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Opinion

Editorial: Hey, Gov. Newsom, give California renters a real eviction moratorium

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Ian Jameson, left, of El Monte organized a gathering of tenant rights activists Sunday at El Monte City Hall to demand a ban on all evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Los Angeles Times)

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide moratorium on evictions last week, there was a collective sigh of relief from renters across the state. At a time when unemployment has skyrocketed and incomes have plummeted because of the COVID-19 closures, tenants could rest assured that they would be able to keep a roof over their heads.

Or so they thought.

It turns out that Newsom’s executive order isn’t really a moratorium on evictions. It’s a delay on evictions. Landlords can still initiate evictions if tenants cannot make the rent this month or next, and tenants can be ousted from their homes after May 31.

Far too many people live paycheck to paycheck in California and can’t make the rent if their income drops, even if it’s just for a few weeks. The economic rescue package Congress approved last week includes cash payments of $1,200 or more for most American households and much higher benefits for the unemployed, but the money hasn’t arrived yet and the April rent is due.

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How many tenants are going to be in arrears within days? And how many landlords will start the eviction paperwork? Under Newsom’s flimsy executive order, there’s a real chance that California could see a wave of evictions just as the state is attempting to reopen and return to normal after months of sheltering in place.

Another problem is that Newsom’s order doesn’t cover all renters or stop all evictions. The minimal relief provided by the order is available only to tenants who can document that they’ve lost income as a result of the pandemic. It doesn’t offer any protection for tenants whose landlord wants to remodel their unit, take it off the the rental market or move a family in. Those tenants could still be left scrambling to find a new home at the worst possible time.

Further complicating matters, Newsom has encouraged cities and counties to enact their own eviction moratoriums, and many have — including Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco. But the details and qualifications vary by city, creating a patchwork of imperfect protections across the state.

The result, tenant advocates say, is that both renters and landlords are confused about what they can and cannot do. Ever more worrisome, the governor’s announcement made it sound like renters had more comprehensive relief than provided by his executive order, meaning some tenants could unwittingly set themselves up for eviction.

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It’s dangerous and counterproductive to allow any evictions to occur in the midst of a growing pandemic, when slowing the disease requires people to stay in their homes. Newsom needs to enact a true eviction moratorium that halts — not just delays — evictions for any and all tenants until after the emergency has ended.

Under all the various eviction moratoriums passed so far, tenants will eventually have to come up with the rent payments they missed. That will still be a problem for people who live paycheck to paycheck, and there’s increasing discussion over whether the government should demand or fund rent and mortgage forgiveness. For now, Newsom needs to ensure that renters can continue to have a stable roof over their heads this month and into the foreseeable future.


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