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Housing & Homelessness

To protect renters from coronavirus fallout, L.A. and S.F. are pressing for eviction bans

Alexandria Casserly
Alexandria Casserly crosses the street while looking for toilet paper in downtown Los Angeles. In preparation for the economic impact of the coronavirus, members of L.A. City Council are proposing protections for renters who might find themselves infected and out of work.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

With cases of the novel coronavirus multiplying rapidly and the financial implications of the outbreak becoming increasingly clear for low-income workers, the city of Los Angeles will consider a temporary ban on evictions next week amid calls for a similar moratorium that would apply across California.

Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmen Mike Bonin and Herb Wesson plan to introduce a measure that would prevent renters from being evicted throughout the city, as well as provide relief for homeowners, small businesses and landlords.

The details have yet to be determined, though councilmembers said the moratorium could be limited to those directly affected by the virus, including those who have been infected or who have lost work because the outbreak forced a business to close. Or it could be a more general citywide ban.

“We’re trying to take care of people who are sitting in their house right now and wondering what the hell they’re going to do,” Wesson said.

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The plan also could include measures to pause utility shutoffs, urge banks to suspend mortgage payments, and provide direct financial assistance to renters and small businesses, including landlords.

The councilmembers said they expect to unveil their plan in time for it to be voted on by the full City Council at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday. Depending on the details, it might take additional time to take effect.

Bonin said the city needed to act because he expects the virus to continue to spread. The businesses and schools that are likely to close as a result will affect Angelenos beyond those who contract the virus — from parents who have to take off work for childcare to hourly and gig economy workers with limited sources of income and benefits.

“The ripple effects of this are easy to see and they’re going to be extreme,” Bonin said. “It’s the potential for a social and economic Armageddon.”

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A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said the mayor strongly supports the proposed housing measure and is working with the council to pass it as quickly as possible.

Also Thursday, two Democratic state lawmakers from San Francisco — Assemblyman Phil Ting and Sen. Scott Wiener — urged the Legislature to pass temporary eviction and foreclosure bans that would apply statewide. Ting said he will introduce legislation next week. It would need a supermajority vote in both houses of the Legislature to take effect immediately.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has not weighed in on whether he’d support any relief for renters or homeowners.

Landlord groups in Southern California had different reactions to the plan from Martinez, Bonin and Wesson.

Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, blasted it, saying the city should focus on the health and safety of its residents. He called their idea, “yet another horrible regulation that would unleash an undeserved and excessive amount of punishment on unsuspecting” landlords.

“I can assure you that when good renters are faced with a temporary crisis due to a reduction of work hours, temporary job loss or health issues, rental property owners would rather work things out on their own,” he said. “We are not in the eviction business, and evictions are purely a last and very costly resort.”

Yukelson also doubted that the city would be able to negotiate with banks to hold off mortgage payments.

By contrast, Fred Sutton, a vice president with the California Apartment Assn., a group that represents landlords, said he understood the motivation behind an eviction moratorium and urged the council to pair any benefits for renters with similar measures that would allow landlords to pay their bills.

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“This virus is affecting everybody,” Sutton said. “Everybody is going to need relief where appropriate.”

Sutton said his group preferred a plan that would go beyond L.A., so that landlords wouldn’t have to deal with different rules in different cities.

Some Bay Area cities are already moving ahead with eviction bans due to the coronavirus.

A spokesman for Mayor London Breed said that under San Francisco’s emergency provisions, the mayor, by the end of the week, plans to implement an eviction moratorium for those sickened by the virus, those who have lost income, and those who have had to miss work to care for children because of school closures.

The San Jose City Council is expected to give final approval Tuesday to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s plan for a moratorium for those facing a substantial loss of income because of the coronavirus.

Liccardo, the first large-city mayor in California to call for a temporary eviction ban, said he worked to create a measure that would protect renters without unduly burdening landlords. Tenants would still owe rent and could be subject to late fees, but they wouldn’t face eviction over nonpayment while the moratorium was in effect.

The mayor said he is worried about the additional pressures the outbreak — for now, is worse in the Bay Area than in Los Angeles — is putting on low-income renters amid an already crippling affordable housing and homelessness crisis.

“We’re going to get through this if we pull together,” Liccardo said. “It means everyone is going to take some of the pain. What we need to do most critically is to ensure that our most vulnerable community members are not bearing the greatest brunt of harm.”


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