District 9 Councilmember Curren Price Jr. hosted a livestream event on Thursday in collaboration with LA CityView to discuss renters’ rights and protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rights of California renters
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that banned evictions for California renters on Friday, March 27, protecting the rights of the tenants facing challenges brought on by the coronavirus.
In Los Angeles about 60 percent of residents are renters and in Price’s district and other parts of South Los Angeles, the number is closer to 80 percent.
“Going into this crisis, I think the council is very sensitive to making sure that we have programs and policies in place that help preserve housing; that don’t get rid of it but help preserve it,” Price said.
In addition to the moratorium placed on evictions, rent increases are also frozen during the crisis for rent stabilization ordinance (RSO) units and renters not capable of paying rent have around 12 months after the emergency to make up past due payments.
Although the stop of evictions applies to all renters, the rent increase suspension is only relevant to those living in a property that falls under the RSO, buildings built before October 1, 1978.
Rushmore Cervantes, general manager for the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) said during the live stream that RSO housing represents almost “80 percent of multifamily housing stock in the city.”
A resource Cervantes indicated to viewers looking to find out if they live in an RSO building was to text “RSO” to (855) 880-7368.
Furthering the effort to protect renters, property owners are also not able to Ellis their property, a law that allows landlords to withdraw their buildings from the market, evicting the tenants during this time.
“We want to make sure we create a stable community while we’re going through this collectively as a society to make sure that [residents] remain at home,” Cervantes said.
These protections will remain in effect until the end of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s stay-at-home order.
Tenants who cannot make full or partial rent payments are advised by Cervantes to “notify their property owner A-S-A-P” and visit the HCIDLA website at www.hcidla2.lacity.org to download a form that cautions the landlord in a formal way.
The rights of property owners
The diversity of landlords in Los Angeles ranges from mom and pop who only manage a handful of buildings and tenants, to major corporations owners. Most of the ordinances put into place as a result of COVID-19 cater to renters but there are efforts to assist property owners as well.
Cervantes recommends that landlords with loans contact their banks and see if they are eligible for temporary relief of payments.
“The federal government has offered six months forbearance of payments for property owners if they have loans that are backed or guaranteed by [relevant loans] and they can also request an additional six months thereafter,” Cervantes said.
Property owners can also seek out funding through small business administration (SBA) loans at the local and federal level.
“The important thing is to make sure that the lines of communication are open between the tenant and the landlord so that if the tenant is having some issues, some difficulties, the landlord is aware of it,” Price said. “There are protections that the tenant has but there’s some rights that the landlord also has.”
How to protect yourself as a renter
Cervantes said landlords cannot coerce proof of documentation that states why a renter cannot make a payment and they do not have the authority to make a tenant enter into a repayment agreement.
“Tenants have the ability to pay back the forbearance amount, within 12 months. It doesn’t specify on day one, it doesn’t specify over a 12-month period of time; It specifies within 12 months following the end of the pandemic,” Cervantes said.
After the 12 months, renters are responsible for past due rent payments whether they remain on the property or not. Price advises that tenants should “keep [their] records” that show financial difficulties due to the pandemic. He also said that immigration status has no relevance to who is covered by this.
Although courts are not taking cases regarding landlord-renter disputes outside of critical cases during the pandemic, it is possible after the stay-at-home order is lifted. Documents such as pay stubs or medical bills can be used as a defense.
If a renter finds themselves faced with an eviction notice, contact HCIDLA immediately in order to gain guidance and possible free legal services.
“It’s a scary notice and we want everyone to know, both landlords and tenants alike, you’re not allowed to do this right now,” Cervantes said.
Public Counsel attorney Silvana Naguib works with renters facing eviction and homelessness as a result of a lawsuit. Naguib said if a landlord is harassing a tenant to ask for communications through emails or text messages in order to have proof of the exchange.
Naguib advises that anyone who may be concerned that their landlord may lock a tenant out of their housing to be prepared by taking their “cell phone, keys and a recent utility bill that show that [they] live there” and call the police.
“You don’t have to respond to every email, you don’t have to respond to every text and you don’t have to respond to every call,” Naguib said. “We understand landlords are hurting for money as well.”