Costa Mesa approves eviction moratorium along with planning for disaster relief program

Restaurants can provide takeout or delivery only as businesses comply with directives to avoid gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Renters in Costa Mesa who are despairing about how to pay their rent during the economic slide caused by the coronavirus outbreak can take a sigh of relief — the City Council passed an eviction moratorium Tuesday night.

The urgency ordinance applies to residents and businesses unable to pay rent or facing foreclosure “arising out of a substantial decrease in household or business income” because of coronavirus-related restrictions on business and other activity.

For the record:

6:54 a.m. March 26, 2020This article originally stated incorrectly that the council voted to pursue a rental assistance program for low-income and other vulnerable residents. In fact, it voted to pursue a disaster relief program that could include rental assistance as well as other efforts.

The ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, passed on a 5-2 vote, with council members Allan Mansoor and Sandy Genis dissenting.

To qualify, a renter must give written documentation to the landlord within 30 days after the rent is due showing evidence of coronavirus-related financial hardship.

The ordinance stems from a March 16 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom that paved the way for cities to protect constituents against evictions. The governor’s protections are in effect through May 31 but may be extended.

Landlords may begin asking for unpaid rent once the executive order expires, and renters would have 120 days after that to pay. If the order expires May 31 as written, rent would be due by the end of September.

“We’re in uncharted territory here, and we must give a lifeline to our residents, our small-business owners and people who are just literally sinking right now,” said Mayor Katrina Foley, one of only two City Council members who attended Tuesday’s meeting in person.

Costa Mesa joined several other cities across Southern California, including Anaheim and Long Beach, in approving eviction moratoriums.

Genis and Mansoor — the other council member who attended in person Tuesday — said they support relief measures but were hesitant to push through an emergency measure at the possible expense of other Costa Mesans. Genis specified “mom and pop” property managers — often retirees — who depend on income from rental properties.

“This is what they planned for [for] decades when they retired, and now we’re pulling the rug out from under them. I can’t do that to our seniors,” Genis said. “I feel for the people who have lost their jobs, but I also feel for people on the other end too.”

Newsom announced Wednesday afternoon that several major banks and financial institutions would halt foreclosures and delay mortgage payments for at least three months for property owners struggling to make payments for coronavirus-related reasons.

Disaster relief program

The council also voted to pursue a disaster relief program that could provide a safety net for low-income or especially vulnerable residents — and their landlords — once the eviction moratorium is lifted and rent is due.

City staff will design a program that could include rental assistance as well as other efforts.

“We have an opportunity to do something now related to the crisis that will have longstanding ramifications,” said City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison. “If we don’t provide some basis of a safety net for the most vulnerable, there will be costs at every level of government due to that displacement … that will far exceed this level of funding.”

The program would be “another tool in the toolbox” for the city to help residents facing enormous economic turmoil, Farrell Harrison said.

The council vote was 6-1, with Mansoor dissenting.

Though saying he “appreciates the hardships” people are enduring, Mansoor voted against the measure because he felt many questions remained about the ramifications of the program, particularly funding.

“To my knowledge, we’ve pretty much earmarked everything in our budget; there’s no real surplus money,” Mansoor said. “It’s not magic money that just comes out of the general fund.”

The City Council voted unanimously to revise a city ordinance to allow people staying at motels in Costa Mesa to remain longer than 30 days. Coronavirus-related travel restrictions have stranded some visitors, and the ordinance would “protect those currently staying in the city’s motels and allow them to shelter in place during this emergency.”

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2:23 p.m. March 25, 2020: This article was originally published at 10:44 a.m. and has been updated with additional information.