tenant protections would be better than nothing, the current eviction moratorium would provide stronger protection.

“It’s sort of cold comfort for us,” Carfello said of the proposed tenant protections. “It’s something we understand is important. It’s something we would want, but it’s not something we would view as equivalent to losing the current protection.”

Additionally, assistance to help pay off debts would be better than relocation assistance, where tenants are still forced to move, he said.

Tenant rights advocates say they fully expect the number of eviction filings or harassment by landlords to increase, assuming the eviction moratorium is lifted. That doesn’t include the number of “self-evictions,” they say – instances in which a tenant is harassed so much by a landlord that they move rather than be harassed.

Kyle Nelson, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA/VA Center of Excellence on Veteran Resilience and Recovery, wrote about eviction defenses for his dissertation and has continued tracking the number of eviction filings processed through the L.A. County court system.

In 2022, Nelson, who works with the Keep LA Housed coalition, made up of tenants and tenant rights advocates, said 23,867 eviction filings had been filed countywide through September – almost double the previous year’s number. He believes the filings will increase if the eviction moratorium is lifted and there are no other protections to replace it.

“It’s going to be terrible for tenants,” Nelson said. “You have all of these evictions that are going to proceed if the council does nothing.”

For their part, landlords say policies they feel are too restrictive will discourage property owners from renting out units, which would only exacerbate L.A.’s housing crisis.

Ho, the landlord who’s owed more than $70,000 in back rent, has moved out of L.A. and intends to sell off her rental properties in Southern California. She plans to remain in the rental housing business – but only in places she considers more “landlord friendly.”

“I just don’t trust the city of Los Angeles anymore,” said Ho, who became a landlord in L.A. in 2012. “They have no fairness in how they treat landlords.”

Ho said she’s heard from a number of landlords who want out of the business and are allowing units to remain vacant rather than risk being stuck with a bad tenant they can’t kick out.

“It’s going to hurt (tenants) in the long run because we’re going to have fewer and fewer rentals on the market,” she said.

What’s next for City Council?

The new tenant protections that Raman and others have proposed are expected to be discussed by the City Council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee on Wednesday.

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who sits on the committee, voted against the motion introduced last week to scrap Jan. 31 as the date to end the city’s COVID-19 state of emergency. By making Jan. 31 the end date for the declared state of emergency, the council in effect also set an end date to the eviction moratorium.

Jake Flynn, Blumenfield’s spokesperson, said in an email that the councilmember supports tenant protections overall and helped author legislation the council passed over the last few years to provide more protections to renters.

“He was never against these sorts of protections, but the fact is that they needed to be untangled from an emergency order that was no longer applicable – he didn’t think they could even legally be connected in the manner that had been proposed,” Flynn wrote.

Blumenfield, Flynn said, plans to help “shape and support new tenant protections that will be discussed in committee on Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, Councilmember John Lee, also on the housing and homelessness committee, and who voted to set Jan. 31 as the end date of the city’s COVID-19 state of emergency, said he supports tenant protections but wants to ensure there aren’t unintended consequences for landlords.

Lee said he supported the eviction moratorium during the early stages of the pandemic, but that it’s time to move on after nearly three years. The moratorium, he said, “was very detrimental on (landlords’) ability to control their homes and their finances.”

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The councilmember said he’d support “balanced protection” that takes into account the needs of both tenants and landlords. For example, he said he would support expanding just-cause protections, but only to tenants who have lived in their place for more than a year. This way, landlords who wish to reclaim their property after a year could do so without running up against restrictions.

“I just don’t want to do anything that discourages investment toward our housing stock. Mom-and-pop landlords … supply a lot of affordable housing throughout our city,” Lee said. “I don’t want them to see a city that’s not welcoming to them.”

If the package of proposed tenant protections passes out of committee, the proposals could come before the full council for a vote on Friday.

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